All posts by Maria Boicova-Wynants

Family Life CEO: Mother of two, mediator, personal buddy: wise friend for rent (check out my website for more info), gardener, golfer & creative chef. One day will have my own coffee bar & vineyards

Some thoughts on the future for art museums from a non-insider

There is a couple of things on my mind when I think about art museums. Some of them are specifically post-COVID, but globally speaking those considerations would be relevant to museums also in the absence of the global pandemic.

First, of course, a small disclaimer: who am I to talk about what art museums should do?

I am not an insider, I have never worked for an art museum or been on its board. Yet. Nevertheless, as a person whose work relates to the art field and most importantly as a person whose heart is in the art world, I take the liberty of voicing my humble opinion.

Long story short, here is what I’ve been thinking about: 

I cannot help but wonder what is the rationale of physical existence for art museums in the modern world? What is their mission? What do they exist for? Are they meant to be the mere guardians of our cultural heritage? Or to be a bridge, a promoter, an inspirer, and a dialogue fosterer?

The current pandemic amusingly managed to engage many people with art (perhaps, even more than museums did in years before that). Countless museums and art galleries opened their virtual doors to millions and millions of people, and there have been amazing curated online exhibitions recently. 

Just as an example:

take the canceled Van Eyck exhibition, which turned into an exciting virtual VIP tour guided by no other than a renowned researcher in the field of early-Netherlandish painting, co-curator Till-Holger Borchert. It was just great! I loved it!

(If you missed it, have a look here)

Had there been no COVID, would anyone be lucky to have such an experience? 

On the other hand, the exhibition which could have been THE art event of the year has been canceled and no visitor stood next to the real Van Eyck artwork…

What does that leave us with?.. Is it better to stick to virtual and forego the real altogether, as it provides better engagement? Personally, I don’t think so, but I do believe that there is an urgent, pressing need to reconsider how museums are operating (how all of us are “operating”, in fact). As one avenue of thought, perhaps art museums need to increase their use of modern technologies like the AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and others to enhance people’s experiences. On the other hand, do people really need that?

One of the great virtual initiatives in the time of COVID has been #izoizolyacia (#covidclassics, and especially the Russian version of the hashtag #изоизоляция) — the flashmob on Facebook and Instagram where participants try to emulate famous paintings (certainly have a look at the hashtags if you still haven’t). Thousands of people participated (and still do). In fact, tens of thousands of people got engaged with art through this initiative. Will those people remain engaged, interested, or inspired by artworks in the future? I don’t know; but even if 1% of them do, that’s a lot of people.

Talking about engagement with art museums, one has to stress blockbuster exhibitions aimed at attracting huge crowds. However, to think about it, this exhibition-going experience for many people proves to be rather shallow. It is somehow peculiarly less about seeing and more about… being seen seeing. 

Moreover, on the walls of museums and in their storages there are still countless masterpieces that do not profit from public interest anymore (nor have ever, for that matter). That makes me wonder how could art museums stimulate people to engage more with this art? Also, provided the social distancing, how could such an engagement still happen at all?

I am talking a lot about “engagement”, but the thing is — this engagement aspect really matters. Art is supposed to foster reflection, discussions, enhance the understanding of society and the world around us, stimulate creativity, dialogue, and continuous quest for improvement. Art is not made to be buried alive in the climate-controlled storage facilities; it is made to live and to be interacted with. Just having a museum and just putting some artworks on its walls does not stimulate engagement. I wonder what could?

Another thought elaborates on what I already mentioned — “do people really need that?” More precisely, it is about investigating the needs of museum visitors. In many museums e.g. in Belgium I was asked for the postal code, but wouldn’t it be more valuable to know what did I come for (from wherever I came from)? What are my expectations from this visit? What do I hope to learn, see, feel, experience? And at the end of my visit, wouldn’t it be valuable for a museum to know if I got what I was hoping for? 

Finally, to complete this particular thought: what about those who never go to museums? Does anyone care to find out what is detracting them? Why don’t they? Could there be another way how to reach them?

In this post, I am not going to provide any answers, I just intended to voice some of the questions I have on my mind related to this subject. Hopefully that could trigger a dialogue.

So, now it is your turn: what do you think? What would the future for art museums be like according to you? And, as an add-on, if you never (or seldom) go to museums, why not? What could museums do to get to your heart?

