I understand the fact that in (most) contemporary art one should not look for beauty.
This week I finished my tour in MUMOK and saw the Gender Check exhibition. The objects there are not beautiful. They are challenging, violent, sometimes funny, sometimes queer (sic!) but not beautiful. There is a lot about suffering and inequality there, about irony and rage, about one’s need to make oneself heard, about a quest to define oneself. You look/read/hear what goes on around you and you end up being moved, thinking about this stuff and, perhaps, wanting to do something about it. I can only guess that this is the message.
But… This is Warhol all over again!
Is Warhol beautiful? Is the Brillo box beautiful? This kind of ties up together with the stuff above. Therefore, I should elaborate. Today, instead of spending time perusing books in the library (which closed earlier because of the holidays!) I decided to see the Cars show at the Albertina. The museum itself was packed with people but most of them were there for the Impressionists. They’ll (also) close soon. Downstairs there was enough space. And music! Yeah, music from a huge boom-box (the kind one sees only on MTV’s Pimp my ride) with thumping sounds, meant to… you know… blend in… It did not really… I couldn’t concentrate. But then again, what should one try to focus for? It’s just Andy Warhol! Just the cool guy and his silkscreen stuff! The Dude… The Philosopher (I’ll come to this later). Indeed, the only thing one sees are silkscreen renderings of cars. First Benz and Daimler models, race Merzs in all sorts of background colors and with all sorts of colored squares stamped over the canvas.
In one of his essays in Philosophizing Art, Danto writes about The Philosopher as Andy Warhol, praising him for his genius (which, he mentions, almost cost him his friendship with Robert Motherwell). Andy Warhol, the Philosopher. I kept looking at the paintings hanged on the walls, trying to suppress the thumping noises coming from the boom-box and trying to think about the Brillo box (which, btw, was designed by an abstract expressionist – Steve Harvey). Where is the philosopher here? In the repetition? In the everydayness of the images of these objects which ceased to be means of transportation and became objects of lust and want?
Yes! That’s it!
Edmund White said that:
Andy took every conceivable definition of the word art and challenged it. Art reveals the trace of the artist’s hand: Andy resorted to silk-screening. A work of art is a unique object: Andy came up with multiples. A painter paints; Andy made movies. Art is divorced from the commercial and the utilitarianism: Andy specialized in Campbell’s Soup Cans and Dollar Bills. Painting can be defined in contrast to photography: Andy recycles snapshots. A work of art is what an artist signs, proof of his creative choice, his intentions: for a small fee, Andy signed any object whatever.
There you have it! Nothing other than a Nietzsche of Art, actually bringing painting to its knees and surrendering it to philosophy. According to Danto, anyway. The whole problem started while attempting to distinguish between the Brillo box that was not art and the Brillo box that was. Wherein lies the difference? What makes one art and the other a soap box? Well, the answer comes, they are, actually, both art. But one of them is commercial art and the other one is fine art. By doing what he did best, Warhol turned our world, our soap boxes and soup cans and whatever have you into art. Suddenly, the boundaries between art and the world became blurred. Danto considers that “unlike Duchamps, Warhol sought to set up a resonance not so much between art and real objects as between art and images, it having been his insight, that our signs and images are our reality”. Hmm… What did Baudrillard say? Didn’t he say that today there is no such thing as reality? That the world we live in is only a Simulacrum? That we live from images and only images? Images, surfaces, appearances. And then again, Wittgenstein and his language games… Returning to the ordinary language. If a lion would speak nobody would understand him! Warhol was no lion! And he spoke so that everyone understood him. “Pop art is a way of… liking things”. He rejoiced in his living in this world of images and multiplied them, brought them everywhere, made them more present than they otherwise would have been. Albertina’s Cars make no difference. Beauty is not an issue any longer. Multiplicity is. Commercialism is. Utilitarianism is.
Beauty… What on earth is that? I remember seeing last year in the same museum Richter’s watercolors and thinking I would really want to have one. Really, really… They were so beautiful. The vivid colors, the torn notebook papers… Would I think the same about a Warhol silk-screen? Don’t think so. As I wouldn’t think about the Gender Check exhibits in MUMOK. Warhol celebrated everydayness. Gender Check doesn’t celebrate much. It cries havoc. Leaving aside the communist era praise immortalized in oils and acrylics on the ground floor, the stuff on the upper floors does quite a good job at it. Tanja Ostojic is rather well represented. Just think about her homage to Malevich’s Black Sqare On White. Or about her installations. Or about her homage to Courbet’s L’origine du monde, also known as EU panties (well, this is not part of the exhibition, but nevertheless). Think about Katarzyna Kozyra’s Olympia. The body being brought forth, made brutally naked, pushed and pulled, exposed. Looking for an identity. Asking for an identity. Violently searching for normality. Would I hang something like this on the wall in my living room? I do not think so. If I understand and support the ideas behind these works I would try to do something about the world. I would try to change it. At least that’s what I feel I am being told through them. Do something! Putting them on the wall and regarding them only as art works would imply deserting their cause. Like Warhol, they play with images, they are philosophical and for them beauty is not something one should strive to achieve (of course, there are exceptions). Unlike Warhol, they do not celebrate the world but attempt to raise awareness about its hefty ways.