Gallery Goer Asks The Question: What Is This Shit?

by Paddy Johnson on December 20, 2005 · 1 comment Reviews

The take home question from Saturday’s art viewing activities was first heard outside the Olaf Breuning show at Metro Pictures.

“What is this?” a viewer asked a Metro Picture staff member.
“It’s Art!” the man replied.

After an awkward pause the director decided to follow this answer up with some further explanation, but you’ve got to love that the original response addresses the implication that the work isn’t any good, by giving it an oblique title and hoping for the best. Following this practice, the next time someone asks me what I’m reading, I should just tell them “A Book”, and then take to capitalizing the word in all my correspondence. Assuming it’s read as a proper noun (as opposed to some sort of pathological love for capitalization), I would never have to think about content in literature or art again.

In contrast to this, the second time I heard the question was at the group show We are all Together: Media(ted) Performance at Artist’s Space. “What is this piece of shit?” is more or less a direct quote from MTAA’s T.Whid in the video documentation of 10 Pre-Rejected, Pre-Approved Performances: Midnight In The Deli, as he addressed what he felt to be a likely question posed by viewers.

It’s a valid point to bring up, since the snowbeerman is the first thing a person sees, and it doesn’t exactly employ beauty as it’s working aesthetic. This MTAA piece (sculpture and video documentation), is the result of an on-line vote at the MTAA website on ten rejected project proposals. The winner of this vote, (Midnight in the Deli, MTAA spends $100 bucks at a deli at midnight on materials and then makes some art), is the project that is completed.

The result, thankfully is not minimalism*. It’s an aluminum, toilet paper, paper mache masterpiece. Or something. While it’s hard not to want more from the final product, as T. Whid tells us in the video, we have to look beyond the object, because the work is about the process. So the real question is, is the process engaging enough to sustain the project? The answer is yes, because the video documentation of the effort addresses their objectives of the performance (the viewer should at the very least learn how the beer can ears came into existence) but without being so heavy handed that you don’t care. For the record though, I am disappointed in America for voting for Midnight in the Deli, when clearly Show AKA (rename a show and make a banner or flag with the new title) had the most potential. Personally, I’d be participating in shameless self promotion renaming Empty Space with Exciting Events, something like, AFC Presents…Garbage Day.

Which is really to say that credit should be given to Lee Walton at Artist’s Space for conceiving Garbage Day, because it is such a fantastic piece. In this performance, Walton hired actor, Theodore Bouloukos to throw a piece of trash away at marked locations and scheduled times throughout Saturday December the 17th. Thrilling no? It’s the details that really make this piece, the fact that Alex Callendar has been given credit for research and assistance, that each garbage can was “selected rigorously by a small committee”, and that he actually paid someone to do the work for him. This is a clever piece, that points out the absurdity of pretentious asshole art speak by making the dullest of chores important. And unfortunately, much like the rest of this show, this piece was performed and/or closed Saturday. Sorry guys, looks like you just get to read about this one.

*Note of clarification: I don’t have any problem with minimalist art, I am merely trying to point out what would be a facile solution to the project’s completion.

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