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Samizdata quote of the day

Two decades after the Guggenheim fell from the sky on Bilbao, the global arts establishment clings to the faith – and it is a faith, a belief with no empirical evidence to support it – that run-down cities can be healed by something called cultural regeneration: by building museums and galleries. The number of people unemployed and dependent on welfare in Bilbao has risen during those two decades. Like prayer or relics, it seems not to work.

Jonathan Meades

25 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Hm… Country and Western did pretty well for Branson, Missouri. How about a klezmer (Yiddish C&W) festival in Bilbao? 😛

  • Mark

    Brings to mind Margate’s Turner gallery. I went to Margate with my family in the summer as my brother wanted to see the gallery. We got about 5 yards out of the train station before we saw a shirtless drunk run out of a pub with a bottle of vodka in his hand to chase after and threaten his girlfriend. As I said at the time, if you want to change Margate first you replace the people with gallery-goers then you get the galleries, not the other way around

  • Regional

    You were watching conceptual art at a museum.

  • bobby b

    “Nonetheless the director of one of the most supposedly prestigious international festivals proclaims: “you can never have too much culture.”

    (From the afore-cited speech, shortly after the quoted language.)

    My plumber likely believes “you can never have too much plumbing.”

    To mangle an old saying, the heart wants what wants the heart.

    (The only improvement I ever saw from attempts to put high culture in low places inured to the benefit of those who replaced windows in all of the violated Mercs and Beemers belonging to the unsuspecting glitterati who parked there.)

  • john malpas

    are you allowed to reach for your revolver when you hear ‘culture’ -these days.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Revolver? Surely, thou dost but jest. A semi-auto Colt 1911A1 is much more effective, culturally speaking.

  • Thailover

    That’s horrible, but not as horrible as this.


  • Laird

    Kudos to Jonathan for persevering far enough into that speech to find that nugget of value he quoted. Without knowing that there was a destination worth the journey I would have given up long before then. At the half-way point I was ready to quit, convinced that the speaker was an over-trained, self-important half-wit with nothing useful to say but a ready supply of polysyllabic words with which to say it. And in truth the first half or so is little more than trendy leftist gibberish, mostly incomprehensible as well as internally inconsistent (I think; it’s impossible to be certain of anything other than that he despises, in roughly equal measure, Trump, May, Brexit and those who voted for any of them).

    But near the end, starting with the Burgess quote, he begins to say a few things which are both comprehensible and reasonably sensible: that what passes for art these days is mostly solipsistic crap anointed as “art” by a circle-jerk of soi-disant mavens who occupy the apex of the “arts community” but who lack talent, taste or sense. Yup; nothing new here except the florid language. The only element of note is that apparently this speech was delivered to a gathering of just such glitterati and their oh-so-fashionable sycophants. One suspects that he won’t be invited back.

  • Laird

    Thailover, I used to own that LP. Not sure whatever happened to it.

  • At one time New Labour thought that urban regeneration would also result from the construction of mega casinos in deprived areas. They really did . The project was well advanced, conveniently overlooking the association of such enterprises with money laundering, prostitution and gangsterism .

    Iit was one of Gordon Brown’s good deeds that he cancelled the project when he became PM.

    His other good deed had been as Chancellor when he kept us out of the euro. He introduced ” five tests” which only he understood and whose results only he could interpret – not Tony Blair.
    And so we stayed out.
    But the massed ranks of Labour Luvviedom were still very influential, peddling ” culture” to transfer money from the taxpayers yo their pockets.
    More certain for them than a chain of casinos.

  • Paul Marks

    Branson Missouri is NOT a government project – it is private enterprise. And it also a small town, not a big city. Even Venice, at least the tourist part of Venice, is not a large city.

    The post is correct – these government (taxpayer) “regeneration” projects do not work, but that does not stop the “New Liberals” (the opposite of Classical Liberals) of the universities and the media (including the you-know-what magazine) endlessly pushing them.

    A large city needs lots of places actually making things – stuff that can be sold for a profit. If a large city does not have such places (they are called “factories” and “work shops”) then avoid the place – for it is an accident waiting to happen.