Should we share our flame

When reflecting on the dynasties of doctors or lawyers or sportsmen, I always wonder if kids were really born to continue the profession of their parents, or they simply somehow “didn’t know any better”? Same with hobbies, same with skills…

I wonder: do we intentionally or unintentionally limit our kids by primarily passing on to them what we ourselves know and like? (I guess an immediate disclaimer here would be that I am not talking about teenagers, this far it is about toddlers and up to 8 year-olds. Teenagers for me is still uncharted territory. 🙂 )

To provide some context, I play golf. I don’t teach (neither do I actively encourage) our kids, for example, to play volleyball, or ride a horse. There is a big chance that they will soon join us on the green (which is great!). Even our 2-year old seems to like it. Yet, I wonder if she likes the game or does she like the fact that she is playing the game her parents and older siblings play?

Another thing: I have recently taught our daughter some latte art basics. All fine, but then again… If I had been drinking tea, my kids by now would probably have known the difference in temperature required to brew different types of it, but they don’t. However, they do know the difference between latte and latte macchiato, so they are in fact limited by… my preferences.

The question, thus, is: should we focus less on trying to “teach” what we know? Maybe our primary “task” is not to share our own passion, our own flame, but to show our kids very different examples of what’s possible? And maybe even a step further: maybe we should explore and learn more together with them?

In fact, I guess it is very easy to fall into a trap of “let’s share our own flame”. To try to offset this a bit, a while ago we bought a piano. I didn’t know how to play it, neither did my husband, but we wanted to trigger our kids to explore, and perhaps also to learn to play ourselves. Now, I have learned a couple of simple melodies, while our daughter is already nailing “We are the champions” and “Kalinka”.

I wonder what should we buy next? 🙂

To conclude, I am convinced that as long as there is a healthy balance between passing on your existing knowledge and skills, and enabling kids to expand their horizons (by your own example, encouragement, or sometimes – just by giving them tools), teaching and sharing what you know is a great thing to do. The challenge is, of course, in finding this right balance…

What do you think? Do you primarily teach your kids what you know yourself, ignite them with your own flame, or do you try to explore new things with them, and expand your own and their horizons?

How do we teach patience to kids if we refuse to stand in a queue ourselves?

How many times have you faced a situation that you see a large crowd of people and turn around to go away? 

I have it regularly. There were liquidation sales at a golf shop, where I really wanted to have my shopping spree. Guess what, I was not the only one. However, when I saw the line of cars, desperately trying to find a parking spot in the neighborhood, I turned around and went home. Sales will be online somewhere. 

I don’t like waiting. No, let me rephrase – I actually genuinely hate waiting. I never make anyone wait for me, and I get really annoyed if someone or something doesn’t return that favor… But then again, for me, this is not the ”instant gratification” story. Not entirely. At the same time, I can perfectly work on something which will bring results far in the future (or maybe not even at all). This queue intolerance for me is the intolerance toward wasting time on apparently useless actions. 

For me queueing is a waste and good operations management principles are teaching us that waste needs to be eliminated… Now, what about patience? Patience is a virtue, as the saying goes. Does it apply to any patience though? Are there different types of patience? Is patience only about being able and willing to wait? Does patience stop being a virtue if it has no truly valuable goal? Is patience for the sake of patience even healthy? 

Coming back to the question in the title: so what about kids and patience? What is it exactly that we want to teach our kids, and is patience actually the right word for it?

Offline does not exist

We were driving in our car the other day and there was a commercial on the radio saying something about discounts available both online and offline. It was then that our daughter asked: “but, mom, offline doesn’t exist, does it?”…

Yeah… Almost, kiddo, almost.

Aside from putting a large smile on my face, this comment of hers made me wonder about the future.

Are we truly moving to “offline doesn’t exist” kind of story?

Looking at myself: I do 90% (if not 99%) of my purchases online. I largely work remotely. Provided that I live a bit in the middle of nowhere, far away from where I grew up, I mostly communicate with my mom and close friends via Skype, Whatsapp and all the other online communication means. 

Even though I am not a digital native and I am a millennial, not a GenZeer, my online life is at least as large as (if not larger than) the offline one. That’s crazy if I think about it, but it is what it is. 

Our online life matters. Alarmingly more and more compared to the offline one.

It is a normal practice that one checks out what Google “Allmighty” knows about a job candidate, a potential business connection, acquaintance, date, etc. Even those who tend to avoid social networks still leave some digital traces. Of course, for those actually active online, such traces are plenty, very informative and… they better be managed really well (but that is another discussion. I have an online reputation management service, by the way, so reach out if that is of an interest).

