Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Only on MAN: Is the Gugg engaging in pay-for-play?

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Former Guggenheim director Thomas Krens is infamous for obliterating ethical lines between exhibitions and corporations: The Guggenheim received an eight-figure donation from Giorgio Armani just as an Armani retrospective went on view at the museum. A BMW-sponsored exhibition of motorcycles generated of complaints too. In partial response to the practices of the Krens years, when Richard Armstrong was hired to replace Krens in 2008 he told the New York Times that it was “unlikely” that his Guggenheim would engage in that kind of programming. [Image: via Flickr user Amaianos.]

Never say never?: A new Guggenheim initiative, announced yesterday, may indicate that the Guggenheim is again flirting with pay-for-show, albeit in a scaled-down manner.

The Guggenheim, Google subsidiary YouTube and Hewlett-Packard announced Tuesday that that the Gugg will host an exhibition called “YouTube Play. A Biennial of Creative Video.” According to the release, an unspecified group of “experts” will choose videos “submitted from around the world” that will then be “presented” at the Guggenheims in New York, Berlin, Bilbao and Venice on October 21. The works will also be shown on YouTube.

Asked by MAN whether the Guggenheim was receiving a financial contribution or payment from any of the participating companies, the Guggenheim sent me the following statement:

The Guggenheim does not comment on contractual agreements or finances. YouTube Play is a collaboration among the three organizations, with the Guggenheim providing the curatorial expertise, YouTube providing the platform, and HP providing the technology.

I repeatedly pointed out to the Guggenheim that its response to my questions explicitly refused to deny that there is a financial arrangement between Google/YouTube, HP and the museum related to the exhibition (or “presentation”). I offered the Guggenheim several opportunities to be more direct, but the museum declined to comment further. A public relations firm working on the project for Google/YouTube had not returned MAN’s emails at publication time.

Further oddity: The Guggenheim’s Tuesday press release went out of its way to link the possible pay-for-show arrangement to the museum’s curatorial department. The Guggenheim’s release featured quotes not just from Armstrong but from the Guggenheim’s deputy director and chief curator, Nancy Spector.

“With this online global initiative, we’re not looking for what’s ‘now,’ we’re looking for what’s next,” Spector said in the release. “In the last two decades, there has been a paradigm shift in visual culture. The moving image has been fully absorbed into critical contemporary art practices, and now we are witnessing the power of the Internet to catalyze and disseminate new forms of digital media, including online video. This collaborative project with YouTube and HP will highlight some of the most innovative work being produced today and will draw on the Guggenheim’s ongoing commitment to new media.”

UPDATE: While I received the releases on this yesterday, the Guggenheim announced the project on June 14. Sorry for the confusion.

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  1. […] – Questionable practices: Is the Guggenheim Museum engaging in pay-for-play? (Modern Art Notes) […]

  2. Kathryn Born says:


    An interesting story and situation. My question is the legality and ethics related to the lack of disclosure.

    The AAM’s museum accreditation expectations, say this:
    (Accreditation Commission’s Expectations Regarding Mission)

    “Characteristics of an Accreditable Museum Related to Mission:
    The museum asserts its public service role and places education at the center of that role.
    The museum is committed to public accountability and is transparent in its
    mission and its operations.
    The museum has a clear understanding of its mission and communicates why it
    exists and who benefits as a result of its efforts.
    All aspects of the museum’s operations are integrated and focused on meeting
    its mission.
    The museum’s governing authority and staff think and act strategically to acquire,
    develop, and allocate resources to advance the mission of the museum.”

    PDF here:

    So it seems like if they’re really not answering that question, that lack of transparency is something of an ethical no-no.


  3. Robert says:

    I came across Robert Hughes’s review of the Guggenheim Motorcycle show a couple days ago. He loved the show and wrote brilliantly about it: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988928,00.html

    My point then: Can’t a good show result from shady dealings? Indeed, haven’t most major dealers and collectors historically been quite shady? But inside the white cube (or spiral here), we insist on virginal innocence.

  4. […] of a conflict of interest, to say the least. Tyler Green does a great job talking about this in his article at Modern Art Notes. "YouTube Play. A Biennial of Creative […]

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