Culture Incorporated: Museums, Artists and Corporate Sponsorship

By McIsaac, Peter M | German Quarterly, July 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Culture Incorporated: Museums, Artists and Corporate Sponsorship


McIsaac, Peter M, German Quarterly


Rectanus, Mark W. Culture Incorporated: Museums, Artists and Corporate Sponsorship. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. 288pp. $22.95 paperback.

This study is one of the first in English to address the influence of corporations on art, cultural entities, and audiences in the US and Germany. Rectanus pairs the US and Germany because for him they epitomize how corporate influence on cultural politics is advancing in what he calls "globalized societies." The US represents the societal setting in which philanthropy evolved into contractual sponsorship in the 1960s and where the corporatization of the arts and cultural entities continues to be most entrenched. A special focus on Germany is justified, according to Rectanus, because the economic strains of unification accelerated the turn to foundations and corporate sponsors, markedly expanding corporate influence on culture. This makes Germany an excellent example of "many European countries, which are embracing combinations of public, corporate and foundation funding schemes" (5) to compensate for government cuts. Differences between individual cultures, while acknowledged, are ultimately not the book's focus. Since "recent developments in cultural politics ... are strikingly similar across nations" (5), tendencies manifest on one side of the Atlantic can be expected to resemble those on the other.

Rectanus analyzes the salient dynamics behind those tendencies in three sections. Part 1 focuses on the connection of corporate identity and culture and globalization to corporations' embrace of sponsorship. Part 2 positions sponsorship within numerous case studies of lifestyle and event culture, a kind of cultural marketplace that Rectanus analyzes following the work of sociologist Gerhard Schulze. Part 3 examines museums that employ corporate strategies and alliances as a means of surviving in the cultural marketplace. Particularly with cutbacks in government funding, these dynamics produce a convergence of interests marked by corporate and cultural entities commonly seeking legitimacy, audience acceptance and financial stability.

Rectanus insists on interrogating sponsored culture as a function of corporate interests. By entering into sponsorships, corporations are understood to expose themselves to forces that contest and reshape their interests as well as further them, a notion supported partly by Rectanus' belief that corporations' loss of legitimacy and influence in public policy pushes them to become "cultural producers." Sometimes, contestation takes the form of art that subverts (Hans Haacke) or critiques sponsorship (Jean-Claude and Christo). The book also recognizes instances when sponsorship invigorates culture. However, its leitmotifs are that corporations exert disproportionate influence on cultural production, generate conflicts of interest by not disclosing the terms of their relationships to nonprofits, and typically use sponsorship to deflect attention from and/or control interpretation of questionable past and present policies and products. …

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