Art Down the Drain

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In
his column for US News and World Report this week, entitled "But
Where's the Art?
," social critic and author John Leo laments
the movement of the nation's leading art museums toward displaying
exhibits on such pop culture topics as motorcycles and guitars.
Singled out for particular ridicule were the exhibits Dangerous
Curves: Art of the Guitar
at the Museum of Fine Arts in
Boston, and The
Art of the Motorcycle
at the Guggenheim Museum in New York
City.

The
MFA, heaven forbid, even went so far as to promote Dangerous
Curves in area taverns. Quoted in an interview with the Boston
Herald, MFA public relations coordinator David Strauss stated, "That's
the constituency we're looking for (for this exhibit), the people
who may go to bars and trendy restaurants."

While
this is anathema to the cognoscenti, it would appear that the hoi
polloi aren't paying much attention. They are having a wonderful
time attending these shows. It has been reported that The Art
of the Motorcycle is the most successful show in the history
of the Guggenheim Museum.

What
is the root cause of this supposed decline in Western Civilization?

According
to Leo, "Part of the problem is that curators are afraid of
straying too far from current popular tastes. The writer Heather
MacDonald calls this u2018cringing curatorial populism.' This fear of
quality has roots in ideology as well as in mass marketing. The
current generation of museum curators, mostly reared in the 1960s
ethic of opposition to authority and tradition, bought into the
postmodern idea that art museums have been part of the stuffy, elitist,
Eurocentric power structure that must be overthrown. According to
postmodern theory, artistic judgment is a mask for power: There
are no masterpieces, and even quality is suspect. If the problem
is that aesthetic standards have been imposed from above, the solution
must be to heed the judgments of ordinary citizens–in other words,
to elevate pop culture. u2018When standards become relative, everything
becomes art,' Lynne Munson writes in her new book, Exhibitionism,
u2018and politics (or any other nonart priority) is left free to guide
the mission of museums.'"

This
could be a partial explanation, particularly the reference to aesthetic
relativism, but I don't believe that it tells the complete story.
No one in the general public is fooled by the Guggenheim museum
into believing that an Arlen
Ness
or a Paul
Yaffe
is a Cézanne or a Tintoretto. The general populace
knows the difference between fine art and industrial design. However,
they also know the difference between art of any sort and trash,
and given the track record of many of America's art institutions
of late, the public is letting their voice be heard on which they
would prefer to see.

It
really isn't much of a surprise, given the choice between elephant
dung blasphemy
, urine-soaked
blasphemy
, or the Chapman brothers creations, such as Zygotic
acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged
x 1000)
, which is "comprised of 21 child-sized mannequins
wearing identical running shoes and standing in a circle. Some have
penises where their noses should be, some have anuses in lieu of
mouths, and vaginas meld the ring of bodies together." that
a whole lot of very fine folks might say, "Show me the Harley-Davidsons!"

The
fine arts community has no one but themselves to blame for the current
state of affairs. The further they have strayed down the path of
cynicism and decadence, the more people have found them to be irrelevant.
The problem isn't Heather MacDonald's "cringing curatorial
populism" rather it is the art community's decision to elevate
garbage to the level of fine art.

If
Andres
Serrano
is an "artist," then I know some fellas building
websites in a few San Fernando Valley industrial parks that really
need to start getting their business cards out in some different
circles. Hey, Andres, you want art? Well, check
this out
!

Now,
before anybody out there takes to calling me some sort of backwater
hick with no appreciation for the arts, I should go on the record
as stating that I was well into pursuing a B.F.A. in photography
at one time, and studied under the likes of well-known art photographer
Les
Krims
. Of course, this was before I realized that I wanted to
get a real job doing something useful with my life, but that's a
different story. You can trust me, however, with experience like
this I know bullshit when I see it.

At
one time back in the 1970's, Les Krims created a series of Polaroid
photos of his naked mother shooting laser beams out of her eyes
at G.I Joe figurines. While I am sure that this would present plenty
of fodder for a psychological study, it was hardly "high art."
In fact, even to Les it seemed more of an inside joke, the kind
of smirking humor that the cognoscenti share when they think they
have one over on the proles.

This
derisive attitude may all be well and good when your audience is
comprised of fellow nihilists, but it doesn't sell very well to
Joe Bagadonuts. In fact, as hard as this is for most of the art
crowd to believe, more than a few educated Americans would find
Les' photos of mom in her altogether zapping G.I. Joe to be rather
distasteful. Instead of "Les, what brilliant insight, what
an original use of the medium," most normal folks would say,
"Les, you're creeping me out here."

Which
brings me back around to Leo's contention that the problem is museum
curators heeding the "judgments of ordinary citizens,"
and elevating pop culture to the status of fine art. Ordinary citizens
do not find the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman, Damien
Hirst
, and Andres Serrano to be fine art. In fact, most would
probably find it stupid at best, and more likely than not, disgusting.

Let's
face it, to the average guy, if Hirst's maggot-infested rotting
bull's skull is art, if Serrano's image of a crucifix in a jar of
urine is art, than a Yamaha GTS 1000 motorcycle, or a D'Angelico
New Yorker arch-top guitar has damn well got to be art, right?

I
know I'd have one helluva time trying to argue with that.

Finally,
the challenge to Mr. Leo would be; are the "ordinary citizens"
he refers to responsible for dragging our art culture down, or are
they trying their best to drag it up, back out of the gutter that
the art establishment has voluntarily thrown it in?

May
10, 2001

Jef
Allen [send him mail]
is a technology professional in Georgia. As a reformed Yankee, who
has lived in the South for roughly twenty years, he has very little
tolerance for Northern sanctimony, or the erosion of individual
liberty.

Jef
Allen Archives

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