I have in passing mentioned my disdain for quite a bit of contemporary “conceptual” art. I described one show as being “[l]ike a fart; it was unpleasant to be around, but the memory quickly fades in fresh air.” I have trouble seeing the work of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst as anything but marketing manipulations, and their influence seems malign. It is good to have it confirmed that I am not alone.
Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, has come out swinging in a long article called “Postcards From Nowhere“, which is his review of five major new exhibitions.
What there is to discuss is not visual experiences so much as visual stunts, which are frequently mind-boggling in their size and complexity. Mostly what I can offer, after all this museum going and gallery going, is a series of postcards about nothing written from places that felt like nowhere … It is the artists, and a certain line of thinking about art, that have given the people with the cash permission to buy and sell what amounts to nothing, and to do so for ever larger and more insane sums of money …
He complains vigourously about
the laissez-faire aesthetics that give collectors sanction to regard one of Jeff Koons’s stainless-steel balloon animals as simultaneously a camp joke and a modern equivalent of a Tang dynasty horse. (A critic in The New York Times described one of these glistening metal doggies, currently on display on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as a “masterpiece.”)
… Koons is mostly concerned with massaging the egos of gallerygoers and museumgoers–and, of course, high-end collectors. He knows how to cozy up to his constituency. Those of us who are outraged that Koons and Hirst and Murakami now take up so much space in our museums are not angered by their work. We are angered by the significance that arts professionals are attaching to this work. There is no art here to enrage me–or to engage me, either.
He is particularly sharp against Takashi Turakami, currently enjoying a retrospective in Los Angeles.
In the case of Takashi Murakami … you cannot possibly understand what a safe haven for frauds and con artists the art world has become until you have walked into this trickster’s trap … the work is all shell, all facade, all empty assertion.
And he notes the baleful influence of the new style on the physical buildings.
This helps to explain the poorly defined character of so many new museums and galleries. These exhibition spaces, whether the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in Los Angeles or the New Museum in New York, are as incoherent as the art they have been designed to house. They are bland, generic warehouse-style spaces–places to dump expensive stuff. And the new style in exhibition design, especially at the Whitney Biennial, favors a chockablock look, with works set in front of one another so that nothing can be experienced in and of itself.
There is a great deal more of meaty discussion in the article. For anyone interested in contemporary art and its markets, It is well worth the time it takes to read.
Update: It is clear, however, that in New York at least, the conceptual monster is still loose on the streets and waterways.