Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lucy Lippard: On the Beaten Track

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Lucy Lippard is amazing. I've written about her quite extensively before, mostly in the context of her book "Lure of the Local," from 1997. You can read a lot of that book here but one of the cool things about Lippard's books is the layout- they're slightly irregularly shaped and they just feel right. "On the Beaten Track," written in 1999, is slightly different. Where "Lure of the Local" is about art and, well, the local, "On the Beaten Track" is a bit more theoretical. It's still situated in Lippard's experience, but there's a reason Dean McCannell and Lippard's work relate to each other- they're quite scholarly and probably fit in some "tourism theory" or "sociology of travel" kind of niche.

I'm going to blame #onlineschool for the crappiness of this review- I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and haven't had time to write the book report and the details are gone. This was one of those books, too, that every page was full of a serious concept that required stopping and thinking- one of the books I'm tempted to buy and have on my shelf so that I can refer back to it. Either that, or to learn from it by osmosis, which is what I do with most of the books on my shelves since I hardly ever actually refer back to any of them.

One of the concepts that stuck with me (actually, I folded the corner down so I could come back to it), was Lippard's discussion of the cycle of arts tourism and even the development of a local art community on a place. Campaigns to bring awareness to the cultural prizes in a place (she uses small towns in Maine as her example) may bring tourist dollars in a more sustainable way than a mall; these projects are advocated for as "economic development resources." The issue, however, is that "a region's local identity is more likely to be further falsified or diluted than researched and amplified by such campaigns." Is Marfa still Marfa? Is West Oakland still West Oakland (or will it be for long) now that young urban pioneers/artists have "found" it? As Sarah Schulman described in "Gentrification of the Mind," these well-meaning tourist/economic development campaigns drive out artists who aren't actually looking to be the object of the tourist gaze. The cycle continues, though, as the artists drive out the residents who aren't looking to be "uplifted." As Lippard writes, "artists 'pioneer' rundown areas with cheap space and become the flying wedge of tourism and gentrification, only to join in dispersion the communities they themselves have displaced."

This book is genius. It forces those who travel, or even live in a community, to think about what they're doing. Lippard uses the lens of art (and how can you fault her- it's a great one), and really, I want to read everything she's written.