The Unbearable Banishment: Yea, But, is it Art?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Yea, But, is it Art?

There was an exhibit at the Guggenheim that I’d been dying to see. I had mentioned it to S. a while back and she called me out of the clear blue asking if I wanted to go on Friday. It was really beautiful out and my workload was calm and I was owed a day off so I met her at 10:00. D. was supposed to go as well but at the last minute he got extra work on the Woody Allen movie, so he dusted us.

It was a crazy, crazy exhibit. Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artist who does huge, outdoor environmental installations. He works with gunpowder and fireworks a lot. In one series of paintings, he spread gunpowder on large sheets of white paper and ignited it. The burn marks made really beautiful patterns. For the Guggenheim show, he suspended several cars in the air starting from the ground floor all the way up to the top of the rotunda. Each car had fiber optic light tubes sticking out that pulsated racing color lights.

He also mounted 99 fabricated stuffed coyotes that raced up the rotunda ramp, arced up in the air, and then smashed into a glass wall. I thought it was a fantastic spectacle but, as S. kept asking, is it art? She’s such a traditionalist. She likes it when a brush touches canvas or a hand molds clay. I thought it was fun.

I always try to go to art museums with an artist in tow. I go with S. because she paints (and sells them) and every time I go with her, she schools my ignorant ass. She tells me how certain paints react to different surfaces and reveals the tricks a painter uses to achieve a desired effect. I also get quick history lessons. Did you know that the Abstract Expressionists used unorthodox material, like house paint, and that many of them didn’t bother to treat their canvases and boards? Their work is fading and conservators cannot restore them. Those beautiful color bands by Mark Rothko are just going to disappear over time. She even corrects my mispronunciations for me and doesn’t make me feel like a dumb-dumb. (Klee is “Clay,” by the way). I remember, years ago, standing in front of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at MOMA and my brother explaining why it was a great painting. It was like a fog lifting. It pays to hang out with people who are a lot smarter than you are.



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