The Tate's Crack: Dangerous Art?

by Molly Kenney

Despite evidence on this blog to the contrary, I am not obsessed with crack. This time it’s not a ridiculous drug law that has caught my attention, but an art installation at London’s Tate Modern. And this crack is proving pretty dangerous.

Colombian artist Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth 2007 is a 167-meter split down the floor of the Tate’s Turbine Hall. Salcedo says this artwork represents the cleavages in society caused by racism and colonial exploitation, and the Tate extols it as “ask[ing] questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.” For all of its deeper meaning and artistic value, however, Shibboleth 2007 seems to be acting like any other piece of uneven ground and wrenching ankles, skinning knees, and generally injuring spectators left and right. I wonder if a slip and fall lawsuit is any more glamorous when art’s involved?

The Tate reports, according to the BBC News, only ten minor injuries so far, but the crack has been widely criticized, since its installation, as a potentially serious safety hazard. The museum has refrained from installing any safety barriers, deeming them interruptive of the art, but the depth of the crack and the process by which the work was installed has remained secret (although it has been made public that the hall’s floor was actually cleaved during installation). Some warning signs suggest a danger to children, but tourists of all ages have reported near falls into the artistic abyss.

The symbolism of the schism is touching, but the art label shouldn’t legitimize exemption from basic rules of public safety and common sense, as it seems modern art often does. The injuries, however minor, aren’t symbolic, and lawsuits won’t be either when Salcedo and the rarified air-breathing curators have to appear in court. Perhaps some more signs or a little fence around the crack — I know, how typically white American of me to distance myself from racism — would make things safer without disrupting visitors’ view of the piece. Then maybe everyone can avoid falling into this modern art chasm.

(Promotional photo from the Tate Modern. Shibboleth 2007 will be on display at the Tate Modern until April 6, 2008.)

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Caitlin Servilio said...

I have to disagree. I have to wonder, in fact, if this crack is so huge and so notorious, why don't people just not walk by it? You wouldn't go dancing along the edge of the Grand Canyon because clearly you could fall and get hurt. This strikes me as the same kind of thing as people who sue coffee franchises because for some reason they didn't realize that the coffee is really, really, hot. And it's a museum--parents shouldn't be allowing their kids to roam around everywhere, because there's other dangers in this world besides artistic chasms--pedophiles, thieves, etc.

I have some advice for anybody who sues the Tate or the artist: next time you see a huge gaping crack in the floor, avoid it.

mkenney said...

Your comment assumes that people are rational and that liability never applies to organizations like the Tate. You and I may not dance along the edge of the Grand Canyon, but because some people would, the National Park Service has placed loads of warning signs and fences to prevent accidents. The hot coffee suits are very similar to this, and you said it yourself--they resulted in warning labels to reduce company liability and injuries, even if the majority of those injured didn't reason that coffee could be hot.
Really, let's not pull out "the world is a dangerous place" card--it's a trite response to safety concerns and pretty unrelated to slip-and-fall accidents. In this case, the Tate needs more warning signage and safety precautions around "Shibboleth 2007" because some people don't watch their kids, the footing isn't even and even careful people can slip, and because the Tate could get a serious lawsuit over something so easy to prevent.
"Pedophiles, thieves, etc." are held liable for their actions, too, by the way.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely ridiculous - the installation has been very well publicised and the Tate staff hand out leaflets upon entering the turbine hall. People should just look where they are going and not turn to law suits when they are not paying adequate attention and fall over. Take responsibility for your own actions - be a grown up.

mkenney said...

I agree that people should use common sense, but when I visited the Tate, there were no staff members handing out leaflets and there were only a few small signs. There were, however, large crowds pushing by and children running around. For the safety of all it's visitors and for protection from lawsuits by people who might thoughtlessly stick their legs into the crack (the same people who make careers out of slip and fall suits), the Tate needs greater precautions. In this litigious society, the museum should be sensitive to liability, as any 'grown-up' should.

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