Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kid Climbs on Sculpture, an Excuse to Mock Art

My friend Dave posed for this photo as a joke because he 
doesn't share my love for Mark Rothko paintings. That said, 
despite not being into this one piece, he values and respects 
art and would never let his toddler touch it.
Earlier this week, gallery owner Stephanie Theodore tweeted a photo she took of a child climbing on a Donald Judd sculpture on display at the Tate Gallery. For those who don't know who Donald Judd is, he's one of the most famous American artists from the 20th century, and his sculptures are worth millions.

Before I go further into the meat of this post, let me respond to the original tweet. I wasn't there and I certainly can't know whether the parents were knowingly dismissive toward museum/gallery etiquette, or merely ignorant. Mistakes happen. I won't go as far as calling them "bad parents." However, they would have been very sad parents had the child done any damage.

I share Stephanie Theodore's shock, and I would have done exactly what she did: first she told the parents why the kid shouldn't be doing that, and when they ignored her, she told the guards. And of course she also snapped a photo and tweeted. Of course she did - because it's a friggin' kid climbing all over a Donald Judd in the Tate! As a gallery owner who makes a living in the arts, Theodore would have been an idiot to not tweet that.

Now on to the real bee in my bonnet.

The photo tweeted by Stephanie Theodore.
Unfortunately, I stumbled on this story on Gawker, and made the horrible mistake of reading the comments. As I've come to expect when certain types of art (in this case from the Minimalist movement) are brought to the attention of the general public, Philistines come out of the woodwork to call the work junk and mock the art establishment that gives it value.

Many of the comments go so far as to morally denounce Judd for his success, such as this gem:
If your shelf-looking sculpture sells for millions of dollars, and you don't donate at least half of that to charity, you're fucking horrible.
That would be difficult seeing as Judd's been dead since 1994. Although I do wonder if this person is equally outraged by anyone who, against the odds, ends up producing something worth millions of dollars.

By the way, at least according to one study, the median salary of artists is $43,000/year. While this sounds comfortable, it is a far cry from millions (especially when you take the student loans into account.) More importantly, this median only represents the people who succeeded in turning their artistic aspirations into a career. The vast majority who study and practice art, especially fine art, work day jobs or live off spouses for years, and never make a living solely off our work. But by all means, piss all over the giants in our field.

The award for irony goes to the countless people who mocked a Judd sculpture for looking like shelves from Ikea. Not only was Judd an actual furniture designer as well as fine artist, but I guess they don't know that the Minimalist movement in art was a driving influence in design across the globe, including the aesthetics of Ikea.

As a working (and struggling) artist, as someone who values art, and as a parent who aims to raise kids to appreciate the arts, I'm so sick of this shit. 

We artists and art dealers, collectors, curators, critics - everybody who makes up the art world - are basically a subset of nerdom. To quote today's wikipedia entry on Nerd:
Nerd (adjective: nerdy) is a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired. They may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities
Indeed, we spend an inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, non-mainstream activities. We tend to be intellectual. We often have our own, unique social quirks. The mainstream tends to not "get" what we do. And while some who don't share our interests still respect us and acknowledge that our creations/writings/purchases have value, others mock us and insist our activities are nothing but pretense.

I don't get sports fandom. What I mean is, I've watched games of basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and I feel bored. However, when I look around at other spectators and see expressions of deep emotional engagement, when I overhear people going into very detailed debates and discussions about strategies and plays, when I notice that there is an entire establishment of writers, historians, and museums constructed around sports, and when I see how sports have widespread appeal across nations and class divides, I recognize that this is a valuable, meaningful part of the human experience.

So while most people don't get Judd's work, it's important to acknowledge that the reason it's worth millions is because there's actually a lot to it. In its full context, to enough people, Judd's work evokes as much passion as Paul "Bear" Vasquez's reaction to a double rainbow:

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