There are few things easier to make fun of than an artwork description. It is not because these texts, as objects, are inherently goofy (not deliberately). But they’re often subject to a particular vocabulary, and sometimes that vocabulary is a little repetitive — and a little turgid.
Isabel Kim’s delightful Infinite Artwork Simulator is, as described, “a tongue-in-cheek artwork description generator” based on Mira Schor’s musings on “Recipe Art” from her 2009 essay collection, A Decade of Negative Thinking. Schor critiqued the recycling of themes both in young artists’ work and in the art market’s schematics, explaining that the description of a work usually goes something like this: “Recipe: something from popular culture + something from art history + something appropriated + something weird or expressive = useful promotional sound bite. The work is selected for review because it can be written about efficiently. It is not necessary to see the piece.”
In this sense, the market determines a work’s worth, and even its worth provides no indication as to whether or not it will be deeply examined — or viewed at all. A subsequent review regurgitates the verbiage; we read and nod, and little changes.
Following Schor’s “recipe,” Kim’s simulator generates descriptions of fictional artworks, pulling from Andrea Liu’s “Top Ten Words I Am Sick of Seeing on Artist Statements” and descriptions of artwork from the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The formula: a title, materials, a description, and a statement about what the work ultimately “deploys.”
Not unlike the Random Exhibition Title Generator or 500 Letters, an artist’s statement generator (Kim links to both), the results are absurd precisely because they feel too real. To pull randomly from several simulations: A work made of “floppy disks” and “chanting” is a “humorous elevated platform,” and an “intimate and estranging, ironic box of prisms” is “describing subjectivity…formed in the wake of post-feminism.” A work containing “Marilyn Monroe” and “appropriated text” is described as “peculiar and banal,” deploying “violence as a rupture or distortion as suggesting innumerable idiosyncrasies of human relations.” Right — you’ve not heard that one before. My favorite, so far:
pamphlets, automotive manuals, fast-food–franchise contracts, and blog posts, vantablack pigment, artists’s mixing bowls.
This work is a fantastical, environmental machete consisting of drab, cluttered office which is reminiscent of the subject-object hierarchy being destabilized.
The work deploys every location in which an email has been opened in the past as representative of the beauty in our own differences.
Consider, very quietly, the idea of “an environmental machete.” (It may go without saying that every single work is “untitled.”)
But oh, those adjectives, those attempts at grappling with meaning: the words float around your head like a whirligig of magnetic poetry until they’re worth nothing. But there’s something to glean from the seeming nonsense — something faithful in its attempt to distill the mostly inexplicable.