I've wavered back and forth whether or not to post about my recent experience at a talk given by three well known curators from three various non-collecting institutions located in the East, West and Midwest. I don't want to seem insulting, nor do I want to burn bridges...not that I have any known bridges with the aforementioned individuals or institutions to burn. Still, I was so saddened after the presentations and I am looking for an outlet for it. I am looking for a remedy.
What I came away with was that the current (and surely past) power structure of the so-called art world, really could give a flying rat's ass about anything or anyone but itself and the oddities it elevates to an exclusive status. How did I come to this unfortunate conclusion? Well, it was presented to me through the content of two PowerPoint presentations and one failed interactive website presentation. I saw it all with my own eyes...nothing I could relate to, even as a person whose life is about embracing art, whose education is through the acculturated fine arts standards (BFA and MFA), whose mind and heart are openly pleading for something of substance.
I went to this talk and have purposefully been trying to understand what on earth is happening when I visit a gallery or museum or art center and all I see is a pile of trash and a flat screen TV projecting the generation of the trash itself. Or I see three TVs with timed videos examining how a white delivery truck drives from one location to another. Or perhaps I am asked to embrace or reject life size photographs (maybe digital, I can't remember) of hideously drunken frat boys or someones really pretty vacation photos with text. I never thought in regards to art I would hit the wall labeled "generation gap", but I have. I seriously feel my heart is breaking when I view this MTV generation stuff that is meaningless to me. And perhaps that is exactly what it is supposed to occur.
Mostly, I don't care because it is all so forgettable. What I do care about is that when I went home and researched these curatorial leaders, through on-line articles, I found one person (the most disappointing presenter of the evening) who was comfortable enough to state in writing that he "only appreciated art that alienated people". This is coming from someone who is the Director of Education at his institution. This person also stated at the talk I attended that he "didn't care if Joe Schmo on the street understood art." Wow. WOW. Another highly regarded professional prattled on about the difficulty of finding a pink poof chair for an installation. The resulting installation was apparently conceptually deep enough to become a traveling one. The other meticulously explained more video imagery of a guy sitting on a meditative platform in various environments. It just kept on coming. I was so sad. I am still sad.
I have also been listening to a series of pod casts, mostly about conceptual art around the country, and that has me sinking in the quicksand of whatever relevant contemporary art is supposed to be about now. Honestly, if I am someone who is trained and willing to embrace this sort of stuff AND I don't even want to view it because it has all become so idiotic and useless, what on earth does Joe or Jo Schmo think about "real" art? At this talk, there was all sorts of code language and slights about the type of work most of the artists that I know and respect do. I felt deflated. My friend Kathy (not an artist) came along for the evening because she wanted to know what I was always getting so upset about and she asked the speakers "so does a television screen have to be attached to it (meaning the art) for you to like it?" Of course, they said "no" but then issued a series of statements meaning "yes" or "there also has to be some one's trash attached to it" or "there has to be items submerged in bodily fluids, along with a video of mold growing and the artist discovering plantar warts on his/her own feet"...I'm being sarcastic of course, but surely this would all be viable "art" in the eyes of these professionals.
The institutional art world is very much a special "members only" club. I'm totally fine with new forms of art, but I'm not fine with the prejudice against what perhaps is now termed traditional art, the type most of us produce. The impact of Andy Warhol is like a disease when combined with slacker intellectualism and modern technology. My favorite dumb art question "is painting dead?" doesn't seem so funny anymore.
To be fair, I was sort of excited at the beginning of the talk because Agnes Martin's work was presented...she made really big minimalist drawings (and small ones, too). When I was in grad school, I went to the opening of a retrospective of hers here at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and as usual, got too close and had to be escorted away by docents. My date was horrified. He became an abstract videographer and installationist .
I don't have any delusions of being able to either infiltrate or alter the state of institutional art (they would probably faint if they knew I was labeling it so). I want a solution for myself, which is probably to just chug along the way that I have been. Or to build a completely different system...which, I must gratefully add, this fabu modern technology allows us all to do. By no means do I want to make it seem as if I am anti-video art or anti-installation art, because I'm not. I love meaningful and well-executed installations and video art. I've created two installations of my own and definitely find it to be a valid form of experiential expression. My gripe is in regards to a base line of prejudice against other forms of art as being "valid" for the contemporary art experience by those who JUDGE what fine art is supposed to be in our culture. Individuals who decide/influence what monies and energy go where in regards to art and its public presentation and historical sustenance should be able to remove their personal fetishes from the realm of their decision making.
OK. I'm sort of typed out over that, but I still have so much strife in my head and in my heart about art world stuff...surely, I will continue to ramble on about it. Toss some stuff in the mix.