Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's annoying, sure, but is it art?

There's a new show in New York at the New Museum. You can read about it here. It sounds interesting, but what really caught my eye was this line from Ken Johnson's review:

"Robert Kusmirowski's full-scale reproduction of Theodore Kaczynski's famous cabin is the show's most unfortunate inclusion; the Unabomber's cabin has been exhausted as a motif in American art, if not in Europe."

Wow. Who knew? I'm such a rube I wasn't even aware of a Kaczynski school of American art, let alone that it had been played out. And I love the reviewer's adjective unfortunate. I could hear Johnson sighing over the curator's cluelessness. He probably doesn't even live in Manhattan. The shame.

Today, I want to talk about art. I love art. I buy art when I can afford it, and I go to shows and galleries and museums and some art hits me and some art doesn't.

As Vonnegut said, "So it goes."

One of my favorite painters is Franz Kline. I love the energy of his work but you can't really feel it unless you stand in front of one of his paintings and then the brushstrokes practically leap across the canvas.

I didn't grow up in a family that valued art, at least not art that wasn't something you could point to and say, "Now that, my friend, is a fucking bowl of fruit."

But in my 20's, I was fortunate to hang out with a bunch of painters like my friend Jerry, who introduced me to art, real art, like this early piece of Marcel Duchamp's. It's called Fountain and yes, for the eagle-eyed, that is a urinal. I love this piece for the story, of course. There's always a story with Duchamp.

These friends opened my eyes to 20th century art, and I'm grateful. Because it lets me enjoy things like this:

I love the color guys like Rothko and Morris Louis and Gene Davis, the guy who painted the parking lot at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Frank Rizzo, the former cop and mayor of the city reviewed Davis' work and said, "Stripes? I coulda got my kid to paint stripes."

Everybody's a critic.

Like Jesse Helms, our late and unlamented senator. His head almost exploded over this work. This is Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano, and it's a rather beautiful photo, I think, if you don't know what gives the picture that heavenly glow.

Jesse didn't care much for it.

Jesse didn't like Robert Mapplethorpe, either. His photos, especially his pictures of flowers are really incredible, but Mapplethorpe will most likely be remembered because he gave Jesse the vapors with photos like this.

And this.

Befuddling art isn't confined to paintings and photography, oh no. Modern dance is notorious for leaving audiences slack-jawed.

This is Meredith Monk, a dancer and composer who performed here in Durham a few weeks ago as part of the American Dance Festival. A friend saw the performance and described it as a dancer not really dancing as much as sitting and breathing and making faces every 30 minutes or so.

Um, okay.

Some of my favorite art is sculpture, and if I could, I'd have a yard full of it.

This is Claes Oldenburg. Ever since I saw his giant fan 30 years ago, I've been a sucker for his stuff.

That was also about the time I saw Red Grooms' Ruckus Manhattan. This is larger than life cartoonery. You could walk through this subway car and what I loved most is the floor. It was cantilevered so as you walked, you rocked, just like in a moving subway. Genius.

So that's my thought for the day, kids.

I should have clocked 500 words or so on this novel, but instead I got to talk about art.

Art. God bless all the men and women who put themselves out there trying to make our world more beautiful, more fun, more thoughtful.

Damn, I'd even like to see that reproduction of Ted Kaczynski's cabin. I don't care if it is yesterday's news.
I think I might like it.
Update: I wanted to link to this relevant piece by the Onion and give Bonnie Overton credit for the Meredith Monk report. There. Bonnie, you have now officially made The Planet.


Beneath the Carolina Moon said...

Summer is just way too short to spend on the interweb, so for the next couple of months, I shall try to make it a weekly or so pit stop. Question. Can real life be art, or must there be evocation through fakery to be classified as art?

P.S. Congratulations to Rhoades. Getting published is one thing. Getting published with accolades is another. Turning a profit, quiet another. At any rate congratulations, and best wishes.


David Terrenoire said...

I'll miss your regular stop, Dread, but you're welcome any time.

But you knew that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love art too but find a lot of today's art incomprehensible. Especially installation art. A trip to the DIA Beacon outside NY was just a mystery to me. Huge rooms with a pile of trash on the floor, two hundred monitors playing the same puzzling video clip. I guess I need to take a course that shows me the progression. I don't get Philip Glass either or atonal music. I'm stuck in the mid-twentieth century I guess.

eviljwinter said...

Art to me is like jazz or classical music. I don't know enough about either to know what I'm supposed to like. I just know what I like.

Graham Powell said...

Surprisingly, Fort Worth has two excellent museums, the Kimbell and the Fort Worth Modern, and some others that are pretty good. Cowtown is not normally thought of as a haven of culture.

David Terrenoire said...


Surprisingly, the Cincinnati museum is terrific, or it was when I lived there in the 80's. Major shows came through and they didn't shy away from shows like Mapplethorpe.

I wish the NC Museum of Art was half as adventurous. How many times can you see the Impressionists? Ooh, edgy.

Cincinnati is a conservative town, but somebody values art there.

eviljwinter said...

"Major shows came through and they didn't shy away from shows like Mapplethorpe."

Simon Leis was the best PR Mapplethorpe, OH! CALCUTTA, and (surprisingly) Barnes & Noble ever had.

These days, Si is more interested in, like, yanno, criminals.