Bouncing balls vs. Indy 500

Zimoun: Volume

After most of my posts, my friend Walt, an amateur photographer who has a great eye, usually checks in to point out typos and grammatical offenses, and generally gives me some idea what he thinks of the post. Walt’s a college grad, an excellent writer and has a consistently funny take on most of the world. In other words, he’s a very sharp dude who appreciates art. After my latest post on the show at Zwirner, he pointed out some awkward sentence constructions and that was it. I could tell he wasn’t too charmed by the work nor persuaded by my writing about it. I didn’t pursue it, but in an email exchange today he brought it up again. The conversation circled around the issue of how broad the definition of art has gotten and how it so often creates work that communicates, if at all, with only a small group of people. It was in some ways an extension of a conversation I had while staying with Rush Whitacre and Lauren Purje and Krystal Floyd in Brooklyn, a week ago: after a tour of openings earlier in the evening, Rush and Lauren and I were debating the BS quotient in a lot of contemporary art, and Rush was defending the right of artists to do nearly anything to create a memorable experience, which was interesting because his BS alarm goes off quite often while walking through Chelsea, in my experience. Walt’s opinions came from the other end of the spectrum.

Walt:  Finished watching Herb & Dorothy.  Has a charm to it, as a portrait of this couple and I liked the look at the NYC art world.  But as far as art goes, I have to admit I don’t get it.  What they saw and what you write about is a mystery to me.

DD:  Really? Everything I write about?

Walt: No, what I mean is when I have a sense of the art then your take on it is enlightening and makes sense to me.  I assume the same is true when I don’t get the art, ie, your writing is enlightening to people in the art world in any case.

With the paper mosaics by Mary Wells, I learned from and enjoyed your writing.  The Algerian…Seriously? Really?  But that’s just me.

DD: That’s the central problem with art now. I’m in a middle ground where I go back and forth on the BS quotient of conceptual art. The boat filled with garbage. The video of the baboon. Even the wall of taxidermy animals, it was all a little too easy, but it was powerful in its own way, simply in the way it looked. But it’s a boat filled with garbage bags, I know. The razor wire sculptures of Jesus were incredible if he fashioned them by hand, or however he did it. They were sculptures that seemed to have required rare skill to create. Add the layering of meaning he applied to it, it’s definitely an achievement. What irks me is how cryptic work like this usually is, requiring a lot of secondary decoding in order to appreciate it. What appealed to me about Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?, though, was the visual, graphic power of the images. I see more and more graphic design elements in these shows, rather than traditional artistic qualities: the power in the Zwirmer show partly came from so much white space around the pieces, which wouldn’t have been as impressive standing on their own, I don’t think. I found it beautiful or a little awe-inspiring when I walked through it. I felt what was being conveyed. But in the larger sense, I wonder about the ultimate significance of the work: so much art now is addressed to such a tiny audience of “elites.” That’s the problem. Rush and Lauren and I talked about this when we were together in relation to another exhibit called Volume by a “sound artist” named Zimoun, which was nothing more than a room with cardboard boxes for walls and little dangling wooden balls, attached to wires that were sunk into motors—so that when you entered the room every little pendant ball started drumming against its box with a slightly different pitch and pace, depending on the speed of the motor and the length of the wire. I loved the sound of it, like really hard rain drumming on the roof of a car. And it was hypnotic, soothing and cool. But was it art? Rush was mocking me, saying of course it’s art, I’m just a reactionary who thinks only painting is art. I hope my post on the Algerian with his taxidermy put that allegation to rest. But I still think it’s an open question what significance the drumming boxes has: it created a memorable experience that struck a chord with me. I suppose that really is enough. But beyond that, I didn’t take much away from it. It isn’t traditionally representational, though it reminded me of actual experience, the sound of rain, which may have been why I thought it was cool.  I wanted one of those box rooms of my own. So it’s “art” in the larger sense of art now, where anything can be art.

Walt: Right, I dig all of that.  But whenever I see something presented as art that strikes me as just plain stupid, I have two conflicting feelings:  A. I must be a dolt.  B. The people who fall for that BS are the dolts.  As I walk away from it shaking my head, B usually wins because I’m okay with myself.

Sometimes there’s a C where I recognize that the “art” is just not my taste but if people like it, that’s okay.

Also, I understand the false economies spawned by collectors, but that too seems ridiculous. As far as balls hitting cardboard, I guess if it feels cool it is.  When they say “Gentlemen, start your engines” before the Indy 500, I get goosebumps from that.  But I’m not sure that moment is technically art.


1 Response to “Bouncing balls vs. Indy 500”

  1. Richard Harrngton

    We are gong to have fun at lunch today. Much of the contemporary show at the Armory left me feeling this way- that modern culture, and maybe advertising, have left clever as the marker for work. I want more.

    Several years ago I sat in on a college class on public vs. private art. For the final project, a very bright young woman had done a piece that’s final presentation was small artifacts mounted on the head of pins, arranged in a grid, presented under a glass case, like a precious museum piece. When it was pointed out what the artifacts were, there was much discussion of what ART was. I brought up my 20/20 rule for practical jokes ($20.00 or 20 minutes), that I had put in place on myself to save me from my own sense of humor. I relayed the joke that had caused me to develop the rule, hours of effort drawn out per a few weeks- the kind of thing that takes up way too much time. Then I pointed out that under much of the art definition that was begin thrown around, I had actually created art while pulling the joke. The professor said, That all depends on your intention. I said, No, I don’t think it should have ever been considered more than a joke, no matter how much time I spent.

    No clear answers, but the 20/20 still helps keep me on track.

    Wish Walt was going to be at lunch.