Sunday, September 16, 2007

The funhouse takes over the river

From today's New York Times, a telling comment by Roberta Smith, the Times' art critic:

[Musuems]... have happily become producers because these days installation artworks are often crowd pleasers, circuslike in their appeal. Viewers gasp at their scale or their sensational optical effects, as with “Sleepwalker,” the Doug Aitken video display on the Museum of Modern Art’s facades last winter.

Yet the experience can be very superficial. It’s strange to think that these big temporary installations may be the only contemporary art that some people know or enjoy. And there are dangers, including the possibility that in controlling the purse strings, a museum starts thinking of itself as a co-author who knows what the artist wants better than he or she does.

In my own simple way I have been grappling with this not only only previous visits to the Tate Modern - that has one of the funnest fun house art spaces around in its Turbine Hall - but also in previous posts (here, here and here). I feel torn between different impulses: the desire to give in to fun, to stop being such a pompous serious type who believes that art should instruct as much as anything else and the desire, well, just to have fun. Who cares if a series of giant slides is adults playing at children, or art; it's just fun.

These digressions were all inspired by an out-of-doors happening at at the Tate on Friday, Alvin Curran, Maritime Rites. As I walked toward the Tate, I heard, in fact felt, music in the background, as though there were the sound track from a science fiction film accompanying me. I've got to say, it was creepy, as though I was being watched and the music was offering a continuous commentary on my steps. As I got closer, I realized it was from a barge on Thames - later I learned members of the London Symphony Orchestra performing music by Alvin Curran - and was being blasted on speakers. Curiously, there were people sitting on the lawn, enjoying the sun, right next to the speakers. I suppose the British will tolerate anything in exchange for some sun. The scene looked and sounded a bit like this:

And I'm not sure whether this was intended to be part of the art or not, but it certainly became so: you could see the trails of airplanes flying overhead, making x's overhead, as in X marks the spot:

For me this was more interesting and disquieting that fun house art. But for the people around me sipping their white wines, it was quite a spectacle. There I go again. They were just have fun. So was I. There's nothing wrong with that. Not at all.


1 comment:

Sashi said...

While some installation art can be thought provoking, I think such discovery follows only if the viewer is equipped with sufficient intellectual and emotional machinery to make some of the mental connections, which the artist perhaps intended. Example, this exhibit I saw in SF. But most installation art is mostly spectacle, sometimes even fun, such as this other exhibit I saw on the same museum visit. That said most modern "art" baffles me, and makes me take refuge under the cloaks of Old Masters.

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