It’s the weekend of the Armory Show and Scope. “New York is home to more collectors, galleries, critics and artists than any other city in the world,” says the bumf. There are 175 galleries represented at the Armory, the historic and famous “International Fair of New Art.” What we see this year are lots of Cibachromes; porn stuff, heroine chic, computer art. Lots of neon, embroidered, painted, screened, printed text using the “f” word. Photos of exploding cars and a documentary photo installation of car-bomb remains, plus a real live Molotov cocktail, a razor-blade-bomb and a loaf-of-bread-bomb. Big colourful paintings of wide-eyed kids. Videos of teenage girls with slit-wrist bandages. Prepubescent boy doodles. A cape made out of 64 Tickle-Me-Elmos. Spread-legged girls, images of “Kama Sutra” and “Pillow Book.” Landscapes? Yep — monochrome, fuzzy, wonky, slick, patterned, collaged. A sequined Buddha. A big brown brain. There’s a girl in a mask riding a bicycle handing out free purple popsicles shaped like fetuses. Ladies who lunch, big time dealers, curators, artists and tourists, lick them.
“The mission of Scope is to encourage international dialogue while challenging our static views of the art world,” says the bumf. For Scope we go down to the Gansevoort at the edge of the West Village. It’s a new, modern hotel with cool features and clean lines. Four floors have been taken over by commercial galleries, mostly a single featured artist to a gallery. Paintings, photos and drawings on the beds and dressers — a warren of dealerized rooms — in itself a triumph of creativity — the bathrooms lipsticked, their showers compromised, drains plugged, lights blocked and relit. One guy has turned his room into a cheap motel with wood paneling. Red dots explode all over someone’s bathroom. Sleek smokers and drinkers openly engage in casual connoisseurship.
Customers are cheek and jowl. The dealers want you to take it home — now. You could make some remark about the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” but this public is open to stuff. There’d be a lot more scoffing, silence and apathy if this was in Hinkley, Idaho, I tell ya.
PS: “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” (Rumi)
Esoterica: Daughter Sara says, “It’s bewilderment, then it’s going back to your room to dismiss any tainting that may have occurred. It’s all reference. Does an artist truly need to understand her times in order to create? I’m not sure. We’re all sitting in a context. It’s a market. At this moment my best times are in front of my easel and I truly believe that what I’m doing has value. The other stuff is other stuff. Making up my mind about what’s going on is strictly optional.”
(RG note) Thanks to the several artists who wrote to say that the folks in Hinkley were now proven to be smarter than those of New York. “There’s a lot of wisdom in Hinkley,” said one. Another pointed out that the correct spelling is Hinckley, not Hinkley. And also thanks to the dozen or so artists who checked their atlases and correctly found that Hinkley does not exist. “Hinkley is not a place, particularly in Idaho,” said one. I’d like to point out that it was never my intention to put Hinkley on the map, as Hinkley, for me anyway, is a state of mind. But Hinkley has its values and is a place I would like to visit more regularly.
Not going to go there
by Joe Blodgett, Hinkley, Idaho, USA
Here in Hinkley we don’t like to go too far off the beaten track. The train still comes through about twice a week, so naturally we all paint trains. One of our members has made excellent studies of coal cars, but most of us agree that they lack the depth of a depiction of a whole train in all its power, emerging from a tunnel, or something. As for New York, I, personally, wouldn’t want to go there.
Don’t hold your breath?
by Michael Chesley Johnson, Sacramento, CA, USA
Scoffing and silence in Hinkley, Idaho, indeed! I have just returned from the Decordova Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the current exhibit is titled “Self-Evidence: Identity in Contemporary Art.” There I was treated to, among other items of flagrant self-indulgence and inflated senses of self-worth, a 17-minute video loop of a man holding his breath. What a waste of money by the museum and the artist.
Grist for future historians
by oliver, Austin, TX, USA
There are ancient civilizations with very, very graphic erotic wall murals that are avidly studied by historians, etc. I bet the artists who produced these works would be pleased to know their work was so valued thousands of years later. Time will separate the wheat from the chaff, and in the end perhaps only one or two examples to represent a “movement” will survive. However, more enduring and fundamental drives will also be studied.
