Visit Milton Keynes Art Gallery anytime before March 1 and you’ll be given a shot at solving Thomas Georgeson’s riddle. The prize? £8000. The artist has hidden a blank cheque, stating that whoever discovers it can write it out to themselves.
Georgeson hid his treasure last Tuesday morning to the complete surprise of oblivious gallery director, Anthony Spira. Since then, Spira has had his staff scour the building, but to no avail. It seems that the only person who knows the secret of the cheque’s whereabouts is the man who hid it himself and the only clue he has given is that it is not in or behind any of the artwork. ‘Please respect the gallery’ is the only rule on this crazy game of hide and seek, because after all the artwork is the real point of the matter. Georgeson has not done this as a flamboyant act to demonstrate his wealth. In fact he has said that the £8000 represents almost all he owns. However, it is a sacrifice he is willing to make in order to entice unlikely spectators through the door, visitors that Georgeson feels Milton Keynes’ culture in need of.
In the 60s there were abundant funds for the arts available in the town. However the plans had petered out by the 80s to be replaced by schemes that were more likely to generate money. With today’s government making cuts to the arts, it’s no surprise that Milton Keynes may have lost what Georgeson refers to as its “sense of bold, risk-taking creativity.”
“I see a disconnect between the gallery and the people”, he has commented, but it seems that now is the time to rekindle that old courage. Anthony Spira appears confident that regardless of whether not the cheque is actually found, it is nevertheless a positive thing that will attract people to the exhibition and that once there their eyes will be opened to the real wonder on offer in galleries. Perhaps a similar incentive should be placed in other galleries across Britain and perhaps even in museums, concert halls and theatres.
It appears that the rise in Internet use has sparked a change in people’s attitudes towards culture. The National Endowment for the Arts has revealed in a recent study that there has been a significant drop in people visiting art galleries and museums since 2002. Furthermore, the study underlines a decrease in the number of people attending theatre, ballet and concerts. If these statistics ring true then it doesn’t bode well for the future. The recent trend of people favouring home downloads to visiting the cinema has been a topic for much discussion recently. While I fully believe that the loss of cinemas would leave a vacant gap in our society, I personally think that the loss of galleries and museums would be a far more crippling. Galleries and museums, along with libraries, provide free enrichment for all. Education being a basic human right this means galleries and museums qualify as not just a pleasant feature of society, but in my eyes at least, as essential.
Museums allow us to reflect on our place in history and what made us who we are today, whilst galleries provide us with the opportunity to express how we feel about our current place in society and what makes each of us as a person individual. Film it can be argued is also a medium for expression but the main importance of galleries and museums is that there is no charge to see the majority of the exhibitions. It can be said that the internet is a fantastic resource as it also provides free education. The wealth of knowledge now available at the touch of a button is practically limitless. However, we as a human beings need to be able to experience not just assimilate. We need to put ourselves into physical, active situations with other people. I am not for one minute suggesting that art and history themselves are in danger of disappearing. As long as the human race continues it will always be interested in these two topics and find a way to share and learn more about them. What does concern me is the format that this will be done in the future.
Therefore I salute Georgeson in his efforts to encourage people to drag their gaze away from their computer screens and fix their eyes instead on the work of Silvia Bachli and Eric Hatten (Milton Keynes Art Galleries’ current exhibition). It may be a shame that he has had to go to such materialistic means, but to quote Georgeson himself, whatever the cheque is spent on will become art in itself, whether that be a mortgage payment or a holiday, “and that to me is a miracle.”