Thursday, March 20, 2008


Lately I've felt nauseous on account of the academy, or institutionalized art. I guess it's kind of funny that the institution where I study is paying me to try to tear down its walls. The status quo often feels like a giant bowl of jello that you'll float in for the rest of your life if you're not careful--maybe a little flexible at times, but on the whole, pretty fixed and relatively transparent (translucent, I guess). However, for some artists, it's pretty easy to smash it all to hell.

I could begin a long diatribe against the authenticity, unity, and individuality that modernism adopted from its predecessors, dating back at least to Kant. (See Richard Taruskin for a fantastic example, a book review turned testimony subtitled "Defending classical music against its devotees.") And I'd like to. But for now, let's enjoy two artists who let their work speak for itself.

Banksy could be today's most relevant artist. Check out his drawing, above, that depicts his opinion of high art and museum culture. He's daring; he's visually stimulating; he's hysterical; and he's campaigning against real (but perhaps unsolvable) problems like war, greed, etc. According to the artist, "None of the print and painting exhibitions in proper art galleries are anything to do with me, it's all stuff they bought previously. I only ever mount shows in warehouses or war zones or places full of live animals (I'm aware the pictures don't stand up on their own)." Check out his whole site, but especially the films page, where you can view the guy in action at a zoo, and in the news after having somehow designed a giant exhibition of his work on the wall that separates Palestine from Israel in the West Bank. Here's a great youtube news clip:

Pierre Pinoncelli is a neo-Dadaist and a Marcel Duchamp devotee. You might wonder why, then, he pissed into his idol's most famous work, Fountain. Oh, and he hit it with a hammer. On two different occasions. Fountain, a urinal signed by Duchamp as "R. Mutt," was given the Turner Prize, by 500 "art experts," for being the most influential work of modern art. Duchamp's piece satirizes museum art, and the museum world embraced it for just that reason, to show that it does allow self-critique. Pinoncelli argues that the institution of art has commodified the work and muffled its meaning; that's why he whipped it out in 1993 while the urinal was on display in Nimes, and why he took a hammer to it in 2006 at the Centre Pompidou: to free Duchamp's spirit from "museum bureaucracy and art establishment, with its snobbery and its cliquishness and its shiny invitations and champagne receptions and art-denying money values."

A close friend wrote a brilliant paper on Pinoncelli and the avant-garde in college, and I owe any real discussion of the man's performance art to this friend. When he publishes the paper, I'll be the first to post a link.

Another priceless excerpt from the Infoshop article:
"He did, in fact, once appear as Santa Claus outside the Nice branch of the Galeries Lafayettes department store. He emptied a sack of toys on the pavement and smashed them to protest against the commercialisation of Christmas. Children burst into tears. Their parents pursued him down the street."

Do we have to risk arrest to make provocative art or truly challenge the institution? Maybe, but hopefully not. For now, I'm just glad these two dudes exist.

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