Arte y turismo

Arte y turismo [Art and Tourism], Concreta ,10, autumn 2017.

Deals with the relationship between art and tourism in the 1960s, when the practice of the latest avant-garde movements tended to make art into an event, a location or a situation, while leisure travel became a defining phenomenon of mass culture.


Since its origins, the modern artistic experience has been situated in open opposition to the touristic experience. Artistic experiences are considered as corresponding to an educated individual, who acts freely and creatively, while touristic experiences have the connotation of corresponding to someone who is unreflective, alienated and in a sense pre-programmed. Art is considered authentic, with sufficient depth to affect and disturb us, while tourism is seen more as a mere marketing created pseudo-experience. However, once the art of the sixties dispenses with the protective shield of the “pure” aesthetic experience, once the work of art ceases to be an object to be contemplated, and is posited as an experience in and of itself like any other experience, then the hierarchical relationship between “authentic" vs “superficial" experiences becomes problematic.

The contradictions are interconnected. On the one hand, our common perception of tourism is conditioned by the negative effects of the industry. On the other hand, the perception of the phenomenon as something annoying and banal reinforces the conviction that it does not deserve theoretical reflection. When in 1958 Enzesberger publishes his precocious "theory of tourism,” he insists on the significant resistance of "intelligence" to consider it a subject worthy of critical analysis. He pointed out two reasons: one, that history is concerned with societies, not people, which is why, "as something proper to people, it still lacks a historical understanding." The other is that modern contempt for the tourist is not something external to the phenomenon, but rather an element inherent to it from the point of view of romanticism. Thus, negative criticism based on contempt remains blind to its true nature, so that in effect, he argued the obfuscated naivety of these arguments increases with the use of cultured, artistic or metaphysical approaches.

Apart from studies in the social sciences done from a partial and instrumental perspective for promoting the industry, tourism has indeed been slow to become an object of academic study. The publication of The Tourist by Dean MacCannell in 1977 marked the beginning of critical thinking and a theory worthy of the name. In his book he assumes that "leisure reflects the social structure" (Veblen), but conceived the leisure trip as a "modern ritual" whose attractions constitute an unplanned typology of structure analogous to those of religious symbolism (Durkheim). With modernization and its tendency for disintegration comes an increasing complexity of social differentiations (of class, lifestyles, race, gender, ideology, profession, etc.). Touristic attractions are an unpremeditated reflection of these differentiations that allow the uprooted tourist to construct totalities out of disparate experiences. From this perspective, tourism is one of the most effective systems of social and cultural order in modernity.

In this framework, artistic events would be threatened if they were conflated with tourism; their accommodating discourses in the wake of Critical Theory, dominant in today's art scene, fulfill the comforting and protective function of keeping alienated dullards separate from conscious critics. But the persistence of this division in the art world, full of snobs doing museum tours (ourselves included) is becoming comical. Museums and tourism were born at the same time. Both have a similar historical function: one has the impossible mission of gathering, ordering and giving unity to the dislocated fragments of the world—History, Nature—; and the other has the equally impossible task of offering the illusion of unity through the spectacular staging of History and Nature located in sites discreetly prepared for the traveler. The musealization of the world and its touristization are part of the same process. The novelty is that today, massification and commercialization have saturated the discursive devices that kept them apart and have left their common root visible in all its crudeness.

In this issue we recall what Smithson already knew: that the whole earth should be thought of as a museum of natural history. Hence, the dialectic of its non-sites contributes to illuminating tourist "places" and, as James Meyer points out, the emergence of site-specifics should be interpreted by its dialectic relationship with the increase of mobility. Lanzarote is a singular site-specific, an island turned into a "total work of art,” says Mariano de Santa Ana, thanks to the tourist industry—the same industry that builds beaches as huge non-sites which, according to Vicente Benet, are the result of a full correspondence between visual representation and constructive staging. A museum as static as the Prado Museum also enhanced its attractions, insists Eugenia Afinoguénova, to mobilize its visitors for reasons of identity. Beatriz Herráez addresses the case of the Athenian headquarters of the last Documenta art festival, whose expressly political discourse remained comfortably blind to its own reality as an artistic-tourist event, a contradiction that some of its "hosts" made explicit by accusing them of practicing, notably, a "tourism of misery.” Roberto Gil deals with Fernando Estévez's theory of the souvenir, taking it seriously, yet not making it “serious," he said, because "banality is a condition of our existence, which is a very serious thing." His proposal is a cry for the liberation of things from their submission to museum and tourist determinations. Finally, Dean MacCannell extensively explains his thesis on tourism as a search for authentic experiences, understanding authenticity as a rhetorical effect fed by the perception of the inauthenticity of our daily life. From all this we can deduce an as yet unthinkable familiarity between the experience of art since the sixties and its parallel massive commercialization in the popular culture of tourism.,  Oto�o 2017