By 1928 things had gotten a little tight for Russia's spetsys—the derogative shorthand for "bourgeois specialist;" and of course most specialists were bourgeois since the Revolution was desperately short of technicians who had risen through the ranks and therefore were equipped with the political consciousness required to run an industry. Factories in Russia were beginning to be run the way companies are run today in the capitalist sector: at the top were the appointed paper-pushers with all the right ideological qualifications, deeply distrustful of the technicians and experts underneath them who knew how to run the system.
In 1928 it was revealed that fifty-three spetsys in the coal industry had failed to meet the quotas set by the Central Committee, which was hardly surprising since the goals set by the Central Committee were irrational; but to admit that the goals of the Central Committee were irrational was to suggest that Dialectical Materialism was not a universally valid science that could be applied with equally fruitful results to all sectors of the economy, the sciences and culture: coal production, crop genetics or museum administration.
Karola Kraus has been lucky so far: like the earlier batch of spetsys she's been put on public trial, but I don't expect her to be shot. Kraus is the Director of MuMOK, Vienna's Museum of Modern Art, though it's really a museum of modern and contemporary art with an aggressive mandate to make the two accessible to the public. Karola's show trial began last September after a call for applicants to replace her was posted in the official gazette of the Austrian Chancellorship—a standard procedure required by law. The job is up for grabs every five years, and there's nothing to prevent Kraus from re-applying. However, things got interesting when some of the local press passed on the rumor that Kraus was about to be fired for cultural wrecking.
Under Article 58 of the USSR Penal Code the charge of "wrecking" was applied to those whose actions betrayed an intent to undermine the inevitable progress of the Soviet Economy—including those workers who did not produce as much as they were supposed to be able to; including, more subtly, intellectuals, artists and scientists, who were occasionally charged with what, for better or worse, one would have to call Cultural Sabotage.
The same seems to be developing in the Global Culture Industry: the rumor concerning Kraus came from that cauldron of Artworld consciousness, Art Basel Miami. The rumor, dutifully reported, was that Kraus had failed to reach the goals set by the Central Committee of the Elite's Party: she had failed to increase attendance at MuMOK. This she had done, it was implied, by failing to show the right kind of art. Obviously, if Kraus had failed it must have been out of a willful desire to sabotage the Art Market, since anyone with the proper cultural consciousness knows that all you need do to draw the hordes and hordes of art lovers is to show the "right" artists, meaning those artists who are determined to be those who draw hordes and hordes of visitors to places like Art Basel Miami. To believe otherwise is to believe Free-Market Empiricism is not a universally valid science that can be applied with equally fruitful results to all sectors of society. Wrecking is the malicious failure to produce visitors in sufficient numbers; or malicious failure to authenticate a painting, a crime punishable by lawsuit; or willful inability to discover a previously unknown masterpiece.
Kraus responded that in fact the Museum has been engaged in a thoroughgoing and, to her, successful effort to create a following in depth, not in numbers; to develop job skills and worker skills and so forth, all of which might seem beside the point, but isn't: it's the coded insider language of apparatchiki and museum directors. Over the past few years it's been widely floated that the "Metrics of Success" for Museums are to be measured according to the attendance numbers, or cost-per-visitor at the very least. Kraus was taking up the counter-argument that Museum success should be measured by the quality of the visitor experience, the depth of audience loyalty, etc.. But of course these metrics are of no interest to the comrades at Art Basel: the comrades are not interested in the valorization of the institution, only the valorization of the art that happens to be on view at MuMOK at any given time. You could assume that a museum speculator like Eli Broad, the Stalin of the Culture Industry, has an interest in the real estate valorized by whatever museum he decides to take over; the dealers at Art Basel are only interested in hiking up the value of the artworks that they buy and sell. The situation with Kraus reminds me of the Soviet engineer who developed a system to increase the load on freight trains, and who was shot for attempting to sabotage the railway system by wearing down the tracks, instead of being accused of wearing down the tracks in order to sabotage the load. Whatever: the point was, the system wasn't working and that in itself was a logical impossibility, so it must have been sabotage.
And this is the elephant in the room that neither party is willing to confront: Attendance at MuMOK is abysmal, and has been for a long time, and can be reasonably expected to continue that way, and there's nothing anybody can do about it; and there are a number of plausible reasons for this, but the most logical one is, that people just aren't that interested in modern and contemporary art. If I were back and teaching at the School of Visual Arts I'd be waiting for a knock at the door (provided, of course, I had an office, or a door) because to suggest as I've just done that the stuff at Art Basel, or in Artforwhom or in the galleries or whatever is not the Wave of the Future represents a counter-revolutionary sentiment in itself. Comrade Joe clarified the dialectic back in 1928, when he explained that the spetsys’ treason showed the People's Republic was moving ever closer to success, thus the desperate resistance of the last pathetic remnants of bourgeois elements and class enemies—meaning those elements who doubt that the superstructure (Culture) is in any form or fashion subordinate to the inevitable march of the base structure (Bucks). To quote a line from an eminent Soviet economist at the time: "If you're not with us you're against us." Or was that George W. Bush?
- Wöfflin Jack
February 10, 2015.
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A cuppa' Joe