Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Shock of the Old

Two weeks in a row now I've missed the "Work of Art" airing, but that's OK, as I find judge Jerry Saltz' recaps generally more interesting than the show was, and they're available online. According to Jerry, "this week’s artist challenge was to 'create a piece of shock art.'”

Ugh and double ugh.


The only justification for art that shocks, in my opinion, is that it reveals a shocking truth and that the artist is sincere in wanting to express that. Otherwise, it's "contrived" in every connotation of the word.


I was doubly glad I missed the show when I learned that Andreas Serrano agreed to be a guest judge. On this particular challenge, and especially for those viewers unaware of his work, this association essentially served to reduce Serranos' entire practice to a one-liner. Really bad choice for the producers and the artist, in my opinion.

Ironically, the reason I missed the show last night was that I had attended the opening at the Whitney with my good friends
Amanda Church and Sharon Louden and Vinson Valega (let's call it Shout Out Thursday).

The Christian Marclay exhibition is a gorgeous, super-smart installation that you'll want to visit time and again...trust me on this one (and kudos to curator David Kiehl!).

But that wasn't the ironic part. The irony of missing the episode in which the producers of "Work of Art" asked the young contestants to create a piece of "shock art" is that hanging on the walls of the Whitney's third floor is some of the most truly shocking work you'll see anywhere this season.

Curated by Robert Gober, the exhibition "
Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield" is a true thunder bolt of daring spirituality, unsettling yet divine composition, and those colors...my lord, those colors! As one fan perfectly put it "Why do I like the art of Charles Burchfield? His paintings stir up emotions I didn't even know I had!" What could be more shocking than that?

This sense that nothing being made today is anywhere near as shocking as that which came before was also echoed in
Jerry's recap:
For real shock, one should go to Goya, an all-white painting by Robert Ryman, a pale grid by Agnes Martin, or an eight-hour Andy Warhol film of someone sleeping.
But this too simply points back to what's fundamentally wrong with "Work of Art." Asking an artist to create a piece of "shock art" is bad enough (is that even a valid term?), but asking them to create something we the audience would truly find shocking in the tiny window of time allotted is unfairly asking for the impossible. It takes time, sincerity, and vision to really rattle people's cages. And it's paradoxical in that the more that rattling people's cages is your goal, the less successful you're likely to be. Asking the artist's to do that was just plain dumb.

Then again, I'm thinking of this from an art lover's (as opposed to a TV lover's) point of view.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Nick Fortunato said...

While I agree whole heartedly about Serrano - It's worth pointing out he's trending very high on google searches his morning.

#13.

http://yfrog.com/0escreenshot20100701at102p

7/01/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger annell said...

First I love the Burchfield image you posted! And I liked your post. Maybe TV and art don't really go together? Shock art, what is it? Does it exist? Who do you want to shock? I haven't seen Work of Art, but I don't think I want to. I think I would find so much that "isn't right."

7/01/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

It's not the fault of Serrano if the show is stupid.

Yes, his art was presented as "shock art" in the 80's, 90's, but we didn't have magnified cumshots before him. The work remains valid in these ages of porn and ultra-sexuality.



I'm not shocked by Ryman or Martin. I think the work is blunt and theoretical, but I understand the purpose. The problem is, you do the same work to experience the theory, and it's tagged as a Ryman or a Martin. Theory should bypass the signature, that's what I think.

Cedric C

7/01/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Tracie Thompson said...

It seems to me as if this idea that Good Art Must be Shocking began with the Impressionists, who really weren't out to shock or offend anyone; it just happened that they did. After the world decided they were great, "shock the establishment" became, and remained, a dogma of the art world. I agree that as a goal it is self-defeating. The things that truly have that kind of power aren't intentionally designed for "shock value."

I've never seen Work of Art, but it sounds as if the show is either being run by people who don't get it, or by people who don't care, and I can't decide which is worse.

7/01/2010 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

"I'm thinking of this from an art lover's (as opposed to a TV lover's) point of view."

Yeah, you're not missing anything except a source of frustration.

7/01/2010 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tracie Thompson said...

One small addition before I have to run out the door:

Given that we're stuck with this Work of Art thing, maybe we can at least use it to start conversations that wouldn't otherwise happen.

Imagine: average people actually daring to talk about art. I think we have an opportunity, if we choose to see it.

7/01/2010 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

Burchfield!! My personal Watercolor Idol! On your blog! I can feel the forest and fields in his paintings. They resonate. I went to the Penney in Buffalo and saw his work up close and felt my insides stir. It's nice of you to honor him with a pic on the post.
The quick turnaround time required for participation in some art exhibits really does prohibit one from producing quality work. Perhaps it's another manifestation of our fast moving consumer culture.

7/01/2010 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Andres Serrano hasn't hurt his career. No one is going to remember this ridiculous show.

7/01/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Art is some what like love, in the sense that sometimes it is a coup de foudre, you fall head over heels at first glance. Then there is love that reveals its intimacy over time, slowly, via acknowledgement and give and take and starting over and acceptance and elucidation and s'epanouir through time and history and understanding. Art does that too. To strive for the shock of the schism of revelation is a technique used by some monks when meditating, bang the disciple over the head, however you do it doesn't matter, its the shock that is supposed to free one for insight and revelation.
Forcing art into one or the other category (seductive versus climax-tic) seems contrived as you say. Designers are honoured for being able to design to any style. It seems anti-art to ask artists to follow divergent schools of art. Like expecting a hockey player to be an ice dance athlete - oh wait there's a tv show going into its second season doing just that. Seems "reality" tv is about the celebrity/actor and not the play. Seems shock art is about the schism and not the revelation. Revelation can be shocking, but shocking is not necessarily revealing of significance.

That kind of sums up a lot of tv entertainment whether art related or not.

7/01/2010 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous David Mann said...

forget about old!!!
how 'bout visionary!!!!

7/01/2010 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I think the show has a lot of potential as a teaching aid. I can visualize a course organized around it where each week the students and professors would deal with one of the art world cliches.

The art students would do their own crit of the show as a group and then do a similar project and crit. By the end of the course, the students would have had thorough exposure to many of the art world cliches, hopefully working them out their system before graduating.

7/02/2010 11:08:00 AM  

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