“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning.” Andy Warhol (from Brainyquote)
Could the New York art world be coming to grips with its own mortality? The smell of desperation slamming headlong into the forces it seeks to win over is the main impression left after reading two different takes on the Whitney Biennial Art Exhibition in New York. The Whitney Biennial is supposed to be the place for emerging art, the next big craze in the art world. At least that’s the way it’s billed every year. All those “in-the-know” art world inhabitants have the Whitney Biennial down as the “must-go” exhibition to prove they are still “in-the-know.” But what happens when the “in-the-know” people start trashing the “in-the-know” exhibition? The results aren’t pretty.
First up is Jed Perl of the New Republic who calls this year’s Whitney Biennial, “an orgy of navel-gazing that can leave a bad feeling—a sense of unease if not disgust.” That statement goes beyond mere dislike. Perl continues on along that vein with a virtual feast of bashing statements. Read the article if you’d like a taste of the art world cannibalizing its own. Or if the whole spectacle is more than you can take, move on to the next example.
Jerry Saltz throws more salt on the wound in an article for The New York Magazine by calling the Whitney Biennial an “optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic biennial.” Ouch!! There were other juicy bits from this article but to continue on is the like watching a trainwreck. Some people have a fascination for looking at a horrific event hoping to see a bit of blood and guts. Others must avert attention. The horror is too much. If you are in the first group, check out the article.
Rather than the blatant take-downs these articles represent, wouldn’t a healthier response be to just stand back and walk away? The New York art scene has been the reigning authority on art in the U.S. for a century. Others have made some inroads like San Francisco and Chicago but the art world has still focused on New York. New York has steadily pushed for more and more craziness to the point that many people have been turning away to seek art in other places. Is it possible that New York has, at last, “jumped the shark?” We’ll see.
For a definition of “jumping the shark” (click here and here.)
“Any sort of pretension produces mediocrity in life and in art.” Margot Fonteyn (from brainy quotes)
While walking around at a large art exhibit, (see “Voices”), my friend and I overheard various comments and opinions on the art. One conversation left us so puzzled that it continues to produce a smile even now. It was the perfect stereotype of a conversation many people, think goes on at an art exhibit.
Two people are standing in front of a large abstract painting. Each is holding a glass of wine while discussing the painting. As we leaned in to listen, one said to the other, “But is it ethically valid?” My friend and I looked back at the painting while trying to contain our confusion. “Huh?”
I’m thinking, “Hmmm. Ethical and valid. What does that have to do with this painting?” Maybe the title gave an indication but I couldn’t see the title. I lost track of the beauty of the piece in trying to figure what that statement could possibly mean in relation to the painting. I’m still shaking my head years later. Maybe others can enlighten me. I didn’t get it.
Evidently mom was right when she said, “Talking too much and eavesdropping can both have unintended consequences.” I didn’t realize at the time, she was referring to art.
What makes people want to spend millions to acquire particular paintings or stand in line for hours to see a museum exhibition of art? We have likely read many different accounts on the subject from art historians, curators and critics. But do they really answer the question? Descriptions of paint applications, color combinations, subject matter, composition all come in to play. When looking at a great work of art, all of those features are plainly visible. Walking through a street fair featuring original contemporary art will likely also invoke descriptions of paint applications, etc. One such street fair I attended recently had many very good paintings. Why aren’t some of those artists in museums? What sets certain ones off as different? I doubt it has anything to do with cutting off one’s ear but that does add to the drama! One guess of mine is energy and magnetism. There is a palatable energy that surrounds the works. That statement may elicit metaphysical connotations but that is too simplistic! The energy and magnetism certain paintings arouse defies the average explanation. People are magnetically drawn to some art. Van Gogh’s paintings invoke that magnetic energy. His sunflower paintings are well known world wide. Much has been written and said about his life and his work. Do those accounts actually explain why many of us will wait in line to catch a brief glimpse of the sunflowers paintings? Does that explain why one sunflower painting went for multi-millions at auction in recent years?