Today we bring you an an update to Christian L. Frock‘s mid-September article about the Station to Station project by Levi’s. Although Frock originally balanced her skepticism about corporate sponsorship for the arts with a healthy dose of optimism by concluding, “Perhaps there is hope yet for privatized culture,” when she finally attended the event at the end of last month she was met with a host of problems. What follows is her damning account of the evening and the project, and it provides food for thought regarding the ways in which the arts and corporations should—and should not—work together. This article was originally printed by our partners at KQED Arts on October 5, 2013.
Earlier this month a so-called public art extravaganza featuring a changing cast of “artists, musicians and creative pioneers” made its way across the country by rail. Station to Station, as it was called, was a project by multi-media artist Doug Aitken and made possible by Levi’s, whose corporate sponsorship has quietly supported an astonishing number of recent public art projects. The list of “participants” in Station to Station was an impressive array of creative personalities—too many to list here—including Patti Smith, Ernesto Neto, James Turrell, Alice Waters, Theaster Gates, Olafur Eliasson, and Nam June Paik, among many others. The train started in New York with stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Kansas City, Santa Fe, Winslow, Barstow, and Los Angeles, before it came to a stop in Oakland last Saturday, September 28, 2013. While the marketing folks (as quoted in the New York Times) at Levi’s might consider this experiment a success based on the envy of other brands, this singular criterion means nothing in contemporary art or to the people who actually care about it. Herewith are some of the things I hated most about Station to Station, culled from a long list.
The train itself was to be a moving kinetic light sculpture, additionally the “programming” was designed to bring together widely known creative figures with local legends from each municipality drawing from art, music, food, literature and film. Oakland was promised performances by Dan Deacon, Lia Ices, No Age, Savages and several other musicians, along with art by Kenneth Anger, Urs Fischer, Liz Glynn, Evan Holm, Carsten Höller and Ernesto Neto—all staged in and around Oakland’s historic landmark train station designed circa 1912 in the Beaux Arts style by renowned architect Jarvis Hunt. “Moving images” by Yayoi Kusama, Raymond Pettibon, and Ryan Trecartin, among others, were to be featured along with “printed matter” by a host of incredible artists, including Karen Kiliminik, Catherine Opie and Ed Ruscha. In the weeks leading up to the event, all of the venues nation-wide were listed as “sold out” online; tickets were around $30 a pop.