• Art Down the Drain

    Email Print
    Share

    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

    Email Print
    Share