About putting a cart before a horse or why it is so bad if it is so good

A serious and respectable cultural institution offered us an opportunity to present one of our photographic projects in their space. Needless to say that is something both pleasant and prestigeous (though for many reasons not as prestigeous as it would have been in the past) and generally this is a place frequented by large numbers of visitors so we were really pleased. We approached the exhibition our usual way, which means very seriously. We ordered the passe partout a month in advance to make sure it arrived in time and dried well, so that we could cut the matts and frame pictures properly. The pictures themselves were selected well in advance, their arrangement decided and prints made. A few days of work went into putting it all together, cutting the matts and so on. Needless to say, all the formats had been agreed on beforehand with the hosts, as well as the type of frames we would be provided and their numbers with so that we could prepare everything to perfection. Everything was confirmed by telephone a number of times as we were getting the slight impression that the other side is … well, a little disorganized. Well, in the end the carefully packed images were sent to the other end of Poland. Well, actually, just to be on the safe side we decided that rather than send the pictures we would deliver them ourselves so that we could assist in putting up the exhibition and making sure everything is arranged as well as it could be. After all, they were our pictures and who knew them better than we?

Once we arrived, it turned out that not only was the glass in the frames dirty, but first of all the 50×70 frames we had been promised proved to be 40×60. But then, we were told, it was not much of a problem. After all we could trim the pictures (sic!!!). We stare at the nice lady from the very important cultural institution in disbelief, with wide eyes – What do you mean? Trim the pictures? Operation panic, they are desperately trying to borrow the right size of frames from other institutions. We are told the problem can be solved. We hear the comforting words that problems will be solved in time but somehow we are convinced. Not that there were too many comforting words; everyone is busy writing applications for funds to make sure they get money for the next year. Everyone is so busy doing the funds applications that hardly anyone has time to take care of the exhibition.

I deliberately don’t mention the cultural institution by name. I don’t aim to criticise any single museum or gallery but to look at a larger problem that we encounter on a daily basis. Because everyday we encounter cultural institutions with dirty frames, unmatching frames, we see exhibitions where not a single image is hung straight, we see dirty passe partouts and places where people can hardly tell one type of frame from another and are willing to place photographs in frames that had been used fro carbon drawing without cleaning them first. But first and above all we keep coming across cultural institution where everyone is busy writing applications and projects instead of preparing exhibitions, searching out interesting artists, promoting exhibitions and art in general among the youth. It is nearly every day that we learn that the most important skill for a person working for an institution of culture is creating fund applications, not preparing exhibitions.

There is this saying about putting a cart in front of a horse, about doing things in the wrong order, putting them upside down, not interfering with the natural order of things, priorities, hierarchy, the natural order. Cultural institutions were, at least in theory, not invented to write applications or projects. They were not designed to organize events by the number, trying to get as many projects done and write some more. And it doesn’t matter that only two often the whole audience at an even are the employees (as often happens where I live. Their objective should be to popularize culture, to discover artists, set trends and develop the understanding of culture. Ambitions and well known aims only their practical realization looks kind of pathetic if the actions of a cultural institution are really assessed by the skill in writing applications and adjusting the actions to the current political expectations. The assessment should be by the artistic level, impact, influence both on the artists and audience. After all, has anyone ever seen a horse pulled by a cart?