Yesterday, I attended the opening of ‘And Now the Good News: Works from the Annette and Peter Noble Collection’ at the MASI Lugano Arte e Cultura, a newly build arts complex that functions like a Lincoln Center of sorts on Lake Lugano, Switzerland. Its imposing foyer welcomes the visitor after a long esplanade where everybody stares at everybody rather fiercely. Half Italian half Swiss, locals love to look at what others are wearing. In fact, the MASI is not far from a soon to close mega-store of Louis Vuitton due to fact that Russians stopped bringing their stolen money into this tax avoiding paradise The MASI, however, seems to, nostalgically cling to that evanescent present showcasing art not as a human activity linked to the sould but as a possession.
MASI’s director, Marco Franciolli greets everybody scanning for (financial?) opportunities for his museum and to be honest, he is running a rather out of proportion tight ship. That is why, it doesn’t come as a surprise that one of the first shows of his tenure there were dedicated not to art as an activity but to the ‘act of possessing art’.
This was clear after almost an hour of exhaustingly boring speeches by the Mayor, Franciolli himself, the two curators of the show (Elio Schenini and Christoph Doswald) and the collector Peter Noble who said that he did not consider himself a collector and that art (as such) was not his preoccupation. This blatant carelessness for art became evident after looking at his collection.
Once the speeches were over, we were invited to an outdoors amphitheatre where a performance awaited us by a well known Swiss Artist who tried to stain ning carefully folded news papers with a brush held by a drone. Thus, the Swiss obsession with cleanliness met their taste for accumulatioun and, at least for a few minutes everybody seemed fascinated with a rather silly exercise. The big disappointment , however, was the exhibition which takes two big rooms on different floors and is what us, serious art critics, call a curatorial mess.
The introductory text is a history of the Newspaper from the seventeen century till today without any real insight into the emergence of the public opinion as its main force. The curators limited themselves to enunciate phenomena through sheer name dropping. At the MASI, art was presented as an illustration of the history of the newspaper, at least for a few minutes. Thus, Barbara Morgan’s ‘Heast Over the People’, Walker Evans’ ‘Citizen in Downtown Havana’, Robert Capa, among others were not displayed as exploration of the place of photography in relation to the documentation of the present but mere documents registering a historical moments. In this show, Morgan, Capa and Evans were reduced to paper. At that point, I realised that this was not an exploration of newspapers as a human tool of communication and information but a catalog of the ways newspapers could be manipulated. Would the tidy Swiss dare to include fish and chips on newspaper? I don’t thinks so. First and foremost, the people of Lugano are into luxury. Even one of the assistents to the opening cocktail brought an H&M bag as a gesture of calculated luxury. Of course, I am talking about inverted snobbery.
The second section is dedicated to painting and there are very minor works by Picasso, Braque Miro, Dada, Hans Richter, among others. The point of this section is that actual paint was, in times of the avant-garde, laid on newspaper and they have a point. The following section has a couple of works that could be considered the best works in the show but the curatorial approach is, let me say this… disastrous. Under the title ‘Discovering the New World’, curators Schenini and Doswald wrote a text where they mix the 68 movement with the emergence of Pop and the Nouveau Realism without attempting to establish any link whatsoever with the emergence of mass media as the way of shaping public opinion.
At this point, the show is not only linear but ideologically reactionary since those artistic movements, in particular, were the ones which showcased the debate of the status of the image in a massified society. One could say that, in this section, Schenini and Doswald achieve the impossible which is to transform Pop and Nouveau Realisme into mere ornamentation. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that the three Warhols are just inexpensive prints trying to prove a point.
Moreover, in this show, Richard Hamilton’s ‘Swingeing Sixties’ (probably the work that let the ball rolling for the Pop Art movement) and Ed Ruscha (a reflection of the place words in the decontextualizing world of technified mass media) are emptied of all meaning and reduced to ‘a mere collage with newspapers’ (in Hamilton’s case) and a series of prints with the word ‘News” (in the case of Ruscha). After this, the show becomes repetitive, silly and boring. With sections such as ‘We Report? You Decide?’ or ‘Who Loves Me, Follows Me’. The rest is just pointless unless we decide to take this show as an allegory of a time where we stopped to think intelligently and we create categories in the same way we look for images through Google. In this particular case, Peter Noble used the art system as Google, he just typed the word newspaper and the result was this futile exercise of conspicuous consumption. J A T