The panelists and organizers of ModernARTization, (left to right) Richard Armstrong, Bernardo Paz, Paulo Coelho, Jeff Koons, unidentified man, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa, Mrs. Pinchuk, Victor Pinchuk, and Olafur Eliasson. (all images courtesy the author) (click to enlarge)

Davos, Switzerland — ModernARTization: Art and Philanthropy Changing Societies. Yes, it’s a mouthful, and I also don’t know what it means, and the presentation didn’t help.

Organizer and philanthropist, Victor Pinchuk, hosted a gathering at the Morosani Schweizerhof Hotel in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how philanthropy can change and educate societies through art — you may be interested to know that this event was not officially part of the World Economic Forum that’s taking place at the same time.

Before we even entered the auditorium for this oddly titled event, Damien Hirst conducted a do-it-yourself spin painting session for visitors. There were paper cut outs of different shapes — hearts, skulls, stars — and guests donned aprons and gloves while his assistants pinned your shape into the spin box. Each participant chose their paint colors and squirted their own painting. Then the art spinner was turned on while paint flicked around in a circular motion. Out pops an insta-Damien Hirst, certificate of authenticity on the back and everything. I chose a skull, how could I not. My husband chose a heart; he’s forever the optimist.

These flat shapes are how spin paintings, with the help of Damien Hirst, are made at Davos.

After the 5-minute art production, drinks and fancy appetizers were served while important people greeted one another before the panel. Finally, we took our seats.

There were television crews and many photographers, but I should note that the philanthropists and art royalty were separated from the audience as they sat up front around circular tables.

The panel was moderated by best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and included a wide range of personalities, including: celebrity artists Jeff Koons and Olafur Eliasson; Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa, chairperson of the Qatar Museums Authority Board; Bernardo Paz, creator of Instituto Inhotim, a contemporary art space in Brazil; Rachel M. Teagle, executive director of The New Children’s Museum in San Diego; and Richard Armstrong, director of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum.

A composite of some of the odd-ball graphics that tried to convince us that private museums civilize.

Pinchuk took the stage while his foundation’s video was shown. The video included strange minimalist graphics that portrayed a variety of odd scenarios: an average person walks into the Pinchuk museum and out pops an intelligent person, a dog walks into the museum and out pops a dog walking on two legs reading a newspaper, a “rapper” walks into the museum with a punk kid and out pops a two “enlightened” young people. Huh!?! OMG.

He introduces his old, dear friend Paulo Coelho to moderate the panel — and we’re off and running! Except, no — actually. We dive down into a pointless panel discussion which clarifies almost nothing for me.

What I heard was basically a lot of grand standing with little substance. Coelho asks Elliasson, “How can politics manipulate art?” and then he went down a verbal spiral to describe art as a “reality producer” and wants his museum audience to take his art home in their minds and into their lives.

He later made the point that philanthropists and artists must co-produce values when working together. His three main terms were: reality machine, co-produce and interconnectivity.

Jeff Koons talked about being competitive with his sister when he was a child, and knew he would become an artist when he was finally able to do something better than her: draw. As he studied art in college, he began to look outward and accept the world around him. He went on to describe art being connected to magic — and that art forces audiences to be more accepting, thus it increases flexibility in society.

He later explained that art is a love of humankind, and the acceptance of self leads to the acceptance of others. The art environment brings people together.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa and Bernardo Paz talked about luring their audience to visit their institutions in various ways. Paz spoke in Portugese, and even with his wacky translator, I could barely understand his point — except that he loves his native country and wants people and kids to make the trek to Inhotim. Oh, and he also mentioned that the state should pay for transportation for the poor children to see it. He feels it gives the region dignity, and with dignity comes transformation. Her Excellency agreed and provided details on how her museum played an important role in helping transform Qatar from a country with much debt, to a renewed community (I admit at this point I was falling asleep).

Koons looking happy at the Davos reception. (click to enlarge)

Richard Armstrong then noted that contemporary art would always be at odds with the state, so private funding to museums is key to their survival. Contemporary art provokes, and the state wants the status quo, so philanthropy furthers freedom in the institution. Sure, in a perfect world — but in reality we all know that private funding comes with its own controversies, nasty politics, and status quo.

Rachel Teagel took the mic and spoke about contemporary art in her new children’s museum. It starts with kids first, educate them first… I felt like everything she said is already widely known. Kudos that she’s focusing on children and exposing them to art at an early age, but in the context of all the pomp and circumstance of this very grand event I really didn’t hear anything which enlightened me.

I walked away with the impression that the rich were patting themselves on the back, and used a few rich artists (whom the organizers actually helped to make rich) to create a dog and pony show featuring art philanthropy without providing any new realizations on how it could transform society for the future.

Michelle Vaughan is a painter who received her BFA at UCLA in 1994. She was born in 1971 in Anaheim, California, and has lived and worked in New York City since 1996. In addition to her studio work, she...

7 replies on “WTF is ModernARTization at Davos?”

  1. Koons being so prominently featured, you of course meant to say that these rich patrons brought in their pals the rich artists “to create a BALLOON dog and pony show.”

  2. Good report. These kind of money-wasting faux-panels need to end. And the idea that millionaires (as opposed to state funding) don’t have agendas is ludicrous. Lastly, how much money was spent flying everyone in, and on the liquor and the apps and Hirst’s fee for finger painting?

  3. Is this some sort of Richard Florida spin off (get it? anyone? crickets)? Possibly using his ideas to allow the affluent art consumer class and creators to convince themselves that they are intrinsically virtuous because they do anything with art?

  4. Don’t know if you were asleep at this point but did you catch Armstrong talking about preferring “uneducated visitors” – real highlight right there. Thought Olafur Eliasson was fantastic though.

  5. …. “a “rapper” walks into the museum with a punk kid and out pops a two “enlightened” young people”. Was this really part of the video??? “OMG” is right!

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