PR tricks and a Utopian drive
Perhaps it’s because I’m used to writing words for money, or that I lack a certain Utopian drive, but I’ve never quite understood the attraction of contributing to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written, edited and occasionally vandalized by its army of unpaid readers. Why devote precious, unremunerated hours to an un-attributed entry on the wallaby, or the comic actor Steve Guttenberg, only to find that your text has been re-formulated by a passing amateur zoologist, or desecrated by an incensed film fan who’s convinced that Guttenberg should have handed in his badge after Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987)? Truly, the Wikipedia contributor’s task is one that would make Sisyphus weep.
However, for all that Wikipedia frustrates authorial intent, and for all its manifold failings as a research tool (a recent article on the satirical news site The Onion was headlined ‘Wikipedia celebrates 750 Years of American Independence’), it is nevertheless being put to effective use as a PR mechanism by certain members of the art world. It would be foolish to think that the lengthy entries on superstar artists such as Damien Hirst, Louise Bourgeois, and Matthew Barney were written by their subjects (indeed, as I write this, there is a rather brilliant bit of vandalism on Barney’s page claiming that he starred in the 1982 beer ‘n’ bosoms teen-flick Porky’s), but browse through those devoted to art world figures with less mainstream recognition, and its hard not to read them as ever so slightly conceited works of autobiography.
To name names would be unsporting, but it’s worth wondering just who on this anonymous and supposedly neutral site described a young gallerist as an influential ‘critical taskmaster’, or an independent curator as being ‘distinguished by his unique conceptual approach’ if not their good selves? While the reward for posting your own entry is a hagiography that appears on the first page of any Google search of your name, the drawbacks are near non-existent – Wikipedia’s contributors edit hot-button entries such as those on Palestine and Harry Potter several times a day, but are unlikely to even notice those on semi-obscure art world professionals. Given this, perhaps its time to compose a Wikipedia page of my own, in the site’s famously unreliable house-style: ‘Tom Morton is a curate and writher based in Lagos. He is contraband editor of the radical Anglo-French architecture journal Chalet, and his exhibitionisms include ‘Zapcultuur’, an 1807 survey of film and video art from Benelux’.