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Pop Life at the National Gallery of Canada reviewed [Jun. 16th, 2010|11:26 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 ...

This entry was originally posted at http://www.dreamwidth.org/12345.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-18 08:00 am (UTC)

It was the spurting penis, wasn't it?

Honestly, I'm asking only because you typed imageS, which leaves open the (unlikely) possibility you just don't like pictures.

Meanwhile, I'm taking your suggestion under serious consideration but haven't yet decided on whether to change my policy. For one thing, I'm incline to think that if it's okay for the National Gallery of Canada (admittedly, behind a sign reading "ADULT ACCOMPANIMENT REQUIRED") it ought to be good enough for LJ (or Dreamwidth, as the case may be).
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-18 12:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Yes, yes it was.

I'm just going to ignore the length (no pun intended) question, because your raising it kind of sounds like a qualitative judgement (except to note, I've re-written the piece and it's lost nearly 1,000 words. www.ed-rex.com/unpopular_arts/Pop_Life_at_the_National_Gallery_of_Canada, if you're of a mind to provide feedback).

But the people at work thing strikes me as a self-victimization thing at this point.

The net isn't new anymore, and unless I (and maybe the theoretical person's great, great, great grandpa) am the only person on that person's list, they should know better than to read a bunch of random blogs at the office.

Back to the length. I noticed quite a while ago that a very good (and almost never sexually offensive) blogger on my friends' list called colinmarshall had made a conscious decision to never use a cut.

I liked that, although I have also noticed that he sometimes makes note of the fact he gets very few comments.

And I'm not sure what the hell I'm going to do.

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[User Picture]From: mijopo
2010-06-18 02:12 pm (UTC)
I think you sell pop art a bit short. I'm venturing into a topic for which I'm ill qualified, but I've learned to appreciate art more when I worked harder at getting past the notion that art is supposed to be beautiful or humankind's finest expression and worked harder to wrap my mind about what the artist is communicating.

We visited the MoMa in NYC last year and I found myself thinking about the various pieces of art there, including some typical pop art, than I typically do after viewing, say, the Dutch Masters at the National Gallery of Art. We typically approach modern art the same way we approach a used car lot, with an extreme wariness of being played as a fool, but perhaps that's the wrong approach. Then again, I paid way too much for my last car too.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-20 04:59 pm (UTC)

I hate being categorical ...

... so I'm tempted to start to hem and haw rather than offer up serious fighting words.

But first, let me say I don't think I'm any more "qualified" than you are to comment, and that's a significant part of my point (which might be clearer in the 2nd, shorter, version of the review). Namely, that because "there is no there, there" yet the pieces are hanging in museums, we start to say things like, "I'm ill qualified" to comment.

I'm not trying to suggest that good art is necessarily "easy" to understand — in fact, quite the reverse. I mean, what is there to say about the content of Warhol's iconic soup cans?

Well (forgive me the Anglo-Saxonism), fuck-all, I say.

On the other hand, I used to have a print of "Man in a Golden helmet" (right — which Wikipedia informs me is not a Rembrandt after all) in the eyes and the twist of that sad, tired mouth of which I could gaze over and over again. That is a painting without an "answer", like a living being it just is and, like a living being, one could write any number of novels based on what you, the viewer, bring to the work.

Warhol's soup cans? There are endless pointless essays, I guess, but not even a half-dozen short stories contained therein.

I think part of the game we're being taught to play is the one which leads us to believe art is supposed to be understood, that it has an answer or a meaning.

Personally, I like things a little more complex and ambiguous than that.



Edited at 2010-06-20 05:00 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: sooguy
2010-06-18 06:15 pm (UTC)
Wow, I thought this was a joke when you wrote it.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-20 05:01 pm (UTC)

Er ...

... my review or the show? Or both? :)
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[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2010-06-19 06:23 pm (UTC)
I wrote a long comment to this but then I woke up this morning and it's gone. Darn.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-06-20 06:48 pm (UTC)

Was perturbed

But now I'm not, since you found it again. Sorry about the confusion; I'd forgotten that I'd set up Dreamwidth to automatically port over my posts there, so was surprised by the double entry and, by the time I noticed it, I think there were comments on both entries.
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