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Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s

by Chin-tao Wu

Pub Date: July 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-85984-613-0
Publisher: Verso

Corporations conquer the art market.

Anyone who comes to this intrigued by the title will be sorely disappointed by what follows. Art critic Wu (National Inst. of Art, Taiwan) has produced a frustrating, dogmatic, and occasionally laughable dissertation on the role corporations have come to play in the world of contemporary art. She limits herself to Britain and the US—and the US, for her purposes, consists of 30 square blocks in midtown Manhattan and a strip of K Street in Washington, D.C. The tone is an amalgam of the plaintive anti-Thatcher lament and High Soviet dialectic. The argument is that corporations have played an increasingly large role in the market for contemporary art. This is bad. Sometimes they’re multinational corporations, which is really bad. Wu remarks that the people who sit on museum boards tend to be wealthy, and that corporations like to attach their names to the exhibits they sponsor for the publicity. None of this is news, but it is true enough. More disturbing is the author’s manipulation of research to fit her thesis. Innuendo, implication of unseen conspiracies, and the use of what are intended to be rhetorical questions are some of her favored techniques. Her research, much of it drawn from newspapers, feels dated, perhaps because the bulk of it was done ten years ago for her doctoral thesis. Highly touted surveys completed by hundreds of corporations in England and America are barely used at all, and at one point the author seems stymied to find a museum trustee not listed in Who’s Who. Her discussion of England is knowing, but her analysis of America is embarrassing. It’s bad enough that she butchers the concept of tax expenditures and completely overlooks developments in Delaware corporate law that had a major impact on her topic; it’s inexcusable that she has no feel for American history, politics, or culture.

Not a pretty picture.