About 30 years ago, some friends of mine bought a loft in the East Village area of Manhattan in a building that was reserved for artists. This was fine for my friends, both of whom were, in fact, artists…albeit ones who spent most of their time creating advertising.
But the attorney downstairs definitely didn’t qualify. So when word came down that the co-op board was going from apartment to apartment to confirm that every owner was actually engaged in some sort of artistic endeavor, the lawyer ran out and bought some canvases and spray paint and hurriedly made some art, which was all he had to do, because the requirement was just that you be an artist, not that you be a good artist. Basically, the board only wanted to make sure its building was occupied by artistic types. It probably would have been enough just to wear a beret.
You know where this is going, right? Indeed, the attorney’s paintings wound up in galleries and sold for thousands of dollars.
And I was okay with that. After all, who’s to say the litigator didn’t have previously undiscovered talent that only manifested itself when he began vigorously shaking paint cans? Who are we to appraise his work solely on the basis of its casual, need-based creation? Perhaps the fact that he had to make the art in order to save his home makes the work more important and more meaningful than, say, a Jackson Pollock painting, like the one at right, which, if you click on it and blow it up, will be instantly identifiable as white, orange, yellow and black blotches of paint.
But my gripe today is not with art that is seemingly random smushes and streaks of color tossed haphazardly (although, the artist might tell you, with great intent) onto a surface. I don’t have a problem with any of that, even if it’s a 4-year-old’s finger painting or the result of an epic paintball battle. At least you can look at all the pretty colors.
It’s not abstract art per se that I object to; it’s stupid art…work in which the artists are obviously trying to put one over on us. I imagine the intent of these pieces is not to create beauty as much to expose gallery owners, museum curators, art critics and collectors as the frauds they are.
Take, for example, the “black on black” paintings that seem to be required inclusions for the collection of any modern art museum. We are told that these are not what they appear to be–canvases dipped in a vat of black paint. We are told that there are subtle shading variances that only reveal themselves if you stare at the thing for twenty minutes or so, or until a cute, arty girl (also, as it turns out, covered entirely in black) comes along and accepts your invitation to grab a cappuccino.
I have news for you: if you stare at anything long enough, all sorts of images will be revealed, many of them residing only in your head.
Here’s a little art appreciation test for you: is the black box above a masterpiece by famed black painting artist Ad Reinhardt or a square I made with Microsoft Word?
Of course, if you are an aspiring fine artist today, you can’t get away with black canvases because that’s already been done. But you could try a blue one! Yes, and draw a stripe right down the middle of it so that it looks like an overhead shot of a country road. Oh, sorry–too late. That just sold at auction…for $43.8 million!
But all of this is minor league stuff compared to what Tracey Emin has pulled off. Ms. Emin rolled out of bed one morning and decided it was art. The bed, that is. So she named her bed (nothing fancy or profound, just “My Bed”) and sold it to British adman and art collector Charles (“I’ll buy anything called art”) Saatchi. And he just resold it at auction for $4.4 million. Sure, it’s just a drop in the bucket next to what they got for the blue thing with the white stripe, but then, Emin didn’t have to put nearly as much work into it. And it’s a bargain for the buyer, who can not only admire his new purchase, he can also sleep in it.
I imagine Ms. Emin will have to accompany the piece to its new home so that the disheveled sheets, empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts and discarded condoms (all of which are included at no additional cost) can be arranged just so. After all, if a used Trojan is so much as an inch out of place, it would not be the same artwork that was purchased, and not nearly as pleasing to the eye.
I really get upset when I hear about stuff like this because I think about the years I lived as a single guy in New York, and all the works of art I took down the hall to the washing machine. I also object to the sale of any piece that doesn’t meet the single requirement I have for anything purporting to be art:
It has to be something I couldn’t do.
See you soon.
P.S. The black box above is the actual Reinhardt masterpiece.