25 February 2011

Debate on visual art

Stavanger Kunstforening

Pøbel at Kunstforeningen
Pøbel outside Stavanger Kunstforening

Stavanger Kunstforening (Stavanger Art Association) invited to a very important debate about the present situation of its own organisation and building, and the situation for visual art in general in this region. Participants were Trond Borgen (art critic), Sjur Lærdal (board member SKF), Nils Henrik Asheim (Administrator of the project Tou Visjon), Elizabeth Croft (used to run Nordisk Kunst Plattform - Nordic Art Platform) and Marit Aanestad (artist and member of the board of the visual artists' union in Rogaland). Artist Kenneth Varpe was mediating the debate.

The topics for the evening were these:
The number of galleries and showrooms are decreasing. Why has the situation for art worsened after 2008? How do we visualize the contemporary art scene of the future? What do we need to do today to get there?

First my subjective extract of the first speeches:
The debate started with Trond Borgen stating how horrible SKF is, that it should be put to an end, and that all the resources should be relocated to the other galleries. On behalf of SKF Sjur Lærdal reacted by stating how important the building is. Nils-Henrik Asheim informed about the plans for Tou Scene. When Elizabeth Croft arrived here, she was at first surprised by how many galleries here were, but they turned out to be rather boring and uniform, missing the site-specific and experimental art. Artist Marit Aanestad told us how important a gallery and its profile is for choosing where to display her art.

Then the debate started. It contained both negative and positive views on the present situation for visual art. Some suggested that the variety of galleries is too narrow, others claimed that here are too many galleries to keep running on public funding. Some wanted to fill the Stavanger Kunstforening building with new stuff, some wanted to tear it down, some wanted to keep it exactly as it is.

Mørket må vike
Stavanger Kunstforening crowded with visitors at the opening of an exhibition by art students from Nablus

Information and publicity

Kenneth Varpe expressed his frustration of not being able to read about the Stavanger art scene living in Copenhagen. Trond Borgen said that Stavanger Aftenblad has chosen not to publish art critics on the web, believing this will draw more people to buy the paper version. I think this turns into a catch-22 situation. Without protesting, status quo will remain, with protesting the editor will understand that the critics are attractive, and will definitely keep them away from the web.

Elizabeth Croft said the Nordic Art Platform at Brusand is closing because of lack of funding. I think it is typical for the area that the first time I hear about this gallery is that it is closing down. I am so sorry I did not have the possibility to see it. Aasheim said something about a new webpage, blog or something about visual art in the region. That is about time, as Aftenbladet's weekly culture newspaper and Rogalands Avis' monthly(!) culture newspaper far from cover all happenings, and are unable to grasp more impulsive events. In my opinion a paper-based art calendar is so 20th century. It must be web based, to be able to keep track of all exhibitions and happenings. The galleries must do their part as well, keeping a well-run webpage and posting updates.

The future of Stavanger Kunstforening

Nils Henrik Asheim talked about how important the creative environment is for a gallery. This is an important issue for Tou Scene, which I feel is a great place to hang around. Sølvberget Gallery, Hå gamle prestegård and Kinokino also have their unique environment. To be honest I am not sure what the environment around SKF is, or how to create one.

Head of the political cultural board Sissel Knutsen Hegdal said there is a strong political will to revitalize the SKF building the moment the association hands it over to the town council. And they wish to support Stavanger Art Museum, Sølvberget Gallery and Tou Scene as well. This is good news. But can we rely on political promises?

Vestlandsutstillingen 2010
Vestlandsutstillingen 2010 (West Coast Exhibition) at Stavanger Kunstforening

Is it really that bad?

I agree with Sissel Knutsen Hegdal opposing the negative title of the evening. From the visitor side, I consider the Stavanger area art scene as vital and interesting. In my opinion there is not only boring art in too few galleries. Well, I would always like to see more galleries established, especially artist-run independent galleries. And I would like to see more experimenting and controversy. But I would say the visual art scene is more varied and interesting than one could expect from a town the size of Stavanger. Maybe I am less picky than others, but I have had quite a lot of great art experiences in the area last year. At several galleries.

To me it is not that important who own or run the gallery, or what building it is in. What counts is what it contains and what is displayed. Whether the building at Madlaveien 33 is owned by Stavanger Kunstforening or Stavanger municipality does not matter to me, as long as I can still get great art experiences there. Ownership, funding and buildings should provide possibilities for creativity, not limitations. As Karin Sunderø, head of Bryne Art Association, well summed up the discussion:
The content must always be larger than the shell.