[-empyre-] Art, Funding and Politics

Bill Balaskas bill.balaskas at gmail.com
Tue Nov 8 11:07:38 EST 2011

In this post I will try to combine a response to Yiannis’ comment on the
set of questions that I posed in my introductory statement (“What kind of
economy?”/”What kind of art?”) with a response to Renate’s post about the
current sociopolitical situation in Greece.

I completely agree with Yiannis that “[…] the equation of art and economics
is not complete without the political variable.” An equation would somehow
suggest that the economy is in principle independent of political control
and political decisions: a kind of “natural law.” Of course, this is not
the case at all. The questions that I posed are less associated with the –
rather misplaced in my opinion – binary of “cheap” and “expensive” (or,
even, “luxurious”) art and more closely connected to the question of what
kind of forces define the art that is produced today; and, consequently,
what kinds of forces define art funding, its channels and agents. Of
course, it is very convenient for policymakers when people (including
artists) believe in the irreversibility of the current status quo. The lack
of politics has – quite naturally perhaps – made us believe that the
economy can be void of politics; that there is some kind of almost divine
determinism that delineates what we can do and what we cannot do. Yet, in
the same way that Zizek asked “the end of which Europe?” in his lecture in
Athens last year, I would like to ask with regard to the current economic
climate: “the end of which funding?”

The traditional art funding channels and agents might be useful, yet this
path is not a monodrome (one-way path). Interestingly, “Monodrome” is the
current title of the third Athens Biennale, which opened a couple of weeks
ago. I have not seen the exhibition yet and this is not in any way a
criticism of the exhibition itself; nevertheless, I would like to point out
a couple of facts that may provide an insight into the arts funding
situation in Greece and, most important, into its ideological function
(which is – in my opinion – crucial in order to understand the roots of
today’s crisis). Athens Biennale is one of the most independent
high-profile art initiatives in the Greek art scene. It was founded in 2005
as a charity by a group of curators and it is not affiliated with any major
museum or other state organization. In short, its funding is rather
limited, yet, at the same time, the Biennale can have the freedom and the
flexibility that very few initiatives that are state funded would even
dream of in Greece. So, who does Athens Biennale invite as its head curator
for this year’s exhibition, amid the worst crisis in the country’s modern
history? The answer is Nicolas Bourriaud. I will not go into a discussion
around Bourriaud’s role in contemporary art; yet, my question is this: why
would the independently funded Biennale of the Greek capital choose as its
head curator a person who is so closely associated with large scale,
traditionally funded (private and public) institutions? Why would any
organization that has the freedom to experiment and question the
establishment, choose to embrace someone who (in one way or another) is the

The crisis in Greece is a very deep ideological crisis. It is a crisis of
identity. And this is visible not only in the way that the arts are
publicly funded (or, rather, underfunded), but, also, in the way that
independent initiatives work. Thus, the questions that one poses about the
ideological function of art funding are crucial. Art funding does not
simply allow the realization of specific projects; it also shapes and
legitimizes a specific view on the way that mainstream culture works: it
shapes our expectations from artists, art organizations and the public.

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