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"Pop Life" at the National Gallery of Canada reviewed - The Annals of Young Geoffrey: Hope brings a turtle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Young Geoffrey

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"Pop Life" at the National Gallery of Canada reviewed [Jun. 16th, 2010|11:01 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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'Art' of Onanism:
Pop Life mocks the National Gallery of Canada

"It's not pandering. We have certainly not lowered our standards or principles in order to have line-ups at the door." — National Gallery of director Marc Mayer, quoted in the National Post.

Well. Thank God that's settled! But the denial does beg the question, "Just what kind of standards did the National Gallery have before Thursday's opening of the "blockbuster" travelling show, "Pop Life"?

Lonesome Cowboy, by Takashi Murakami: theft as art, in the worst tradition of Warhol.
Lonesome Cowboy, by Takashi Murakami: theft as art, in the worst tradition of Warhol (Wikipedia.)
Jeff Koons tells it like it is in Volume 27, Number 3 of ArtForum, November 1988.  Image reprinted from the National Gallery's Sex Sells.
Jeff Koons tells it like it is in the November 1988 edition of ArtForum. (Image: Sex Sells.

It's not just that we expect our politicians and priests to lie to us, and our journalists to transmit those lies with straight faces; it is also that we have somehow come to habitually lie to ourselves, unwilling (or unable) to acknowledge that which is spelled out before us, unless some Authority does so first.

So concerned are we with our status in the eyes of those we accept as authorities or experts, we will happily gorge on shit and, chins dripping with the muck, we will grin excitedly as the last chunk slips past our teeth and beg for yet another serving.

* * *

The opening of the National Gallery of Canada's summer blockbuster, Pop Life on June 10 (on until September 19), was crowded with hipsters and art-students and those members of the bourgeoisie who feel it imperative to put in an appearance at such events.

The crowd milled about with all the electric excitement of a herd of cattle on anti-depressants.

The men and women gazed with bovine approval at a second-rate sculpture of a naked man's huge and hugely erect penis, eternally spurting semen into the air; at pages torn from third-rate 1970s-era pornographic magazines; and at poorly-lit, still photos of an "artist" having sex with a man who has paid her $20,000 for the privilege.

Not to mention at a "dead horse", symbolizing ... well, I forget just what it symbolized; there was a little card with several explanatory paragraphs typed onto it, but the words seemed to have very little to do with what we were looking at.

But most of the audience seemed to nod knowingly at one another, and they exchanged stock phrases such as "transgressing boundaries" and "challenging patriarchy" and (to quote from the exhibit's PDF accompaniment, Sex Sells) "...tread[ing] too closely within or against the lines of common decency", as if imparting to one another the wisdom of the ages.

Read more ...

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2010-06-19 03:51 am (UTC)
I personally, love modern art for the very reason that a huge part of the entire point is to make fun of the viewers and consumers of it. It also tends to have a sort of cynic humor that I can rarely find in other places, even in writing, though absurdist writers like Alexander McCall Smith do a fairly good job of making giant works of odd humor like the modern artists do.

I'm not quite sure how to respond to this entry since I haven't exactly seen the exhibit myself. While I may not be an academic or have any actually academic friends, I tend to come out with opinions on things such as this and would have greatly liked to go there if not just to discuss it with you. Note here that discussing the banality of it is still discussing.

I agree with you on the editing of your article though, I found the longer one difficult to follow because each paragraph seemed to be a slightly disconntected rant rather than the intended jab in the direction of realizing your point.
But I wouldn't trust my review because I for some reason had trouble concentrating through it. I may have been nagging on some thought of my own and therefore only skimmed through a paragraph or two and therefore missed the bulk of it entirely.. :/
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[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2010-06-19 07:22 pm (UTC)
there it is! :D
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-20 04:35 pm (UTC)

Then we *really* disagree (finally!)

I personally, love modern art for the very reason that a huge part of the entire point is to make fun of the viewers and consumers of it.

Why does that appeal to you? Would it be better to try to uplift people than just to mock them because they are naive enough to believe that you're work is serious? And for that matter, why is your own work so devoid of contemptuous mockery?

I was actually thinking of you when I wrote the piece(s), as an example of a current artists who seems to be more interested in craft and expression than in playing mind-games with her audience.

(Honestly, I am not intending to use flattery as a way of silencing you; I hope the above didn't come across that way.)

It also tends to have a sort of cynic humor that I can rarely find in other places...

I'll grant you the humour, but an awful lot of it nevertheless mean-spirited and, maybe worse, lazy. The mockery is mostly aimed at a very easy target — an audience that has been trained to believe they are too stupid to use their own judgement when they come across a piece of "art".

I'm not quite sure how to respond to this entry since I haven't exactly seen the exhibit myself...

It's stuff like Warhol's Campbell's soup cans which really kind of exemplify the sort of thing I'm talking about, if that's of any help.

While I may not be an academic or have any actually academic friends, I tend to come out with opinions on things such as this and would have greatly liked to go there if not just to discuss it with you.

I'm no academic, either, in part because this sort of stuff is taken so seriously by so many academics. (But mostly, to be honest, I think because I don't have the sort of mind that likes the kind of detail-work that good scholarship requires.) But I digress.

Note here that discussing the banality of it is still discussing.

True enough. But I'd rather be discussing either Van Gogh's techniques in Starry Night or else the complex emotional response I had to it; not why I think the National Gallery of Canada is being run by a bunch of suckers with degrees. (Of course, this probably allows for considerably more discussion than "Starry night is just ... wow," doesn't it?)

Thanks for reading both versions and commenting on them, by the way.

I think I agree with you, though the editing was awfully hard, in part because I really enjoyed some of the more, er, colourful writing in the first version. But after a couple of days away, I think the old adage that a writer should usually delete his favourite lines proved to be true.
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[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2010-08-03 08:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Then we *really* disagree (finally!)

follow-up comments by an art critic in NYC focusing on the cartoonist:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxmMxi-lelg
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-08-03 09:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Then we *really* disagree (finally!)

Thanks for that. I disagree utterly with the piece's conclusion (that Murakami is worth the attention he gets as an "artist"), but it was well-argued and so quite interesting.

I suppose, for me, the eureka! moment came when the critic talked about how the work is "all surface", or words to that effect. In other words, it's not commenting on our junk-culture, it is (a part of) our junk-culture.

You could, without too much thought (though maybe some effort) put together just as (in)significant a display based on Hello Kitty or Emily Strange as Murakami does with his work. (Okay, the Big M has a broader range of stuff than Hello Kitty does, but I think I make the point.)

Not that I object to these descendants of Warhol getting wall-time in the galleries. What I object to is being told that I am a philistine if I don't think this sort of time is worth my bother. As I alluded to in at least one version of my critique, I'd much rather spend my time on R. Crumb's serious humour than on Murakami's cynical variant.
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