The Seduction of the Bureaucrat
15 March - 4 June 2023
Group show, De Garage, Mechelen
The Seduction of the Bureaucrat is a project that sheds light on an unlikely relationship: that between art and bureaucracy. Creativity is not usually consistent with forms, procedures and protocols. The artist and the civil servant or manager, they are far apart, each in their own biotope: the studio and the office. Yet they can hardly do without each other. Every professional artist is busy with administration, and the cultural sector also benefits from sound, incisive policies. Curator Pieter Vermeulen invites about 20 visual artists to ask how they look at bureaucracy and how they deal with it in their work. Does bureaucracy constrain creativity, or does mastery only show itself in limitation? Do Kafkaesque situations still occur in shadowy back rooms and dusty archives, or does today’s office space look different? What is the impact of technology? What does Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” still mean in a current work ethic of quiet quitting, bore- and burnout? Is creativity still relevant in a country where even accounting is creative? And is it up to the artist to woo the bureaucrat, or to resist the temptation of bureaucracy himself? The title of the exhibition is an allusion to a 1983 essay by artist AA Bronson, who describes the emergence of artists’ initiatives in Canada as “the humiliation of the bureaucrat.” Some 30 years later, however, he publishes another essay in which he expresses his disappointment with the institutionalization of these same initiatives and with the artists involved who have in turn become bureaucrats themselves. How do we reconcile institutional routine with charisma, and what role can artists play in this? In what ways do we make more space for contemporary art, and how to increase public engagement? These are just some of the questions that will guide a series of public conversations throughout the month of May.