  • the speaker was an over-trained, self-important half-wit with nothing useful to say but a ready supply of polysyllabic words with which to say it. (Laird, October 27, 2017 at 4:58 am)

    I like – and may one day reuse – Laird’s way of putting it. The quote below

    “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, refrains from giving us lengthy evidence of the fact.” George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), quoted from memory

    is another form I keep handy.

    It would be charitable – but probably far too charitable – to wonder if the long run up to his point was an attempt to reduce the brains of his lefty audience to an accepting state in which a harsh truth or two about their ‘art’ could be slipped, without instantly setting off their “Warning: hate speech – speech that I hate” alarm bells.

  • Cal Ford

    “the speaker was an over-trained, self-important half-wit with nothing useful to say but a ready supply of polysyllabic words with which to say it.”

    That’s Jonathan Meades to a tee. But Meades does sometimes show a bit of sense, and a critical faculty.

  • Mr Ecks

    Brown DID keep us out of the Euro.

    And for that he deserves a boon. When time comes to hang all of ZaNu and BluLabour he deserves a quick Albert Pierpoint-style ending. Whereas the rest need a nice Tyburn style 30-45 minute gargle to give them time to reflect and decide that they are requiting the evil they have done.

    Brown didn’t stop the Euro from any personal goodness or wisdom however.

    All his life was an ego-trip devoted to hearing the intro “The Right Honourable Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Great Britain etc”. Chancellor was the penultimate step and he wanted to be Mr No-More-Boom-and-Bust, Mr Prudent, the greatest Chancellor evah. If he had allowed the Euro then the Euro-Trash would have been in control and got any credit and he would have just been another gurning muppet in the back row of the EU line-up.He wasn’t having that.

    Thus a very good deed was done for selfish personal reasons. Almost the market in action –and how the Bottler would hate that idea.

  • Meades is a jackass of a kind who often gets to inflict after-dinner speeches on people whose only wish is to digest some indifferent chicken, but there are several splendid quotables there:

    Ellington and Revel are both dead and were anyway not part of the arts loop – so what they said is blissfully irrelevant to visual culture’s hermetic high command. Satirical caricature remains below the salt. It is impure. Why? Because it is about something, there is a subject. It is noisy. Whereas official art is the far side of silent. Muteness is de rigueur. Minimalist installations have been sworn to a vow of silence. The Trappist dictum “be in the world not of it” is the very worst precept that an artist should follow. And we live in Trappist art’s golden age. It’s an art which fails, delib­erately fails, to engage the eye or to stimulate the intellect. It is neither harrowing nor consoling: we don’t weep, we don’t laugh. It neglects to promote aesthetic bliss. It doesn’t speak to the base of the spine.

  • Watchman

    Regeneration can work, if it is done in such a way that the actual enterprises are organic and integrated. I am not sure there is a clear case the Gugeneheim has not helped Bilbao (you’d have to be more than usually convinced of the efficacy of government to believe an art gallery on its own would stop a city’s decline), as it must have brought in money to some extent. But whether it was the best use of the space or not is questionable.

    If government wants to do regeneration, it should simply make it cheaper to do productive things, which actually does happen in many places – I am tangentially involved with one such project, whereby a consortium of local businesses are getting subsidised land (and I think a basically free pass on planning) to upscale and develop their manufacturing and R&D. They have to want to do this, and invest themselves, but it is regenerating a brownfield site, albeit in a relatively prosperous area.

    Or government could just cut all the unnecessary layers of bureaucracy (which would reduce taxes) to achieve the same effect nationwide…

  • Mr Ed

    The same sort of crap has been washed up by the Tyne in Gateshead with the Sage Centre, which, digging around its website, seems to be funded principally by a Lottery Heritage grant, so it is in essence a chunk of non-State money that goes towards it. However, the same dirges emanate from it:

    Our team work to this Mission:
    To entertain, involve and inspire each and every person we meet through engagement with outstanding music and creative events.

    With the following Values:

    We value all kinds of music equally, and are committed to including, inspiring and encouraging everyone through our programmes of performance and participation, learning and training;

    Well, if you value my howling fiddle playing equally to a professional playing a decent piece of music, you are not even an idiot, and you must be a liar or be overly polite to the point of dishonesty.

