The other day, the mail brought the latest edition of Portal, a glossy magazine published by my local art museum. Browsing through the pages, I came across two articles of interest. The first was a critic’s essay defending an exhibit that angered several patrons, material which, they argued, was more akin to blasphemy or pornography than art. The second article announced the winners of the 2013 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards.
I read about the art controversy first. “Warning Art On View,” by Barry Johnson provided the standard argument for controversial exhibits. Art has a right, if not an obligation, to shock and puzzle, he said. (“Warning Art On View,” by Barry Johnson, Portal, Vo. 2, Issue 4, pgs. 21-25) In this case, the two pieces he was defending did both. The first, What’s the Difference between Casanova and Jesus: The Facial expression was a sculptured piece that displayed a frog hung Christ-like on a cross. The second, The Bear Chair, was a 3 dimensional installation of Goldilocks and papa bear, characters from the 1837 story by Robert Southey. In this version, however, papa bear was terrifying and sexually abusing his child-prisoner.
Speaking to viewers who were upset by the renditions, Johnson reminded them that Aristotle defended Greek theater because of its ability to provide a cleansing catharsis. I don’t equate shock and anger with catharsis, myself, but neither do I quarrel with the author’s point. Sometimes shock and anger are required to force an audience to open its eyes and look at the world with a fresh perspective. Where I part company with him is his willingness to tolerate art that leaves us cold or blank. (Ibid, pg 23)
Cold or blank is exactly how I felt when I turned the page to view the works by winners of the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards. Frankly, seeing another rendition of floor tiles or a bookcase presented as found art invited me to do nothing but yawn. When are the aesthetes going to tire of empty simplicity? Shocked we may have been the first or even second time simple ideas were simply presented. Andy Warhol surprised and puzzled us with his soup can. Mondrian dazzled some with his countless iterations of floor tiles. But let’s be honest, once the novelty has passed, we expect our artists to move on.
(Courtesy of artnet.com)