Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WTF'art? The Line Between Snake Oil and Art

What is and isn't art is one of the eternal questions. I tend to be very opened minded (I think) but even I have my lines I draw, especially when gimmick overshadows artistic intent and impact. 

Jeffrey Deitch, the new director at The Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, had heard about two young artists who spent the occasional evening ransacking a hotel room, ripping apart phone books, writing on the walls and getting stoned.

"Deitch handed them keys to his SoHo gallery and for almost a week they crammed it with 2,000 shredded phone books, and stabbed a broomstick and broken wine bottles in the walls for "Nest," a show that was to remain there for a month. It didn't even survive the raucous opening night party. The next morning the gallery was such a smelly, flammable beer-and-urine soaked mess it had to be completely cleaned out and refilled with another 2,000 shredded phone books." 

My initial reaction to reading this story was to turn up my nose and cry fowl (That's a Nest joke in case you didn't get it.) The idea that one man has a magic wand that he can wave about and declare anything he wants as art was an anathema to me. But it goes to show that snap reactions and making judgments on what you HEAR instead of what you SEE or EXPERIENCE for yourself is the quickest path to ignorance.

After watching the video of the "NEST" I had to backpedal and reassess my viewpoint. Because the video itself shows an intriguing performance that reflects aspects of human nature... and isn't that what art does? 
But I'm not willing to give carte blanche to anything being art. There are people who are nothing more than faux artists, along for the ride and not really interested in anything except notoriety, money and ...well money. Art should educate, should make you think - should communicate and touch us in some way. But not in the ways some "artists" seem to think it should.

In "But Is It Art?"  Cynthia A. Freeland points out "If artists just want to shock the bourgeoisie, it becomes pretty hard to distinguish the latest kind of art that gets written up inArtforum from a Marilyn Manson performance that includes Satanic rituals of animal sacrifice on stage."

A good example of crossing the line from possible art into lunacy is Richard Whitehouse, an artist from Ohio, who is constructing a piece called The Rape Tunnel. It's an installation in a gallery, a long narrowing tunnel that can be walked through, and he's promising that anybody who enters it during the exhibition, he'll attempt to rape. In a similar exhibit piece in 2007 called THE PUNCH-YOU-IN-THE-FACE TUNNEL, at the end of the tunnel he would punch the subject in the face instead of raping him or her. 

Whitehouse said "The impetus was completely reactionary to the current state of art, and motivated by pure frustration. I ended up breaking the nose of the third person to crawl through the tunnel, an aspiring model. She went to the hospital and eventually sued me. Her modeling career was put on hold. The point of this [is] I’m still having an impact on this young lady’s life, something not many other artists could claim about their work. Rape seemed like the next logical step."
Does that cross the line? I would say so. 
REF Story:,0,7212534.story?page=1

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