    We are passionate about offering the best experience for all who work and play here, together building an invigorating, inspirational environment
    We aspire to be pioneers at the forefront of innovation and excellence, enthusiastically embracing new work, new trends and new thinking
    We aim for the greatest possible inclusion in the way we build meaningful relationships through shared experiences and creative journeys
    We are proud to use our national and international positioning to create new social, creative and economic opportunities for our region and for the communities we exist to serve

    The only economic aspect that I can infer from their website is that they turn over less than £36,000,000 p.a., as they do not have a ‘Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement‘ on view, so they can’t have provided that much impact. Oh, wait, have I stumbled over the cause of decay?

  • Brown didn’t stop the Euro from any personal goodness or wisdom however. … a very good deed was done for selfish personal reasons. (Mr Ecks, October 27, 2017 at 8:41 am)

    I agree – and note that the US founding fathers deemed it necessary to devise a political system where the self-interest of the rulers and the path of wisdom and virtue would overlap as far as could be contrived, since stuff as dire as Brown, and – little though I wish to be kind to Brown – worse, would often hold office.

  • Jacob

    The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao looks interesting from afar, but horrible if you approach it and terrible if you enter (including the heaps of junk displayed inside).

    Nevertheless it brings millions of tourists to Bilbao (me included) that were not coming before. You can make money fooling people.

  • Anybody remember Mike Dukakis ? He pulled a similar stunt on the depressed town of North Adams Massachusetts.

    One cannot be too grateful to George H.W. Bush for sparing us the Dukakis presidency.

  • Laird

    It appears that there is a movie out right now (a satire) about this whole issue. I haven’t seen it. (The link is to a Wall Street Journal review; sorry if non-subscribers can’t open it. But here is a link to the IMDb page about it.)

  • CaptDMO

    Can’t wait for the post apocalypse movie where The Guggenheim is used as a roller skate/skateboard arena. Maybe the growing popularity in televised quad-copter racing (replacing US pro sports venues where “activists” assume the Here’s your blow-job position to start the game), will make better use of the artwork as “distraction” obstacles to be navigated around.
    I know some folks that could turn it into a “competitive video game battle” studio, with audience seating, and concession stands, with two month’s prep, and a two week “install”.
    I don’t think ANY of them graduated from a US college with a 4 year “humanities” degree though….so…

  • Michael Jennings

    If you go south-west from Bilbao, there is a modernist concert hall designed by Rem Koolhaas in Porto in Portugal. (Yes, these starchitects have managed to extract an awful lot of money out of regional governments in Spain and Portugal). The Casa da Musica has a system of ramps and other surfaces outside that make a fabulous skateboard park. If you go there, you will find that it is constantly being used as such, and this use is encouraged or at least tolerated by the powers that be. They probably call it “inclusiveness” or something.

    Bilbao is a rust-belt city that declined economically at about the same time that similar cities in the UK declined when much of that heavy industry moved to Asia. Since then it has been gradually gentrifying, diversifying and building a more modern economy. (It’s also been getting richer along with Spain generally getting richer since the dictatorship ended, and also because the negative effects of Basque Nationalist terrorism have gone away). I have been visiting the city from time to time for more than 20 years (and I was there the day before yesterday) and, bluntly, the city is vastly more prosperous and the people vastly better off than they were twenty years ago.

    I suspect that the presence of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has made a small contribution to this, but only a very small one. The vast bulk of it would have happened anyway. The claim that the people of Bilbao are not better off is, in my mind, curious. (Spain in general has far too much unemployment and has had difficulty doing anything about it, but this is certainly not a Bilbao-specific issue).

    I actually quite like the Guggenheim museum as a building. It has a certain awkwardness about it, but I like the way it fits into the restored industrial ruins around it. (Frank Gehry’s buildings all look the same, but I think his one design works better in Bilbao than anywhere else). The art inside it is unremarkable, I agree. The trouble with doing a deal with the Guggenheim Foundation is that they let you have their brand, but keep all the good art in New York.

    A for

  • Richard Thomas

    Like the old phrase about hammers and nails, when your answer to everything is taxing and spending…