“Things have gotten so bad, lately, that people are in revolt against life itself
.” – Kurt Vonnegut
There is art, and then there isÃ¢Â?Â¦
That is the overwhelming sentiment guiding the omnivorous visitor as he meanders, craving enlightenment, up and down the cluttered corridors of the Scope New York 2006 art exhibition.
A hairy, overstuffed goon stands guard in one of the first stalls, his faceless head a reminder of the content (or not) that lies beyond the graffiti festooned portals, his celebrity a result only of his creator’s name. The walls are draped in an uneven, oriental-looking cardboard tapestry (one of the better pieces, by the way) offset by a pile of photographs leaning against a flimsy, badly whitewashed partition. These technically competent offerings just might snag the interest of the virginal visitor who has never glimpsed the works of Diane Arbus. A progression of wide yellow stripes on the concrete fortification adjacent to this opening scene were actually painted by the work crew, the same one that will tear a hole in it once the crowds have fully dissipated – so I am told by security personnel as I stare intently at the cement in search of meaning.
Three menacing, punkily clad, life-sized and high-powered-weapon wielding papier-mÃ?Â¢chÃ?Â© figures (secular Iraqi insurgents, perchance?) occupy a stage that warns the unwitting voyager of what is yet to come. A glance to the right reveals the disproportionate oral sex series, artfully done but equally artful in its lack of substance – an internet porn site must have inspired the proficient sketcher. Painfully distorted, tear stained puerile faces take up yet another space in oversized photographic zeal that may have been more appropriate in a magazine titled: “How to Deal with Your Spoiled Brats,” perhaps a suggestive subtitle for the whole Scope affair, as well.
A few labored steps forward and voila! The masterpiece unveiled: A crude oil rendering of a certain Nazi Chancellor fornicating with a swine to which an astute observer behind me, certainly just barely legal for barroom admittance, remarked enthusiastically: “Awesome!” Astonishing, indeed, was the “artist’s” audacity to present this image as though it possessed a single iota of originality or, the vaguest resemblance of simple forethought.
Few and far between were works from which one might, in fact, catch a glimpse of artistic talent coupled with a search for substance. A series of drawings with abstract geometric and topological qualities (vaguely reminiscent of Klee), a sequence of non-figurative paintings on wood and an excellent collection of acrylics inspired, in equal measure, by orchids and ancient Chinese technique were especially noteworthy. Nevertheless, the outright violence and wanton hostility of the great majority of regurgitated junk culture supplied by the “exhibitionists” helped make the experience one of indelible disgust. But what can one expect from a mindset that looks to Fear Factor and South Park for cultural direction? What can one say when artistic endeavor is pulverized to the obscene ogling of wretched lives alongside the elevation of hopelessness and topped with the idle pursuit of momentary gratification?
The old adage garbage in, garbage out seems to fit as snuggly as a lambskin glove the hands of these tots of trivia. Were there reason and rhyme for the outbursts of gratuitous cruelty disguised as art, then one might even be left to ponder. There are countless examples of art employing carnage as a mere medium to put forth a broader and more significant message. However, the absolute want of rationale seems to be exactly the point: “we are doing this because we can” is proffered in the true spirit of the spoiled adolescent who thinks he is entitled to something other than a swift kick in the rump.
Talent is never enough. Talent without core is a waste of time, space and energy for both spectators and artists. One would hardly praise Graham Greene for writing brilliantly tailored laundry lists. The hackneyed approach to pointless violence is neither a social statement nor a cultural observation; it is an excuse not to think for oneself; it is the scatterbrained copycatting of a devil-may-care, pseudo anti-intellectual pose popularized by the irresponsibly frivolous, make-believe world of the affluent strata. Random brutality exists in our society and it is the duty of art, as an ultimately human manifestation, to speak out against it, deterrent that it is to the evolution of our species, but never to trivialize and glorify it, so as to wind up co-opted by the same system that they, the self-proclaimed artists, pretend to despise.