Would You Save It ?
As I was getting progressively sloshed over a lunch of icy Erdingers and chicken soaked in picante peri-peri gravy – the biting zestiness of which a bed of rice did little to mitigate – talk turned to art. I hadn’t seen MP and SY in a while. It was a leisurely weekday afternoon, and the setting was Nando’s, an Afro-Portuguese restaurant chain famed for its culinary savoir-faire with peri peri, or piri piri, a fiery-tasting cousin of the capsicum first discovered by European settlers in Mozambique. Conversation started in the catching-up vein, liberally sprinkled with its share of surprises: we’re engaged! SY has a sparkly diamond on her finger! we bought (pricey) property! MP’s a workaholic!
Once I got over how grown-up and, uggh, responsible my friends were becoming though, the exchange soon settled back into comfortable, idle chit-chat.
Their California trip earlier in the year had yielded a visit to the Getty, and MP prodded SY into explaining her rubbish-dump test of just what art is: positing a subject with zero prior experience of art history or art theory in general (not quite as impossible a proposition as it sounds), would a work of art discovered in the garbage by this individual be rescued for posterity, or consigned to the oblivion of the trash heap? In other words, removed from the value-added institutional settings of museum/gallery/critical art discourses, obliged to keep the company of dross, debris and detritus – under those circumstances, would the best of ‘em still be able to stake a claim to the sacred mantle of Art?
What would YOU save?
The above scenario, of course, is not quite as agenda-free as it sounds – if only because freedom from one set of values simply connotes adherence to another – something SY readily owned up to when she admitted that it was litmus test of aesthetic criteria.
I guess there’s no autonomy from ideology, just different ideologies.
Nonetheless, it’s an interesting thought experiment, especially with regards to the contemporary scene. The charge of frivolity is frequently lobbied at much of post-war art, rife with oft-incomprehensible gestures like abstraction, conceptualism, neo-dada and performance, to name but a few in an ever-metamorphosing sea. Not to flog a dead horse, but how accessible are, say, Mondrian’s canvases of lines and odd bits of colour, or a George Brecht ‘musical score’, or a performance of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll, beyond its shock factor? What about contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s obsession with raw meat, which clearly inspired Lady Gaga’s recent sartorial stunner at the Grammys? (Another topic of discussion at lunch yesterday.)
The list goes on ..
Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll (1975)
Zhang Huan, My New York (2002)
But, in the spirit of SY’s no-BS approach to the visual arts, this post is my contribution to a game hereby dubbed “Would you save it?” Its only too easy to claim that one would retrieve something like the absolutely magnificent Nike of Samothrace, of course, so while listing five works of art which you would gladly rescue from the dumpster – or however many you please – bear this important stipulation in mind: that they have to date from 1900 or later, i.e. no Old Masters, Dutch still-lifes, Impressionist landscapes.
Nike of Samothrace
Ready? Here, in no particular order, is my list of Some Stuff I Would Save:
Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes
Donald Judd, Untitled [Six Boxes]