Week Two: The Exhibitionary Complex in LA

In “The Exhibitionary Complex,” Tony Bennett discusses two opposing views when exhibiting museum art and artifacts: the Carceral Archipelago, and the Exhibitionary Complex. These two opinions interpret both the public gaze and the display of art in different ways–the former seeing it as a form of incarceration, and the latter seeing it as way to educate the public through such artifacts. The articles surmises that through self-monitoring, museums acts as an exhibition which seeks to educate and inform normal everyday people by directly integrating them into it.

I had somewhat of a difficult time trying to draw an example I’ve personally experienced, but one of the first things that came to my mind was Projection LA–a public art piece here in Silverlake on Sunset Boulevard, which I’m sure everyone has seen on their social media feeds at one point or another. This article I found best describes the scene surrounding the whitewashed motel.

As you walk the western edge of the trendy hamlet of Silver Lake on the city’s storied Sunset Boulevard, it’s the palms you see first, as the monotone piece slowly emerges from the contextual beige of strip mall stucco. Actually, first you’ll see dozens of people standing precariously in the middle of four lanes of traffic to Instagram the piece, which is about as social-media ready as a public art piece could possibly be.

I feel that the first half of the description relates to Bennett’s Exhibitionary Complex because the art that is being showcased is not imprisoned or incarcerated, but is rather extremely accessible to the public, and therefore allowing the “common man” to partake in an experience that is normally thought to be that of higher-class or wealthier populations. Furthermore, the second half of this excerpt takes this exhibition from public to… I guess “super public” through social media, thereby expanding the reach of this art piece even further to populations that would normally not partake in such an experience.

That being said, it’s definitely evident that more and more museums are taking advantage of the Exhibitionary Complex–take for example, The Broad, LACMA’s Urban Light, etc.–by exposure to and incorporation of everyday people. It’s a trend that is fueled by today’s digital media, and although I love the concept of increasing art’s accessibility, I wonder if all this is just that–a trend–and how long will it last?


4 thoughts on “Week Two: The Exhibitionary Complex in LA”

  1. I totally agree on your point of trends coming from exposure and sharing by social media, an extremely accessible medium. It’s interesting to see how interest has peaked over the years because of the growth of users on social media platforms like Instagram, especially. Though this seems to benefit the museums and get their names out to a broader audience, it can also definitely detract from the educational purposes of them; many people go to LACMA for the Urban Lights to take photos with and whatnot, but how many people actually go inside and immerse themselves in all that the museum has to offer?

  2. Although several have criticized such trendy, social media ready and publicly accessible artworks, I think it does a good job spreading the message of art. When we say it is undesirable or wrong for artwork to be appreciated or edified in a certain way, it reveals a more problematic assumption we have about what art is. We put it on an intellectual pedestal and describe it as a classy pastime/ activity that should not be tarnished or ruined through the interference of digital sharing tools. Personally, I am fine with people not taking art as seriously as it is “supposed to be” taken- who even decided how art should be appreciated, and why does their authority matter? As it is, many think that art is inaccessible and too abstract, and to debunk this myth I would rather have more people engage with art with the encouragement of social media, regardless of how seemingly frivolous that interaction may be.

  3. When you mentioned about how Projection LA is essentially a “super public” exhibition, I thought it was interesting, because to some extent it is — there is no admission you need to pay, and everyone can take as many Instagram pictures of it as they want, but at the same time they cannot enter the hotel. It’s surrounded by a chainlink fence that has barbed wire on top, which acts like a barrier. At the same time though, do people see Projection LA as an art piece? Or as something that is simply ‘trendy’ and a must-see because of it’s aesthetically-pleasing qualities? Of course, because there is no real ‘curator’/curating going on, people have all of the authority to view Projection LA as they want. If they wanted to understand the artist’s meaning, it would take a Google search. It is just up to the viewer to exert that effort.

  4. Your post reminds me that some scholars now think that Foucault’s notion of surveillance by the state as a mechanism of power is less relevant to us now than a different kind of surveillance: the kind of low-level scrutiny that we all apply to each other, through mechanisms like social media and Google.

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