Friday, July 17, 2009

can't possibly be real dept.

Surely this article on a trip to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is phony. Seriously, this reads like one of those faux editorials that appears in the Onion. Right? Even the picture of the author projects deliberately cultivated awkwardness. Courtesy of C-Monster, via Eyeteeth.


Anonymous Joseph Barbaccia said...

The article "bogs" the mind.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article reads like an entry-level, first-year writing assignment in some kind of 'writing and culture' type-course. I'd like to say it reads like a high-school essay, but generally speaking, high-school English classes aren't exactly breaking records these days. I certainly don't know any artists on the Walker's payroll. Yes, he falls sentimentally for a Keifer painting, and yes he isn't 'initiated...'

...but I have to say, there are some interesting things at play. Why is it, exactly, that contemporary art institutions are constantly maintaining 'relevance' as a qualifying factor in their ventures, and yet as viewers we have to be so thoroughly initiated to actually comprehend this 'relevance?'

And importantly, why aren't people allowed to complain about such things? Observe the essay's upward-mobility through the blogosphere (my own response included). Doesn't the flurry of activity surrounding the article confirm this guy's complaint?

I can't agree with all of this person's opinions, nor could I read the essay as capital C criticism. But frankly, the review echoes the type of complaints I hear from plenty of intelligent, curious people. I have to agree that the pushiness of museum shops and outrageous design amounts to something insulting.

If I didn't know any better, I think Mr. Kaufman struck a nerve.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, "struck a nerve?"
Heck, he hit it out of the park.

Still, you have to love a game where a bunch of smartass kids fleece big bucks right out of the pockets of the rich, and the richer the better.

The emperor has NO clothes, but maybe it's about the redistribution of wealth.


12:08 AM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

This is basically a variation on the classic my kid could do that argument against avante-garde art...except it's the kid making the argument, and it seems like a pretty safe bet that he can't do that.

My day job, of course, is to bring contemporary art to a general while I'm sympathetic to the complaint that art requires some amount of explanation and/or training to be fully experienced and understood, I don't know that this is any less true for music, film, theater, literature, or any other medium that has a history.

If you don't have some idea who Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Pharaoah Sanders are, or how each might relate to the next, then a jazz concert may not mean a whole hell of a lot to you. If you can't separate Alfred Hitchcock from Jean Luc Godard or Orson Welles...well, you see where I'm going with this.

You can experience a work of contemporary art on a number of different levels: First, there's the very direct engagement or confrontation with the viewer. This can seem absurd, threatening, pleasant, unpleasant, funny, whatever...and those responses matter. The writer of the article felt a sense of incomprehension at some of the unusual things he was seeing, and you know what? That's not necessarily a bad place to start. Not to finish, mind you, but to start.

Then there's whatever relationship the piece has with the space in which it's being shown...with whatever else is being produced right now by other artists...and with all of the rest of art history.

The viewer may or may not have access to all of those issues, all of that backstory. Hopefully the curator will either set up a relationship of one work to others within a show that has a clearly defined theme; provide some amount of text/explanation for people wanting a foothold; and just generally help make a coherent argument out of the objects or experiences being offered.

But all of this requires willing participation, and a willingness to have your mind changed about what our experiences in the world mean.

James Elkins once said that art is something he relies on to change who he is as a person--not to reaffirm ideas he already has about the world, or about visual quality, or craftsmanship, but to actually change the way he sees things.

I like this idea. You read a powerful work of literature, or see a challenging work of art, or work of theater or film, and the world is suddenly a different place.

Of course, that's not always pleasant, having one's assumptions about the world kicked around. That's not an experience everyone wants to sign up for. And, accordingly, the article we have here is basically describing an experience the author rejected, decided not to have.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean to nitpick, but art doesn't have a history, it has historIES. Nor does it have context, but contextS. It exists within a larger system, or ideally within a larger community, that includes music, fashion, politics, poetry, sports, television, other words, within a culture, or across cultureS. The connections and avenues binding these things together should, ideally, be partially legible to the viewer in a first encounter. Really, how could they not be? How could we be turned off by an artwork (or have any other reaction) if there wasn't some degree of legibility? Well...we might have to start making assumptions, our readings might appear peculiarly personalized...or uneducated.

My question being, did the viewer reject his encounters at the Walker out of close-mindedness, or is there a grain of insight in his reaction? Clearly, any art form can't be FULLY experienced without some type of familiarity or openness on the part of the viewer (I'd hate to imagine an artwork so aggressive and one-dimensional). But most works should, I think, have a certain degree of legibility. The pillaging of the avant-garde and the insularity of museums have left us with a field of work that appears to serve only itself, and yet it maintains a over-inflated sense of importance. Tearing apart Op-Ed pieces from university papers doesn't do much to address that problem. I hope Kaufman goes back to museums...but after all this, why would he?

...and...a quick disclaimer to Jeffry: I (anonymous #1) don't mean to take the argument to you or your blog specifically. A discussion-based blog such as this goes a long way in opening dialogs!

3:47 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

I understand why you would balk at the notion of art history singular; I would certainly agree that the canon, such as it is, needs to be amended, certainly expanded. But the idea that there is no one version of art history, that there are simply multiple interchangeable narratives that one can simply take or leave, actually strikes me as disempowering: To me, this would mean that nothing is at stake when arguing about what should or shouldn't be included, emphasized, etc. I think art history is an uneasy, shifting consensus, and that fact makes a crusade like the one Jerry Saltz has tried to initiate meaningful: There is a canon, and it needs our attention.

As for art speaking to more than just itself, I am right there with you, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise. Of course contemporary art does and should reference the way we encounter images and ideas in daily life. My current show at the AAC, Paradox Now!, is all about the viewer's responsibility when confronted with charged imagery, the construction of knowledge and authority,simulation, spectacle, and mass media, etc. To my mind, this sort of engagement is important for contemporary art to work.

7:20 PM  

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