Friday, June 09, 2006

Modern Art

Warning: I talk about drugs, sex and violence in this post, so if you are easily offended, you might want to skip it. Mom, this probably means you.

Pompidou Center, Paris

A man stands in the middle of a room and lets a person shoot him, with a gun, in the arm. This same man crawls, or rather, worms, belly down, across a bunch of broken glass. In yet another stupid stunt, this same man lets a volunteer from the audience push tacks into his body in an elevator. Scenes from the next Jackass movie? No, it’s art. Or at least considered art by some. Performance artist Chris Burden produced most of the mentioned scenes in the early 1970’s and they are part of an exhibit, Los Angeles 1955-1985: The birth of an art capital, at the Pompidou Center in Paris.

View from 4th floor of Pompidou.
I looked up the definition of art and found this: “1. skilled acquired by experience or study, 2. a branch of learning, especially one of the humanities, 3. an occupation requiring knowledge or skill, 4. the use of skill and imagination in the production of things of beauty” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). I love going to art galleries and I love seeing beautiful and/or thought provoking pieces, but I do have a limit. At heart, I am just a country girl in the big city and although I wasted my time in college getting useless degrees, I never studied art. However, as an amateur art lover and a strong believer in the fourth definition, I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of voluntarily being shot as art. Maybe I am not intelligent enough, but I just think it is a bunch of hogwash.

Perhaps the first definition, “skilled acquired by experience,” would apply because now Chris Burden knows what it feels like to be shot. Then I guess I am an artist too, because I have been in a car wreck so now I have that experience?! They had running commentary from the artist and he said, concerning the crawling through broken glass (I wrote it down because it was so absurd), “I saw the broken glass as stars on the ground. I filmed it in black and white because I wanted everyone to see what I saw. And I got cut up pretty bad.” REALLY?! I would have thought crawling through broken glass with your hands behind your back would be a piece of cake. Art, shmart, is what I say.

Anyway, I have two points: some art is dumb and LSD is bad. Seriously, LSD is bad! I spent most of my time in the exhibit, thinking things like, “Why did I pay for this? Why did they waste all that ketchup? How are random words pieced together art? How did they get funding for this? Am I stupid, or is that just a chair?” I came to this conclusion: abundant LSD usage produced many morons and those morons got some kind of funding to make art. And here I am, working for money. I should just make art.

After I was finished with the L.A. exhibit, I went down to see the permanent collections. Some of it is really cool. There is a pink room with calming music, floating curtains, flashing lights and a huge red high heel shoe in the center. It is really beautiful. There is also a short film showing all the “damsels in distress” from the 1950’s. It shows how the house wife was a prisoner and victim of her/society’s making. Very thought provoking and beautiful.

And then, I found a photo/slide show room. The plaque outside the room described it (I am loosely quoting), “An intimate view of relationships.” It sounded really sweet and I love photographs, so in I went. The word intimate was slightly important in this title because most of the photos were of people having sex. Not simulated sex, but real people having real sex. The people were NOT models and they were not attractive. As a matter of fact, I think the artist went out of her way to find incredibly odd looking people. Some of the photos taken before the sexual encounters were charming; most of them were not. The pictures of the actual act were disconcerting; nothing sexy about them, I assure you. I wasn’t the only one in the audience troubled by the photos; a couple of my neighbors looked like they sucked on a lemon, too. I am sure I had the same expression. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude; I just wished I would have known that I was going to see such graphic photos. I would have liked to have been prepared. I am still disturbed by some of the photos. I guess if these types of pictures are in an art gallery, they are art and if they are in some corner shop in Montmartre, they are pornography.

Since, my journey through a modern art gallery left me feeling empty and more than a little disgusted, I think I will stick to the classics. Don’t get me wrong, I get modern art, I just don’t think I like it.


Lotus Reads said...

I'm with you, Angela, I cannot view someone shooting themselves and then crawling across broken glass as art. Call me old-fashioned but when I think art, I'm thinking more along the lines of the Old Masters, also if there has to be a drug involved, better absinthe over LSD anytime.

However, thanks for walking us through the art exhibition, I enjoyed your observations and have learned a lot.

It seems to me that modern art likes to shock, there is hardly anything subtle about it. Guess that does appeal to some people, but I think it leaves me cold.

Just as an aside, what's Paris looking like now that the world cup soccer is underway? Are there huge billboards and posters all over the city?

Expat Traveler said...

Angela - I'm so glad all I did was pass the place when I went in 2003. Doesn't sound worth paying. Although the view you caught from the 4th floor (3rd in europe) would have been all I dreamt about the entire journey...

You don't know how much I'm dying to visit France and Switzerland!!! Oh and I'm finally in process for my immigration... Finally!

Diamond Lil said...

Great post.

Art is subjective. And if you look up subjective, one of the definitions is, "Existing only in the mind; illusory". Funny.

Susan in Italy said...

Well, it does sound like this exhibit touched you. An artist I used to know said that he was successful if he got a reaction back form someone wo saw his paintings even if that reaction was negative. He touched them. Failure meant the reaction of, "oh, isn't that pretty". That reduced his art to decoration.

Angela in Europe said...

Lotus-I like the older stuff too. It might be because I don't know that much about art though.

Paris is not going really football crazy, but there are lots of folks here who get really pissed every night and sing the "fight" songs for their teams.

Expat-Congratulations with the immigration stuff!

Diamond-Thanks. I like art a lot. I enjoy going to museums, but sometimes I do feel like a fish out of water.

Susan-I guess I could agree with that explanation of art, but I am touched by a lot of things; more things than I care to mention make an impression on me. However, I certainly spent a part of the weekend trying to get those pictures out of my mind. They definitely "touched" me, just not in a way which I appreciate.

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks for letting me know about the football, for some reason my city is huge on the game. Every other car sports a flag of the nation whose team they support...

It's helpful in that you get a good idea of the demographics of your city :) My city seems to be full of English and Portuguese supporters with a few Argentinians thrown in!