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Old 10-07-2002, 09:53 AM   #1
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Dave Barry: Modern Art Stinks




DAVE BARRY: Normal folks know modern art stinks
October 6, 2002
BY DAVE BARRY FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Today we have an important art news update from England, or Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, or whatever they're calling it these days.

As you may recall, the last time we checked in on the British art community, it had awarded a major art prize, plus 20,000 pounds (about $30,000) to an artist named Martin Creed, for a work titled "The Lights Going On and Off." It consisted of a vacant room in which the lights went on and off.

Yes. He got thirty grand for that. Why? Because "The Lights" "Going On and Off" possesses the quality that your sophisticated art snot looks for above all else in a work of art, namely: no normal human would ever mistake it for art. Normal humans, confronted with a room containing only blinking lights, would say: "Where's the art? And what's wrong with these lights?"

The public prefers the old-fashioned style of art, where you have some clue as to what the art is supposed to represent. This is why the Sistine Chapel frescoes painted by the great Italian artist Mike L. Angelo are so popular. The public is impressed because (1) the people in the frescoes actually look like people, and (2) Mike painted them on the ceiling. The public has painted its share of ceilings, and it always winds up with most of the paint in its hair. So the public considers the Sistine Chapel to be a major artistic achievement, and will spend several minutes gazing at it in awe and wonder ("Do you think he used a roller?") before moving on to the next thing on the tour, which ideally will be lunch.

The public has, over the years, learned to tolerate modern art, but only to the degree that it has nice colors that would go with the public's home decor. When examining a modern painting, the public invariably pictures it hanging over the public's living-room sofa. As far as the public is concerned, museums should put sofas in front of all the paintings, to make it easier to judge them.

This kind of thing drives your professional art snots CRAZY. They cannot stand the thought that they would like the same art as the stupid old moron public. And so, as the public has become more accepting of modern art, the art snots have made it their business to like only those works of "art" that are so spectacularly inartistic that the public could not possibly like them, such as "The Lights Going On and Off."

Which leads us to the latest development in the British art world. You are going to think I made this development up. Even I sometimes wonder if I made it up, although I know for a fact that I did not, because I am looking at a story about it from the London Telegraph. Here is the key sentence:

"The Tate Gallery has paid 22,300 pounds of public money for a work that is, quite literally, a load of excrement."

Yes. The Tate Gallery, which is a prestigious British art museum, spent 22,300 pounds -- or roughly $35,000 -- of British taxpayers' money to purchase a can containing approximately one ounce of an artist's very own personal . . . OK, let's call it his artistic vision. The artist is an Italian named Piero Manzoni, who died in 1963, but not before filling 90 cans with his vision. According to the Telegraph, "The cans were sealed according to industrial standards and then circulated to museums around the world."

Now if somebody were to send YOU a can of vision, even sealed according to industrial standards, your response would be to report that person to the police. This is why you are a normal human, as opposed to an art professional. The art museums BOUGHT it. The Telegraph states that, in addition to the Tate, both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Museum in Paris have paid actual money for cans of Manzoni's vision. (Notice that I am tastefully refraining from making a joke involving "Pompidou.")

Anyway, here's what I'm picturing. I'm picturing a British citizen, a regular working guy who's struggling to get by on what money he has left after taxes. He wakes up one morning, grabs his newspaper and goes into the bathroom. While he's in there, he reads about how art snots have spent tax money -- more money than he makes in a year -- on this "art." The guy becomes angry, VERY angry. He's about to hurl the paper down in fury, but then, suddenly, while sitting there . . .

. . . he has a vision. And as he does, it dawns on him that he has a golden opportunity here, a chance to make, at last, some serious money.

I'm talking, of course, about art forgery.
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Old 10-07-2002, 11:52 AM   #2
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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This sure is funny! But, it is also sad. I say sad because what is made clear by it is that artists (specifically realists) have lost the attention of the world. People's level of art appreciation has been reduced to the most base level (and these are the "museum professionals"). When things like this happen, artists as a group have no earthly idea of how to counteract or send a message that steers attention away from the excrement and "performance of lunacy" to art that is more worthwhile.

Art has become like morning radio shows - shock jock "artists" who are like trick ponies. The "artist" becomes more important than the "art" (terms in "" are used loosely, very, very loosely). That, IMO, is very wrong.

However, this should in no way impact upon Mr. Barry, who, IMO is one of the funniest people currently on the planet. And he is on our side.
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Old 10-07-2002, 01:45 PM   #3
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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I've always loved David Barry! He has such a clever mind!
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Old 10-07-2002, 10:28 PM   #4
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Hear, hear! Wonderfully funny article, Marvin. Thanks for posting it.

Michael, I also particularly enjoyed your comparison between some "artists" and radio shock jocks. Very apt.
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Old 10-07-2002, 11:45 PM   #5
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Wait, there's more!

Interestingly enough, in New York Newsday today, the exact same article had this title,
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Old 10-08-2002, 02:11 AM   #6
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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Dave Barry is one of the very best at what he does (and one of the things he does, which not everyone knows about [and of which some here wouldn't approve], is play a pretty mean lead rock guitar with the Rock Bottom Remainders). As a writer and guitarist, I long ago canonized and then deified Barry in my own private secular pantheon.

That many modern art lightbulb "installations" and purgings of bodily fluids and functions are repulsive or, at best, boring (shock jocks' chief offense, in my view), has always been understood by the majority of viewers. (That's why the "People's Choice" honorees are almost always the best pieces in the show.) To set up the extremes of such displays does, though, seem something like creating a shooting range with straw-men targets. Easy shots. Kind of boring in itself, unless brilliantly played for a laugh. I can't imagine one person in 100,000 arguing with anything Barry has, well, uncovered. And I can't imagine even one member of this Forum championing the kinds of "works" he is targeting. So it's a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel proposition.

What I can't figure out is how the curators and art directors and bean counters who patronize such extremes have retained their jobs. Are they the most powerful people in Art, unaccountable and unremovable? At the very least, if an institution that I supported spent funds on cans of an artist's "vision", I'd simply decline to renew my membership, and make sure they knew why. And if tax dollars were involved, I'd get politically active, quick. Isn't that the way to vote on this issue?
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Old 10-10-2002, 09:03 AM   #7
Margaret Port Margaret Port is offline
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Australia has three major portrait competitions every year. The Archibald, Portia Geach (for women artists) and the Doug Moran Portrait Prize ($100,000 aust). The last one in particular was set up as a venue for encouraging traditional portrait painters. They all have web sites. Makes interesting viewing to see what sort of work wins all the major prizes in Australia. Bit tricky for we 'realists'
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Old 10-11-2002, 04:49 AM   #8
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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Ancient Roots of Modernism
Dateline: Beijing, China

On a visit this afternoon to The Forbidden City in Beijing, I was fascinated to discover a precursor to the phenomenon on which Dave Barry lifted the lid and left the seat down. Near the North Gate is an artificial landscape (shanshui, literally, "mountain water") called Dui Xiu Shan, which translates as -- and I am not making this up -- "Hill of Piled Excellence" (the official translation, not mine). A photo -- which I cannot attach via this slow and no-doubt heavily monitored station in my hotel -- would be amusingly representational. I mention this in this "modern art" thread, because with its 1538 construction date, this artistic vision appears to have well and truly trumped our western modern art history. Perhaps an Alert Reader missive to Dave Barry is in order.
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