Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Intermittent Art Bash

See item 3 for image link to Graydon Parrish's Cycle of Terror.

I'm all about the art today. I've been accumulating stories, and now, BLAT... here they are.

1) In delightful art news, two paintings by Renaissance master Fra Angelico were found behind a bedroom door in Oxford. These were commissioned by the de Medici family and later lost when Napoleon invaded Italy.

2) In another house where it's easy to lose things among all the magnificent closetry, at the Queen's Hampton Court palace, a spare Caravaggio which had been thought to be a mere copy, has turned out to be the genuine article.

3) I enjoy the upsurge of painters developing representational work using traditional techniques. Not least because it requires an admirable level of technical skill, far above your average, MFA-degreed tampon-collagist. However, it's possible to travel too far up one's allegorical and monumental cloaca. For example, referring to the undeniably gifted Graydon Carter's Cycle of Terror, a wall-sized piece of Classical Realism, James Panero blogs:

To my eyes, Parrish's work is yet another tragedy of 9/11. It is literal if not didactic. It is a machine for illustrating technical skill, far more than it is a moving memorial to September 11. When you visit New Britain, the museum front desk hands you a four-page cheat sheet on the meaning of all the allegories Parrish has built into his canvas. This document says things like "just to the right of the two central male figures are three female figures representing the three fates, or three mourning women. These figures are not wearing blindfolds. They are no longer innocent but completely knowing. An unusual aspect of these three fates is that two of them are handcuffed together, like the wives or husbands of many of the victims of 9/11 who suddenly found themselves 'bound' to one another, to a new community of victims, and to their fate" And: "Note: also near the old man is a skull, a traditional symbol of tragedy and death."

This explanation is so dense, you need a cheat sheet for the cheat sheet. Any work of art that requires a four page explanation to "get it" is going to leave you pretty cold.

4) However, much as I dislike intellectual pomposity, I find it much more tolerable among the talented. In another story, an art student's work was removed from a museum's walls after 18 hours, because of the charged nature of the work. I agree with the removal, but it has nothing to do with any offense on my part that the work is called The Fat is in the Fire and composed of deep-fried American flags. What offends me is the utter bankruptcy of content or or creativity or skill.

On the flags, *artist* (read * as disdainful air quotes) William Gentry imprinted slogans such as,"Poor people are obese because they eat poorly." A lot of these lowly, knuckle-dragging ignoramuses you hold in such contempt going to see student art exhibitions, William? In case his cleverness had eluded you and you weren't yet feeling concussed by the bludgeon of his observations, he included "more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper."

Get it now? Some people are fat! And it's the sacred obligation of every nannified, simplistic nincompoop in art school to shake a bossy finger at you and tell you what your waistband and GP apparently won't: If you don't eat well, you won't be as healthy. It's so trangressive and innovative, I can barely stand the rush of Gentry's get-real juice to my overfed, undernourished brain.

Predictably, there are always those who claim censorship blah-blah, but I only claim superior sensibilities. One presumably unhappy patron said "the museum shouldn't restrict the free speech of an artist based on public response."

What clearer call could there be for Citizenry Refresher number 15,257? You have the right to say what you'd like and produce whatever craptacular art you choose, but no other individual or entity is required to promote it for you. Museums are allowed to choose what they wish to display. While it is a discouraging sign that this one agreed to display the dreck in the first place, however, without a paid contract, the artist's position is more one of sufferance than suffrage. Widepread Distribution and Marketing of your concept, products, and/or career are not actually guaranteed by the Constitution.

The unhappy patron further opined, "The museum is obligated to the citizens of the community to present art, and it totally failed in that regard."

I agree that they're failing to present art, but I probably mean it differently than the griper. Adult Education guidelines indicate 7 to 21 instances of repetition will solidify new concepts. The fact that this gent couldn't phrase his compaint to be less inviting of punch lines means, to me, that he may be of appropriate intellect to walk up to fried flag #22 before the thematic revelation hits him. Of course, I prefer to believe that his ambiguous wording is a Freudian cry for help, the deepest yearning of a starved soul for something of transcendent aesthetic merit and lasting significance.

Gentry, who had to publicly display his work for a senior project at Austin Peay State University, said he hoped people would get past the flag imagery and address the health issue. "I hope they are upset, but I hope they don't miss the point," he said.

I'd go so far as to say for those standing upright with operating brain stems, it's practically impossible.


April said...

I find most if not all modern art to be a quandary, and I'm certainly not stupid. It all requires a cheat sheet. Rauschenberg? Johns? Pollock? Klimt? Picasso?

I like them all(except Klimt)...I just don't understand what in the hell I'm supposed to be seeing there.

I'm still waiting for someone to definitively explain to me how any 5 year old could not do what Picasso did.

Whilst this Gentry guy's "art" is neither here nor there with certainly is more understandable.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is william. I am about to graduate after six and a half full time years of my liberal arts education. to correct some statements and assumptions there was only one deepfried flag hung on the walls of the museum. the smaller 3 x 5 inch vacume sealed flags where separated from the rest of the installation which included several large prints and a forty foot long sculpture. to think that i would not concider the redundancy of the same message is fault to the uninformed. i am not uneducated or nieve in my field. this is a sucessful piece becase it conveys a message visually. also, i have never been upset about my works removal from the museum. - love fry cook wiliam gentry

Henway Twingo said...

April- Picasso isn't my favorite example of a modern artist either, but part of the importance of these pioneers, whose work is now half a century or more old, was opening up the definition of what could be considered art, an enlargement that's now become a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon and about a gutter deep.

