October 6, 2010


Didn’t P. T. Barnum say, “There’s a sucker born every minute?” I don’t wish to be that judgmental, but sometimes I do wonder why people do the things they do. As I ate my oatmeal this morning, I read an article about a new trend in New York art galleries: a visual art that doesn’t create salable objects but is more like theater. One exhibit, for example, puts an artist’s childhood photographs and memorabilia on display. His work consists of giving a guided tour of his memories.

One might ask, “What makes this artist so special I would want a guided tour?” It’s a fair question but I was stumped by another as I read on. A couple paid “six figures” (Vogue, 9/2010) to take home a few of the old photographs when the exhibit was over. Since the “art” resided in the performance, what, I asked myself, did this couple purchase that they couldn’t have obtained from a Good Will store for considerably less?

Naturally, the gallery owner praised her clients as “visionary” but for me the words of P. T. Barnum sprang to mind.

A few years ago, Morely Safer in a “60 Minutes interview discussed art with a pair of avant-garde collectors. They’d purchased a gallery piece which consisted of a used toilet surrounded by hard candy. Morley asked the couple how many pieces of candy would have to go missing – one, two or a half dozen — before the display lost its artistic value and became nothing more than a used toilet with candy at its base… Apparently, his question earned him a lot of hate mail from the elite, but the rest of the country had a good laugh.

A rich man with poor taste doesn’t make a toilet art because he’s willing to pay an exorbitant price for it at a gallery instead of a plumbing shop. Tastes can vary, of course. And yes, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder; but if old toilets and battered children’s toys are works of art, I have a fortune ready to sell to the Louvre (Blog 7/4/2010).

Sometimes a leg pull is a leg pull is a leg pull. Despite the years and the public’s acceptance of Andy Warhol, a Campbell soup label is a Campbell soup label and the graphic designer, not Andy Warhol, should get credit for its genius. 

Much has been written on what art is or isn’t. I fear I have nothing to add. But I can smell extremes that  attempt to pass for art. When I get into that territory, I head for the circus.