Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
Ossian Ward has a feature in Art in America this month about the dismaying trend of bigness in the contemporary art world. The piece is an exploration of a problem that’s only been growing (no pun intended): art as a series of bigger and better spectacles, upstaged only by the vast and cavernous spaces in which it’s shown. (Ward cleverly refers to this as the “Turbine Hall effect.”)
Though the article is quite smart and thorough, it left me a little unsatisfied: I think Ward stops short of really digging into what’s at stake here. What exactly is the problem with art as entertainment, anyway? It may seem like an obvious question, but given its centrality to this discussion, it’s one worth asking.
In Ward’s piece, he quotes art historian Hal Foster talking about his book, The Art-Architecture Complex. Foster says:
“So rather than the old virtue … whereby one is made reflexive about a body in space, there’s a way in which much architecture now wants to overwhelm you as a body in space, to use the space to overwhelm you.”
This sentiment is dead on, but it applies to more than just to the new, grand starchitectural spaces — it also applies to the art inside them.
The problem with art as entertainment is that it privileges the “Wow” factor over everything else. Standing inside many an Olafur Eliasson installation, you’re delighted, you’re impressed, you take a picture of yourself looking yellow (see my Hyperallergic author photo). But you don’t think about it all too much. Of course there’s a chance you might, when you go home, but the art itself doesn’t encourage thinking. Rather, it privileges emotional response — particularly the feeling of being impressed and awed — over understanding; in other words, passive consumption versus active.
Often, this is because the ideas behind the work aren’t actually that interesting or substantial. Carsten Holler putting a slide in a museum is fun, definitely, but once the novelty wears off, there’s not much left to grasp onto.
Partly this is a problem of exchange: big, spectacular artworks don’t invite viewers to interact with them. But wait — you might say — riding a slide is interaction. Physically, yes, but intellectually, no. There’s no exchange of ideas, no questions that the artist is posing to viewers. The physical interaction is a decoy for a lack of mental stimulation. And many times these big, spectacular artworks are, as Ward points out in his piece, mass gatherings centered around ephemeral experience. There’s no chance for investigation or intimacy.
But big doesn’t have to be bad. Although he gets a lot of flack for the scale of his work, I’d use Richard Serra as an example of big art done right. Wandering through the vertiginous spaces created by his steel forms, you can admire their changing colors, ponder their materiality, and even, when the guard isn’t looking, run your fingers across the stubbly surface. You can be awed and thoughtful, all at once.
The new generation of artists and curators is eager to explore alternative organizations and to tackle current social inequalities and issues.
Her female nudes were extraordinary for the time because she portrayed female sexual desire. Her subjects defied conventional ideals of femininity.
No Vacancy, curated by Jody Graf, will be on view from October 26 through November 8 at the school’s Kellen Gallery in New York City.
Francis made over 10,000 artworks, starred in more than 100 solo exhibitions, and, in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, commanded the highest prices of any living painter.
Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii deploys amazing graphic storytelling to share his own exploration of mushroom history
Over a century after Wright designed a workplace that borrowed features from the home, designers are at it again, but who does a homey office really serve?
Art by Athena LaTocha, Wendy Red Star, Marianne Nicolson, Anita Fields, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and more is on view through January 2022.
This week, the National Gallery of Art finally acquired a major work by Faith Ringgold, the director of The Velvet Underground talks film, North America’s Hindu Nationalist problem, canceling legacy admissions, and more.
Sculptures of Oaxacan alebrijes, envisioned as guardians of the nation’s immigrant community, and catrinas, Day of the Dead skeletons, are now at Rockefeller Center.