New Museum Does It Again: Just Where Are Its Ethical Boundaries?

What would you think if the Metropolitan Museum* joined with Caspari, the maker of fine holiday cards and wrapping paper, in a contest — anyone could enter by designing a new card/product that Caspari might then make (or purchase)? Met curators and Caspari executives would choose the winner, who would get a special Met membership, a cash prize from Caspari, and an invitation to a party celebrating the contest?

What would you think if the Museum of Modern Art* did something similar, aligning perhaps with Gamblin, say, to hold a contest for artists who used Gamblin paints in making a new piece of art? Again, MoMA curators and Gamblin execs would judge the contest, and the prizes would be similar.

thingomatic.bmpYou’d think it was tacky, and probably unethical, right? There’d be coverage by newspapers and art magazines.

Amazingly, something similar is being done by the New Museum, which has in my opinion overstepped the boundaries of ethical museum practices several times now. Is it so often that no one notices anymore? Have expections for the New Museum dropped so far?

This time, the New Museum Store — maybe that’s how the museum excuses itself — is collaborating with MakerBot Industries (which makes a 3D printer called Thing-O-Matic) as follows, taken from the New Museum Store’s website:

Showcasing the endless possibilities of the Thing-O-Matic, the New Museum MakerBot Challenge is open to the entire creative community. Embodying the New Museum’s mission of “New Art, New Ideas,” this interactive and experiential Challenge aims to push the concept of the “derivative,” by improving on or personalizing established design conventions. From the banal toothbrush to complex bicycle gears, how can 3D printing help to develop the world around us?

The winning design will be printed on a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic on display in the New Museum’s window. The winning designer will receive a New Museum Deluxe membership ($400 value), a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic® Kit ($1299 value), and a special invitation to the New Museum MakerBot Challenge launch party.

…A team from both MakerBot and the New Museum will select the final designs.

Seems to me the New Museum — ok, the New Museum Store, a distinction without a difference — is shilling for MakerBot, a new company that could use the publicity.

Traditionally, art museums have kept an arm’s length from corporations, avoiding relationships like this, which use the prestige of a non-profit art museum to enhance the corporation.

Just why the New Museum feels compelled to shill is beyond me.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of MakerBot

*I consult to a foundation that supports these institutions


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