Thursday, June 30, 2011

Extreme Conceptual Art

These two panels show only small parts of the
New Year  Mail Piece (top) and Spring Mail Piece.
With the Mail Piece Project, I had thought I was producing some interesting conceptual art. The project was conceived as a series of multiple originals, created by me, in collaboration with the United States Post Office and my subscribers. So far, a New Year Mail Piece and a Spring Mail Piece have been completed. I currently am at work on the Summer Mail Piece.

But now I see that by actually laboring to produce a series of physical objects, I have fallen short of the full potential of conceptual art.

I have been shown the light by a recent article in Newsweek, Blake Gopnik's "Buying Art You Can't Take Home." 

This Newsweek photo by
Lucy Hogg shows art collectors
Aaron and Barbara Levine at
Art Basel, with unidentified
dealers, and a physical signifi-
cation of their purchase from
Lawrence Weiner.
I have to say, one lives in an interesting world when it apparently makes sense to pay large amounts of money for the idea of--for one example--a museum guard "slowly removing every shred of his clothes." (Gopnik reports that this "work" was purchased by Marc and Josee Gensollens of Marseilles from conceptual artist Tino Sehgal, but "has come alive only when they've 'lent' it to museums.")

The practical Midwestern girl in me can't help feeling that--naked museum guards notwithstanding (do their contracts now have to include a nudity clause?)--there's a major "Emperor's New Clothes" element at work in this type of art.  As long as we all agree to studiously suspend our disbelief, irrespective of how wide the gulfs of "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" we must span, then we have art.

Somehow, I just can't see it playing well in the artistic universe I inhabit.  Does that make the art buyers I know less "sophisticated" . . . or just less gullible?

If I pay $100,000 for the idea of the Brooklyn Bridge, have I actually been "taken," or am I simply an art patron?  Perhaps the test lies in whether or not I can "lend" it to museums, after my purchase.

Just as ice-climbing is
considered an Extreme
Sport, perhaps Sehgal,
Weiner, and others are
pioneers of Extreme Art.
I can see some advantages to this kind of art, though.  Insurance might be interesting to purchase, but the studio-space requirements would not be excessive.  I certainly would have fewer laundry issues.  Getting ideas splattered all over my clothes would leave far fewer stains than ink, paint, clay, or other more material art media.

Those risks might be minimized, but I can't help wondering how truly brave the pioneers of this kind of art must have been, to seriously stand up in public among the avant gard of the art world, and propose that their patrons lay out hundreds of thousands for their "works."

How courageous, in turn, must an art buyer be, to lay out money like that, then go home and (try to) explain to their friends about this wonderful artwork they just bought?  (of course, it is guaranteed not to clash with the couch).

Wikipedia defines "Extreme Sport" as "a popular term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger, and . . . counter-cultural."  I truly think that this kind of artwork, which is definitely not for the faint-of-heart or the uncommitted, really should qualify as "Extreme" Art.

PHOTOS: The two panels from the New Year and Spring Mail Pieces are my own work; the photo by Lucy Hogg is from Newsweek; the ice-climbing photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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