Artists have responsibilities
by Laura Hardy, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
Today’s letter troubles me. Some would say that you can’t be a true artist and endorse censorship. I’m not so sure. There is a fine line between creating art and exploiting the viewer. Yes, I agree that the world is made of more than roses and sunshine, and beautiful landscapes aren’t what everyone sees on a daily basis or wants to see. But, an entire show that (I assume) represents the current art movements lauding porn, “f” word art, bombs, fetus popsicles? Is that truly art? Or is just taking the mayhem of modern society and “framing” it and thus validating it as works of art. It sounds fairly hedonistic if you ask me. Reality is what it is, but in this day and age, wouldn’t it be great if the art critics, artists and dealers would promote and tout talent, uplifting concepts and thought-provoking concepts without representing our world in such a degraded, angry way. The art community has responsibilities to uplift and improve the world through creative expression, not just antagonize. We get enough of that on the evening news and at the box office.
Essence of creation
by Marsha Devine, Delmar, NY, USA
All art is a response to the artist’s world and environment. Many artists approach their art from such a viewpoint, attempting to form a visual message that emanates from their conscious reaction to an event, situation, philosophy, or other stimuli. However, many other artists are like Sara, creating art without the purpose of making a social statement. These artists however, are a product of their time and place. They cannot escape who they are and who they are is, at least, in part formed by their experiences, the society in which they live, and the greater world. Uncannily, the current philosophies and values of the day creep into their work through a visual compliance or resistance to those aspects of their world. Whether or not an artist understands the world around them, or even cares to try, is not relevant. Just as the world around them exists, so they are a part of that world — understanding, or deep reflection on that world is not required to create art, yet the art created is connected with the world at that specific time. It would be incongruous to see art created today in a medieval, or renaissance context. Perhaps the art created in our time represents a broader number of philosophies about art than in previous centuries. It is unclear which art will stand the test of time to represent this era in the future, yet, I believe, that it will represent the current world in which we live — that is the essence of artistic creation.
No time for fine art?
by James R Vondrasek
The main job for artists is to find and show different ways of looking at the world and things around us. We also seem to distort plain things as well, to be different or to shock? To get a bad reaction of some type does not make art better .You can’t shock people into buying art. They have to feel good about art before they buy at. It will hang on their walls and they will see it every day. It makes them feel good for the most part. The show in New York is diverse with idea experiments in the arts. That’s not altogether bad. There is good in most things if you look long enough. A hundred years ago we had no way of recording what’s around us. So the artists did this for us to see. They recorded what was around them and for the most part it was all new! Today it’s much harder to find the “New.” So we go inside our heads and search. Is there really time for fine art as we knew it back then?
Weird doesn’t mean profound
by Todd Plough, NY, USA
A friend once told me you only need to ask yourself one question in regards to art. “Does it make my life better?” If you smile because you adore the color of blue someone used, that’s enough. If you love the shape and size of a thing, that’s enough. An artist may make the most profound statement, yet if it is not visually interesting, it will be passed by. Our first job is to make interesting things, things that haven’t been seen in just that way before. Art demands that we use our own unique view. I believe we try to shake our uniqueness to be accepted yet it is this very alienation which made all the great artists. Let’s also remember that being weird doesn’t mean interesting and/or profound. It just means the person has substituted a lack of focus on anything important for some associative disorder hoping we will fall for it and think them deep thinkers. As The Tragically Hip say, “It’s so deep, it’s meaningless.” Let’s make sure we use our uniqueness to make life better for all.
by Judy Lalingo, Orangeville, ON, Canada
The problem with bewilderment is how the brain tries to process it; to make sense of it; to decide if it is something worth retaining. In attempting to discern, it is quite easy to slip into judgment, cynicism and dismissal.
So much of our world is desensitized. The bars have been raised for titillation, for arousal, for attention. We are bombarded with daily interactions of our senses. It makes it difficult for one to avoid becoming jaded. In my worst moments, it seems to me that we are going backwards in our maturity. Everything is a theme-park mentality, Disneyized for the “child within.” I get weary of the dumbing down.
