Bursting the Bubble

It will require faith in the power of ideas and culture, in the proposition that art has something to say, that its voice needs to be heard in Washington, that there are alternatives to our dismal political culture already in circulation, waiting to be heard, transformative in their power. – Philip Kennicott, Washington Post

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden with virtual Bubble

For many years, I have had nothing but faith in the power of the artist as a mediator on the world stage. And unlike most of those in a position of power, I have done something about it, in my own bottom up kind of way. Twelve years ago I formed the US Department of Art & Technology, an artist-driven virtual government agency, as an act of artistic mediation. Yes, I created one where one didn’t exist, for in the United States of America, the “most powerful” nation on earth (so they say), a country with a wealth of economic, political, and educational riches, we simply didn’t have a cultural ministry. So I made one, so that some day, if and when art and culture should ever become equal to the other branches of the government, the model is there for the taking. (or at least my own radicalized version…)

So when I read Philip Kennicott’s fascinating and illuminating essay about the state of things with the Hirshhorn Bubble, I can only say, what was everyone waiting for? Why does it take a Bubble to activate cultural dialogue in the nation’s capital? Why does it take a Bubble to bring artists, media, and politicians to the table in this staid government town? I am here to burst the Bubble and declare: anytime the Washington intelligentsia want to sit down and talk, the dialogue will begin. It’s time to burst the Bubble and get on with it: Bubble or no Bubble.

Here’s the irony: in this age of global communications when distance is collapsed and international, inter-cultural, inter-institutional dialogue is a click away, the dream of a creative dialogue among the great minds of the world – it seems to me – doesn’t necessarily need a Bubble, it needs the Net, and it needs action.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of the Bubble and I love Richard Koshalek’s imaginative and daring flights into the future of art and culture. The Temporary Contemporary in LA was a kind of Bubble of its own, in its embrace of temporariness. But over 30 years later it’s still there and still one of the best contemporary art spaces in the world. But in the 21st century, when every museum in the world is vying for the latest and greatest monumental architectural wonder, what is grossly overlooked is the true monumentality of our age: Net architecture. Why a Bubble when the greatest of all potential Bubbles would be a virtual wonder, what I call the Third Space, the melding of the physical and the virtual where people from around the world would come together in an interactive cyber-gathering. Why do you need expensive architectural spaces when the Net itself can catalyze the most far-flung dialogues imaginable? Imagine the recent Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Hirshhorn: he was unable to leave China due to travel restrictions, but he could have been in Washington live and virtual via the Net. Why not overcome the limitations of space, resources and politics, and use the Net for its full potential as the new Agora of the 21st century?

Twelve years ago when I conceived the US Department of Art & Technology, I asked Saralyn Reece Hardy, who at the time was Director of Museums and Visual Arts at the National Endowment of the Arts (she would have been reporting to me…) what she thought of my new idea to invent a model agency for the arts. She told me to stay away from institutionalizing the idea, stay away from buildings and bureaucrats. In other words, keep it virtual, that way you can more easily fly under the radar to make things happen. That is my advice to Richard and his amazing Bubble: burst the Bubble by keeping it virtual, and let the dialogue begin.