Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Controversy as Art

Art experts claim that subjectivity negates our ability to say art can be good or bad.

I say, “balderdash.”

Some art is good, some art is bad, and then some of what is purported to be art isn’t really art at all, but just a piece of junk masquerading around as an abstraction.

Take, for example, the sudden tempest-in-a-teapot over the heretofore unknown “Colonna Mediterranea” obelisk by heretofore unknown sculptor Paul Vella Critien. Critien’s “Colonna” has become a flashpoint for artistic debate in the village of Luqa, Malta, because of its obvious, um, phallic properties. Oh, and the Pope will be coming to town later this week.

They're Just Now Recognizing It?

Having been in place since 2006 in the middle of a traffic circle at the entrance to town, one wonders why the imminent visit of His Eminence has only now made village officials embarrassed by what they consider to be an offensive work of public art. It’s taken them four years to notice what it looks like? Is the Pope’s opinion of the obelisk more important than how God would view the artwork? What about the citizenry and city leadership that erected the piece to begin with? Does removing or hiding the art – against popular opinion, btw – somehow negate mindsets that once thought it was OK?

I’m not going to give you a direct link to view the object in question, but you can Google it easily enough if you like. If you look at it, you’ll see the reason for the controversy. But taken a step further, and it seems a valid critique to question whether it really even is art. Sure, it’s a shape, and it’s colorful, but beyond that, what makes it any better than a crunched toilet paper roll that a child may have painted?

Critien says he was incorporating ancient Egyptian art forms and Mediterranean colors to create his piece. If you took off the top-most piece of the structure, you’d probably remove most of its objectionable identifications, but you’d just be left with a brightly-painted column. Wouldn’t that still depict the Mediterranean flavor Critien says he was aiming for?

Who joins me in wondering if Critien has been waiting these past four years for somebody to finally make a stink over this silly piece of art? He knew that someday, somehow, it would all hit the fan, and he’d become famous. He probably didn’t figure it’d take a papal visit for things to get so blown out of proportion, although he knew enough people would come out in support of his piece that he could join the “uneducated art boor” cry which is being launched against critics.

Bad Artist? Get PR the Easy Way!

What an easy way to play pretend! If somebody doesn’t like a piece of art, you just suggest they’re unsophisticated and dim-witted. You can create the most crass piece of junk you can imagine, and you know you can run and hide behind the politically-correct screen of “art for art’s sake” protectionism that supposedly validates both the conventional and unconventional.

Remember the hideous 1987 photo by Andres Serrano of a crucifix in a glass of bodily fluid? He was a nobody “artist” before he hit on the idea of creating a stink in the art and religious worlds with his blasphemous idea. Of course, Serrano was counting on the unfortunately predictable habit of the religious right to make a greater fuss over things than they otherwise would warrant. Which is the equivalent to blood in the ocean, which draws the sharks of the media to come and rip the story to death.

But today, even if you were alive in 1987, you have to think a moment about what piece of "art" I'm talking about, and you probably never knew Serrano's name. All you remember is the photo, which even art experts would have to concede was nothing more spectacular than what a belligerent teenager might have thought up.

Of course, Critien’s work doesn’t come close to mimicking the absurdly vile taste of Serrano’s. They're two different sub-species of bad art. Critien’s statue in Malta is more obscenely goofy than sacrilegious. But is either good art? Instead, I think each piece says more about their respective craftsmen than anything else.

And that’s not particularly admirable either, is it?

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