I have to admit. I’ve gotten out of the habit of taking in art shows at any of the local galleries in Richmond. It’s not a commentary on the galleries, it’s just one of those things that don’t cross my mind…until it does.
When I see something that really sparks an interest and has the potential to inspire me within the work that I do, I jump at the chance to go see it.
So last week while searching the First Friday Art Walk (RVA) website I saw an exhibit that made me curious. While reading a description of a show boasting phrases like “….tests the structural limits of materials….” and “…engaging entropic forces such as tension and corrosion…” I was hooked. My first thought was “…whatever I’m doing on Saturday, it’s going to include a trip downtown to see this art!”
On some sub-intellectual level, I understood the artist’s vision working with rusting, worn and dented material. It was as if the artist (I’ll refer to him as “JeWil”) was inviting me to see how found object style of work and material is being accepted in gallery system that seems somewhat closed to me.
To my surprise…no, that’s not the word.
That’s the word.
…I walked into the gallery with my mind and my eyes wide open to experiencing “….conventional understandings of where art begins and ends.” I mentioned to the gallery member behind the counter that the show seemed “anemic.”
The “art,” being sparsely placed around the huge white-walled interior of the gallery with a massive piece of steel and wood straddling the entrance to the main space, was underwhelming to put it mildly.
The first piece the viewer encountered was impressive in size, but in the same vain, it was just as impressive as the construction project I pass going to work on a daily basis. Chalk writing on the side of the steel beams looked as though it was written by the steel yard that reserved the materials for the artist’s project.
I realize it, because I recognize similar chalk writing on the steel I-beams used to construct the hotel being built by my job.
While critiquing each piece on view as I walked through the gallery, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that some artist get away with persuading gallery owners and the academic crowd with fanciful phrases and long rambling sentences that seem to convince the viewer, as well as themselves, of how the creative process is abstract and simple but the meaning is oh, so complex.
An artist can pile a vast amount of thrift-store bought t-shirts to create some deep or elusive meaning and the viewer may accept the meaning as it is told to them. But, they shouldn’t be surprised if someone calls bullsh*t when they notice that the mound of t-shirts that is so pivotal to the meaning of your work is only a shirt or two deep and the rest is wooden construction.
If you’re going to do it, do it all the way or f*ck off!
As for the show by “JeWil,” the fact that one of the only few colors that he chose to include in his work was the industry standard yellow color for the canister of MAP gas. The blue of the almost new motor being used to spin a piece of marble statue on a chrome shaft, seemed less a creative color choice and more that the artist had not tried to make the work have a harmony. Deciding to phone it in and come up with an excuse, or concept, for why the parts of the work look store bought.
The one piece I did enjoy was a huge, heavy metal table that was bent, jagged and rusty. It was the only work that made the effort to fulfill the expectations I had when walking into the gallery, that is until I found out the gallery was responsible for applying peroxide to make it rust.
To that, I said that the gallery members were now collaborators on that piece.
And that is what pushed me to compose the observation you are currently reading.
Concepts vs. Passion
conceptual art— noun:
Art in which the idea behind a particular work, and the means of producing it, are more important than the finished work. _(Collins) World English Dictionary
From about the 1960’s, conceptual art was viewed as anti-establishment art, through its use of unconventional materials and aesthetics that challenged the notion of traditionally accepted forms of art, like painting, sculpture or photography.
But, these days it seems the moniker of “conceptual” is used as an excuse to not completely execute their art.
I’ve seen my share of pieces of paper thumb-tacked onto a wall of a gallery, unframed and unprofessionally hung.
Contemporary conceptual art, please “finish your f*ckin’ thought” before exhibiting it in front of the viewing public in galleries and museums.
Your work shouldn’t carry its merits by a translation on paper, the merits of its importance should be in its execution. Conceptual art is a sketch to an idea played out in the environment of a gallery or museum. It’s equal to a writer handing someone scribbles on a piece of paper and saying to the reader verbally “…well, this is what I meant to say,” then proceeding to explain the thought that should have been written down in the first place.
If you’re not there to explain it, then don’t get upset when the audience can’t understand it.
Some people look at artists who criticize the academic art establishment and the gallery system as “angry and jealous failures” seemingly in defense of artists that play politics, did a stint at a grad school ending with a MFA or got lucky enough to be connected with the right people at the right time.
Time to end the piety about names, titles and political connections with institutions and it’s about time to start calling “bullsh*t.”
It’s true, art is subjective, but it seems like the acceptability of conceptual art is becoming more about how elaborate the written statement of the piece can be and less about the actual execution, the process or the willingness to communicate with the viewer, creating a work that is narcissistic in its existence.
While working in the studio, artist constantly push themselves to create work that communicate not only with the viewer, but with themselves as well. Creating and destroying elements within the art in order to produce a better, insightful and more honest work is what the artist owes to the people who choose to stop and have a conversation with the work.
Having a passion in the art can be understood through the completed piece and doesn’t rely on a lots of big and small words, rambling sentences and literary dreamscapes of what the artist meant to say.
The viewing public deserves honesty and not lofty bullsh*t that takes their time and intelligence for granted.
I’ll continue to work with integrity and honesty with every piece I attempt.
Because, art is a record of my life on view…and what a life it is.
Thanx for viewing.