Are we losing our capacity to embrace reality? Has Creativity become childish sandbox mentality, rather than child-like wonder? Is the human mind so egocentric that we must change our world into fantasy, into illusion? Sometimes, it seems to me that Postmodernism should be more aptly titled Superficialism.
by Elizabeth Schamehorn, Washago, ON, Canada
I was at the Armory show last weekend too. There was so much to see! The whole of piers 90 and 92 were filled with art. But what I remembered was the stuff that really expressed emotion and inventiveness. Like the tribute to Jennifer Lopez — shards of broken green glass suspended on fishing line attached to a grid with small s-hooks — the whole thing in the shape of a green dress floating in the air. It was beautiful! And the amazing kinetic contraptions that looked like living fossils, complex robotic flying fish. A projection of a tree spinning slowly on the wall. Brilliant-coloured chiaroscuro landscape paintings looking very traditional except for the baby’s head like a moon over the trees. Wow!
by Beverly Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
I am totally grieved in reading what you saw for art at the International Fair for New Art! I am grieved that these paintings and other works would be presented in our country. I am grieved further in that it is actually what is created in these artists’ minds as they view the world in America today. Actually I feel like throwing up! Now if that is what they want to evoke out of the viewers, they got it. Just the thought of it makes me so sad and I haven’t even seen it.
by Janet Warrick, Chicago, IL, USA
Where is the merit in mirroring or dredging up the ugly underbelly of society? We all know the horrors are there — one only needs to turn on the evening news to hear how many people were killed, what new atrocities enacted, etc. Reproducing this horror in so-called art form is not art — it’s sensationalistic garbage, and all that these artists are really creating is more negativity in an already injured and sickened world. If it’s true that we create the kind of energy that we put out by our thoughts and deeds, we are in deep trouble, for if all that our artists can create is vileness, then the world will only become more vile. In thinking they are showing the world the degradation it is mired in, they only create more degradation. Sensationalistic garbage is not art no matter what kind of package it’s wrapped in.
Where the bad art goes
by John Ford
James Whistler was traveling across England in a train and a fellow passenger engaged him in what he thought to be an artistic conversation. “Mr. Whistler, what ought I to consider to be good art, and what should I consider to be bad?” Whistler replied, “My good Sir, there is no consideration at all. Either you like it or you don’t.” There is a lot of bad art out there and it’s necessary for our esthetic heirs to educate the public. Even though art has no barriers, there are places that people would rather not visit. And that’s where the bad art goes to be displayed.
New York sparkles
by Carol Nunan, Northumberland, UK
You are right about NYC not being Hinkley, Idaho, and that attitudes would be different in Hinkley. I’m grateful that we have both. Here is what Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) had to say about New York in his second novel Lila:
“…if you’re looking for stability and serenity, go to a cemetery, don’t come here. This is the most dynamic place on earth! When something new and dynamic wants to come into the world it often looks like hell, but it can get born in New York. It can happen. It seems like it could happen anywhere but that’s not so. There has to be a certain kind of people who can look at it and say, “Hey, wait a second! That’s good!” without having to look over their shoulder to see if somebody else is saying the same thing. That’s rare. This is one of the few places in the world where people don’t ask whether something’s been approved somewhere else. That…explains the incredible contrasts of the best and the worst one sees here New York’s never been committed to any preservation of its static patterns. It’s always ready to change. Whether you are or not. That is what creates its horror and that is what creates its power. Its strength is its looseness. It’s the freedom to be so awful that gives it the freedom to be so good. And so things keep happening here that have this dynamic sparkle that saves it all. In the midst of everything that’s wrong, it sparkles.”
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Sophie Marnez of Lyon, France, who asked, “What are Tickle-me-Elmos?”
(RG note) They are funny looking dolls that when pressed, giggle. When a model wore this cape made of Elmos, and it bumped against her body, the cape giggled here and there.
And also D. Gail Guenther of New Jersey, USA, who wrote, “Yeah Hinkley.”
And also Lynne Grant who wrote, “Hinkley, here I come.”