Our newest columnist Rosy Wiseman investigates the marked lack of media enthusiasm for the Cultural Olympiad – despite the ever-eulogistic tone of its organisers…
Just a few weeks before its debut, the Cultural Olympiad remains an ugly duckling. This isn’t because its name sounds like a fungal disease, since that should have been alleviated by the last minute London Festival re-jig. Nor have journalists shied away from glowing coverage of its headliners, with well thought out events such as the ‘Genius of Hitchcock’ tickling art correspondents pink, while enabling happy committee speak on ‘heritage’ and ‘legacy’.
Yet these events tend to get covered independently, or siphoned off from the rest of the Olympiad as the acceptable face of enthusiasm. As a whole it has garnered a veritable boo hiss of headlines on what music/sculpture/comedians on a barge have to do with sport, culminating in Ross Clark, of the Daily Mail, playing his trump card and comparing this unnatural cultural appendage (via Adolf – ADOLF, do you see? – Hensel) to Hitler.
Before his exposé, Clark touched on the modern origin of the idea of a cultural accompaniment to the games. Pierre de Coubertin wanted to revive the Olympic Games in full, which meant giving medals not only to athletes but also for architecture, literature, painting, music and sculpture. Sport was not always so obviously anathema to the arts. During democratic Athens’ most important festival, the Panatheneia, the individualism of competitions in armed dance and boat racing were offset by the provision of free theatre tickets for every citizen (using state levied funds). This was meant to reaffirm the basic equality of all Athenian citizens and paper over huge economic and social disparity – a snapshot of their democracy and its contractions.
Perhaps this is why journalists today look at the 100 million free tickets available for the Cultural Olympiad with such suspicion. In a recent Financial Times article, Freize Projects East chairman Matthew Stotover described the art installations popping up in host boroughs as “approachable objects you don’t need a PhD in art history to engage with”. By staggering events for various intellectual abilities, under the nebulous cover of ‘something for everyone’, the Cultural Olympiad misses out on the key Athenian conceit of equality.
Another reason why LOCOG can only dream of Dionysian pitches of enthusiasm for their London Festival is its committee-based addiction to ‘legacy’; a word already hollowed out by departing Prime Ministers. Taking place only once every four years, part of the Olympic appeal lies in that many athletes will only have a winning chance once or twice in their lives. The re-brand to the London Festival acknowledges the loveliness of temporality and hopes to annex the euphoria of crowds in fields. ‘Legacy’, here, is a party pooper par excellence.
Words: Rosy Wiseman © 2012 ArtLyst
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