Anon (fry cook william gentry)- It's pretty easy in this forum for anyone to reply as almost anybody else. If it's an accurate report, I do appreciate the clarification about the placement of the pieces.

However, I'm afraid that many smaller flags with the same relative "point", even in another spot, would leave me cold, too. And though I know the world online tends to be a more casual venue, the lack of capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and spelling muddle the comment's meaning, and don't bolster the argument for this poster not being "uneducated."

If the artistic concept behind "The Fat is in the Fire" is truly sophisticated, it's not revealing those depths to me any more than high-quality graduate-level education and contextual nuance are manifested for me in the content of the comment ascribed to William Gentry above.

For Gentry's sake, I hope it's a bogus commenter, and that the real artist would be able to discuss his obviously substantial committment to this thematic body of work in terms more clear, personal, and persuasive. When an artwork's content and message overwhelm aesthetics and/or technique, the rationale attracts a lot more attention. Thus, the artist becomes a defender and proselytizer, exactly what I don't foremost need or wish visual artists to be.

April said...

I just wish I could be taught what I'm supposed to be seeing/deducing/inferring when I view a work of modern art, especially if it's not representational. Warhol's accident prints I could understand.

Maybe I'm shallow, maybe my brain doesn't work that way, I don't know. I didn't get the "Scarlet Letter", until someone explained all that symbolism to me. I'm a "picture of a pinecone" kind of gal. Hee Hee.

Anonymous said...

Oh what a philosophical person.. In the terms of visual communtication the art shown at the Museum had its fair share of ups and downs from all angles whether it be philosophical, political or visually. I know the Artist personally and I find it strange how one persons story can get shoved into the meatgrinder unintentionally. I think the true moral of this event is to dot the I'S and cross your T's before shoving imagery to your audience. I think the original commentator of this blog thing is well read and has a wide range of grammar but lacks a true knowledge of any artist critique. My suggestion would be to work on not using any emotion because it show unproffessionalism on your part. I think Williams show shows the true nature of human beings in this period of time in American history. If people cared as much about making sure little kids don't get raped or kidnapped as much as they care about an outdated piece of symbolism intented for anyone to use, the world and society may have a positive shift in the right direction. I think the outcry from our hillbilly town about this event is a dark and grimm reminder that we are all selfish human beings in all ways and forms. You can't hate the messenger for delivering bad news. That is an idiotic and objective way of thinking about any subject in art. Without William Gentry you wouldn't have anything to write about.Don't be a hypocrate sir. Leave the Art to the artists and the bad critiques to the critics. Art is a product of it's time and environment so chew on that fat. If you don't like the art you are seeing then maybe you should rally the troops together and make the world a better place so artists will do exactly what you want..and God knows all the Art you like... is really,really good.

Henway Twingo said...

Thanks, 2nd Anon, for the backhanded compliments, I suppose. However, clarity isn't the pure domain of the male, in case that's why you called me "Sir."

It struck me odd to hear your call for unemotional critique of art in the same paragraph as your decrying people for not caring enough about tragedies semmingly unrelated to this topic, like "little kids" getting "raped." Many worthy things merit emotional responses, great art being one, but this particular artwork didn't make me feel much more than fatigued and discouraged about the state of art and art education. I felt significantly less about the message within the work, that being too obvious and simplistic to get beneath my surface at least.

In addition to thinking the world owes an artist a platform, there is another common misunderstanding today. That is: The Artist has the right to say whatever he wants, but Viewers don't have the right to their own opinions or responses. In this fallacious utopia, wise artists deliver the message of suckitude to others unlike them, and those who are different simply accept the artist's view is the right one. No debate, no reasoning, no discussion, no back talk. If Gentry implies you're a poor fat loser, deal with that truth. "Chew on that." If you disagree with his assessment, you're liable to be branded a censoring, fascist, ignoramus art-denier. That this has become the state of discourse today really does elicit sadness from me.

If Gentry's art is directed toward the "hillbilly town," it shouldn't require a viewer to have "a true knowledge of any artist critique" (assuming I've deciphered correctly what that is). If a viewer IS required, as you imply, to have a significant background in art (I have one, for what that's worth), to be allowed a perspective on Gentry's work, then his artwork truly is elitist. In this case, the art's purpose could only be sharing among the in-crowd, who've been pre-qualified to opine, our superior, mocking disdain of overweight poor people. That would be petty, condescending, and disgusting, but I don't buy that rationale, much as Gentry might wish now to disqualify his detractors.

No, I don't believe Gentry meant the exhibition as an inside joke for slender New York art critics alone. I believe he used the populist symbols and simple messaging, because he's making a BIG point to people, the doltish and massive masses, whom he believes aren't smart enough to "get" subtler ones. He may even be enjoying a lengthy insult, in which case, the art's as insubstantial as I suspect, as juvenile as calling someone poopy-head, and well deserves to be disregarded as puerile.

I, for one, believe that most Americans are clued-in to the relationship between calorie-dense foods and weight-control/health issues. My critique wasn't of someone being the messenger of bad news or misusing flags, a fact which I thought I'd made quite clear. However, if one's art isn't focused on the aesthetic, technical, or personal, but seems purely an indictment of (the rest of) society, other individuals in that society may disagree with the message or methods.

Every art viewer becomes a critic of sorts, and art with a message for the masses, as this surely must be considered, has to be brave enough to confront how the masses- even those as unqualified as myself-respond.

I do, actually, have other things to write about, over 450 posts of other non-Gentry stuff so far. I'm going back to that groove.