Sunday, October 7, 2007

MASS mess

I hear there's more than one artist with an unregulated superego. It's their prerogative, isn't it? not to say cultural imperative. The quadrangulation amongst 1)the exhibiting organizations (typically non-profit entities such as museums), 2)their donors (often also collectors, see (3 & 4), 3)the artists and 4)their gallerists is a sordid business, and it's the workers--the employees of each of these public agents-- who sacrifice to maintain their employers' investments in social viability, avoiding lawsuits, nailing the reviews and upgrading clients and donors. In more or less that order.

In the end, though, you can sacrifice only so many starry-eyed (or zodiac-tattooed) interns, assistant directors picked ripe from Bard or the Courtauld, and professional cpas or fund raisers at the altar of your fascination with a romantic idea before the whole thing falls apart, in public. The artists do no more damage with their their exaggerated egos than do the organizations that indulge them, and in so doing betray the public trust. It's mainly the musea (can I say musea? it's my blog so yes I can. Thank you, Mrs. Vanneman) and other public venues that make the reputations and fortunes of the artists and their gallerists. They have a special obligation, both legal and ethical, but too often collapse in fascination with their own proximity to celebrity, whether contemporary or historical.

For all the hand wringing about the dangers of non-profits turning the reins over to business people, they can hardly be worse than the substantial class of presidents and senior managers who at some level share Mr. Thompson's aversion to basic measures to protect institutional assets--not least of which are the human assets-- as 'anathema' to their organizational cultures.

In my experience, the non-profit leaders most successful with their boards and their publics are frequently those who run the worst operations-- coddling underperforming employees in the name of 'institutional memory'; and sabotaging others charged with making changes that everyone sees are necessary for the fulfillment of the mission, but no one really has the stomach, or the other requisite organ, to see through.

I am told that the Dutch have a saying: 'Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je gek genoeg', or 'act normal, it's crazy enough'. This pretty much captures the ethos of a lot of not for profit organizations, that will always revert to the status quo. Why go to the effort to do better, if you can get away with less?

I better not get started on the Dutch.

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