Every public comment one makes, every ”like” one presses, every picture, description, engagement, e-ve-ry-thing is there to stay: cached and easily discoverable if needed. Thus, a stupid, thoughtless comment might cost one a job; a provocative picture from student times can lead to some other undesired consequences… In other words, the online can have very tangible effects on the offline. 

But all of that is known and those who care about their image take the online one at least as seriously as the offline one.

The question now is: does the Online still require the Offline at all? Or will offline soon cease to exist?

It is a mad-mad world… of art…

Usually, I write about art for Artlaw.club platform, but there my articles tackle art law or art market-related topics. This time I just want to write a philosophical, “thinking-out-loud” discussion piece. (Besides, with less of an article-straightness and more of a blog-post frivolity.) 

So… Art. 

I guess everyone by now knows of Maurizio Cattelan’s “banana duct-taped to the wall” (a.k.a. “Comedian”).

It triggered David Datuna’s performance “Hungry artist”, countless marketing responses from all over the world, and numerous memes on the Internet. The hype will pass in a while, but as it was with Banksy’s shredding intervention at Sotheby’s auction (“Love is in the bin”), this “artwork” (quotes intentional) will enter art history as “the memory of the year 2019”. Now, this makes me wonder about several things. 

To begin with, does this all mean that the art world is doomed?

Many of the big works that everyone knows about are hype type of works. It is about being provocative, causing some sort of commotion and then fetching big buck for something, which frequently lacks both the looks and the substance. Not that it hasn’t happened before. After all, there has been Manzoni’s “Artist’s shit” in a can, Duchamp’s “Fountain” (upturned urinal), even Warhol’s “Campbell soup” cans. Outrageous? Well, something so “classic” for us nowadays as impressionist works was also once perceived as outrageous. Cubism?… Same story! But then again, cubism is not a duct-taped banana. Neither is (arguably, perhaps, yet looked in the context) even a urinal as an artwork… 

While many modern artworks make me question whether I would ever consider them as such, or whether I would even notice them had there not been a plaque next to them, I am still convinced that “the banana” is not a healthy trend (despite its nutritious qualities). 

What is the point of putting an effort to create something, of putting thought into an art piece, when one can just “hype it out” and get away with it? Yes-yes, I know… Warhol! (“Art is everything one can get away with”) But… seriously?! 

And, of course, Cattelan is known for his “funny, prankster” type of works, as some other artists also are, but… Come on!

In one of my articles for Artlaw.club I made a point that I don’t believe that the art market is in a bubble (mainly for the sake that there is no such thing as the homogenous art market; there are many segments and despite globalization, still a lot of regionality in the market for such a statement. If you care to read in more detail — here is the link to that article — https://artlaw.club/en/artfinance/is-the-art-market-bubbling-or-just-casually-simmering). However, I think, and in fact, I hope that this particular segment — “hype for the hype’s sake” — is in a bubble. Should be.

I am convinced that while the hype is certainly one of the ways how to attract the attention of a large audience unless this attention is then directed to a worthwhile cause, it does no good. Actually, it even does wrong. It is a bit like you have terrorists waving an Islam flag and the masses now associate all Muslims with terrorists. Same thing! If the hype is considered to be art — that downgrades art.

In the end, even worthy artworks will face the danger of being treated with an eyeball-roll and an “oh yeah, that art-thing” kind of an attitude. 

That hurts art. Full-stop.

Another important thing here is, of course, the price. Perhaps, it is even THE main thing in the whole story. That makes me recall Banksy again and his print inscribed with a phrase: “I Can’t Believe You, Morons, Actually Buy This Shit”… People, we are talking $120,000 ($150,000 for the third edition)! To note, that’s the price not even for the “artwork”, it is basically for the certificate of authenticity, signed by Cattelan. I am perfectly aware of the prices routinely being paid in the art market, where many transactions are questionable at best. In the way things are now, it resembles a ridiculous money-throwing game the rich are playing with no added value to anything, but some egos and private bank accounts.

All in all, I just find it a pity that on one hand, as I said, art gets downgraded by such hype things, and on the other, that it is hype for the sake of hype, meaning the lost opportunity to actually bring any message whatsoever.

Now the question to ponder about is: should art be bigger than itself and be used as a vehicle of change, as a way to communicate an important message or support a cause? Or… is art just anything one can get away with?

What do you think?