Tan Wälchli: «From Venice to Miami — Notes on Art and Tourism»

in Album – On/around the work of Urs Fischer, Yves Netzhammer, Ugo Rondinone and Christine Streuli, 2007, aux Presses du Réel

pp.14-26, Tan Wälchli, «From Venice to Miami — Notes on Art and Tourism» (extraits)

«The 52nd Esposizione d’Arte Internazionale de La Biennale di Venzia this year [2007] launched a Web site entitled « Grand Tour 2007″ together with Documenta 12, the 38th Art Basel, and Skulptur Projekte Münster 07, which is to function as a virtual travel agency allowing users to individually arrange and book trips to all four shows. The platform takes its idea from a prominent model, « the historical Grand Tour » of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, as they explain on their Web site: an « extended journey to the great cultural sites of Europe, in particular of Italy… which became a settled ritual of the high bourgeoisie. » Whatever one may understand as « high bourgeoisie » nowadays, the historical comparison immediately sounds a bit highfalutin. Why should the art audience of the year 2007 go on an « Italian journey » in the style of Goethe? On the other hand, one can hardy fail to notice the close connection that continues to exist between art and tourism. While vacationers make pilgrimages to Florence’s David, the Mona Lisa in Paris, and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, insiders of the art business are professional tourists permanently visiting studios, show openings, and art fairs across the globe. Perhaps it could be instructive, after all, to more closely examine what the cipher « Grand Tour 2007″ stands for.

[...] The Grand Tour, at the time, was certainly a journey to the cultural past, to Roman and Greek antiquity. The fine arts, in particular architecture and sculpture, were regarded as expressing this past in the most pronounced way. For Winckelmann, these works represented the ideal, and he declared the understanding and copying of this ideal as the main objective of education and creativity. Hence, the tour to the south was meant to induce the revival of the ancient ideas at that time.
70 ans later, Henrich Heine assessed the situation differently. In his essay The Voyage from Munich to Genoa (1828), he noted that the educational trip by no means serve to revive the ideal of classical antiquity; quite to the contrary. It was about assuring oneself that the Old World was in ruins and had been successfuly overcome by the modern age. For it was precisely the « whisper of broken columns » that fascinated those traveling to Italy. And the foundation for this had been laid by the Teutons, who once attacked the Roman Empire. Since « some tribes could not yet write, « the conquerors instead of immortalizing themselves on the walls of buildings —had to « destroy something ». And « that sufficed, because these ruins speak more clearly than delicate letters. »
The last formulation, where ruins speak « more clearly than letters », is especially remarkable, for Heine precisely captures the original definition of allegory here. The allegory, as Erich Auerbach has taught us, was once a piece broken out of a textual context, possessing a « deeper meaning » than the mere letters and indicating the surmounting of the culture from which it stemmed. And as Erwin Panofsky has shown, in the art fo the modern age, particularly since the Renaissance, this allegory became a popular, visual stylistic means, not least to depict the ancient world in new paintings. To conclude our brief visit to the past, this means that the audience of the eighteenth century attempted to educate itself in two ways: on the one hand, by listening to the « whisper » of the « broken » sculptures of classical antiquity, on the other, by delving into the Renaissance works of art, since these had already demonstrated how to make the « ruins speak ».
[...] New shores
From the church in Venice to Miami Beach! Isn’t incredible that just two years aften Allen’s film [Small Time Crooks, 2000], Art Basel installed the largest art fair of the Americas at a location where Ray Winkler hoped to distance himself as far as possible from the gallery scene? Two lousy years have past, and the opposit of gangsterdom and high society, with which Allen’sfilm plays, appears to have becomme obsolete. Must we thus assume that in the United States uneducated parvenus of the likes of Ray are meanwhile interested in art and that the market has adapted to their standards? Hardly, since Ray would have found the art parties in Miami Beach just as ritzy. It is much more likely that —the other way around— American high society has adopted one of the Ray’s arguments: It is not very enticing « to fly 3000 miles to see ruins. » Put differently: Miami Beach probably indicates that the American audience no longer deems the ideological superstructure of the Grand Tour through Europe necessary to enjoy art. [...]
The exemple of Miami Beach also demonstrates that, for this reason, the connection between art and tourism is far from outdated. It is now arranged in a new way: Art offers occasions for pary vacations at the beach instead of educational tours; and this tendency is not at all restricted to the US. In Venice, for example, one no longer needs to sit reverently in a church, like Frenchy in Allen’s film. Be it on the roof terraces of the old city, the beaches of the grand hotels on Lido, a chartered boat, or an island rebuilt as an art pavilion —the outdoor party has replaced « education » as the quintessence of art tourism.
[...] Let us conclude with an hypothesis: if journeys to the past appear to have lost their attraction, doesn’t it mean that the art audience has finally arrived in the post-modern age? It seems as if it were less and less expected from art today to present allegorical depictions of the past, but instead to enable one to grasp a mystical moment of absolute presence. It’s party time! No matter where you are now. Here today, there tomorrow —from Venice to Miami.»