Our field trip yesterday

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Yesterday afternoon, PapaC, Zteen and I went to the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. The building itself is spectacular, as you can see above. I was much less impressed by the art and "art" included in the building.

I'm sorry, but much of modern art leaves me cold. Some of it I consider graphic design rather than art--but then I can't exactly put my finger on what my definition of art actually is.

What I know is that I don't think a green wooden box sitting in the middle of the floor is art. I don't think a fluorescent light mounted diagonally on the wall is art. I for sure do not think that a 12 inch square of light projected on a wall is art.

I think that some of the color field canvases are attractive--but no more attractive than an Amish quilt from Pennsylvania. And attractive in the same sort of way. So how come these giant canvases are hanging in a spectacular building in Fort Worth, and some Amish quiltmaker is selling her stuff on Ebay for $200? Now, I'm NOT arguing that the quilt is art. Maybe what I'm arguing is that the canvases are NOT art. I'm not sure.

Why is Roy Lichtenstein art but Stan Lee not art? Because Roy had a better agent? His pictures are bigger? He lives in NYC? (I don't really know where he lives, but you get the picture.) Or are they BOTH art?

And what is the deal with Andy Warhol. If that Campbell's soup can is really art, then isn't the artist the graphic designer who designed the can? Why is a giant reproduction of it ART?

I did think it was interesting that in the group of canvases by Warhol called "8 Myths" (Wicked Witch of the West, Dracula, Santa Claus, etc.) he included a picture of HIMSELF.

I do not think anything that you just FOUND qualifies as art--no sunflower stalks, no crushed car bumpers.

I do not think that random things glued together--including a feather, a string of Christmas lights and the packing stuff from inside a box--are art. But then that's just me.

And take the photography--there were some lovely photographs on display--but no lovelier than the stuff I have seen being sold at art festivals across North Texas. So how come what is hanging in the Modern "art" while the stuff in a booth on Main Street is "craft" and selling for $45?

Most of all, I do not think that a row of 28 plastic bottles with blue dyed water in them (forming a wave--oooh, ahhh!) are art. They might be a kindergarten musical instrument, though.

There were a few things I thought were lovely--a sculpture of a crooked ladder disappearing into the sky. A metal book with wings. A painting called The Ark by Melissa Miller, which captured all the tension of the breaking storm and the nervousness of the animals.

Most of the time I walk through the museum feeling like the whole thing is some cosmic inside joke, played on rubes like me who are just too declasse to "get it." Maybe I need a good book on modern art. But I think a lot of it is just a giant in-joke.

Anyway, take a look at the website for the Modern. It has about 215 of their collection pieces in the online catalog. The pictures rarely do justice to what the things look like in person. But at least you can see what I'm talking about.


I pass that museum every day (I live about 2 miles from it) and I have yet to step foot inside! I think that's mainly because I don't "get" most modern art (as defined by the PhD's). However, I could live in the Kimball!

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that modern art is just a giant in-joke. I find the same thing in poetry. Where poetry was once a medium for transfering thought and emotion memorably, it has become self-referential to the point that only those people who write it are even supposed to "get it." Attempts to involve the reader, or the viewer, have gone by the wayside.

eutycus has hit on something BIG here. as far as i'm concerned true art must engage the viewer. make me happy, sad, heck just wax my ire, but your "art" better do something or it's wasting space.

Okay, here's my question. Why'd ya go?????? I believe "zteen" had been there and related much of it to you previously, no????? So why do you (and many others) go and continue to support it? Because it's supporting the arts? Perhaps just to give yourself justification for blasting it? Because so many others go? Curious. Seems to me if we all think it's a joke-and I certainly do-we wouldn't let ourselves fall victim to it.

Fair question about why we went. Here's at least part of the answer:

1. First, the building really is beautiful. You can't see it well from the outside, and Zteen said it was worth seeing from the inside.
Zteen wanted us to go to see it and to see the art. The building itself is wonderful and worth seeing.

2. First Sunday of the month is free admission, so we didn't actually have to spend the money to see what was in there. In that sense, we didn't see ourselves as supporting the museum as such, other than as a number on the clicker counter the guy by the door was using.

3. I had never spent much time in the Modern before they closed the old one to build the new one. We had been to a couple of special exhibits there, but had never really LOOKED at the permanent collection. My exposure to modern art is limited--usually to those egregiously bad things that people make fun of in the newspapers and in magazines. That stuff I know is silly. But was everything the Modern had silly? That part I didn't know. Now I'd say that I know that, oh, 85% of it is silly.

4. I wanted to try to see what people see who spend really mega-bucks on this stuff. The Modern has made some relatively high dollar purchases in the past several years. Surely there is a REASON for them...Surely.

5. Won't there eventually be some living artist that I really LIKE? If they are living, and their work is IN some Ft. Worth museum, wouldn't it be in the Modern--sort of by definition, almost? I didn't know. I was looking for someone painting or sculpting or drawing or something today that I would like.

So, that's why we went. Unfortunately, I didn't achieve my goal of figuring any of it out. If someone offers to let me buy 28 bottles of water with blue food coloring in it, for the mere price of several THOUSANDS of dollars, I guess I will still just have to let it go by....

A very smart brit, now an American, once said "'Art' is just a really old word for 'skill'."

1. No, not all modern art is an inside joke, and no, PhD's have only had any role whatsoever in tastemaking in the last 20 years (and even then there are a lot of folks in the art world who laugh at the PhD's. Some, like me, are very upfront in referring to "Art History" as one of the "waiting to find a husband" majors, others only say such things behind closed doors. Since I am very open in my blatant sexism, elitism, etc., I tend to be the one that the cowards confide in, as they know that you must set me on fire, or call my BMW a Volkswagen to offend me. That being the case it would amaze you who has confided sharing such thoughts, including a couple of well-regarded women in the art history field).

2. There is plenty of good art and plenty of really awful art, as well as a lot of stuff in between in EACH and EVERY era and style.

3. You are right about Andy Warhol. He was a complete poseur.

4. Do not look for museums for the best of contemporary art. That is not what museums are for, because they have never been good at it, and the very notion confounds the real art market. Galleries have the good stuff. Museums have the stuff that really does fit into the realm of "inside jokes" and illustrations of pet theories. Ideally art museums should minimize how much art from the past 40 years they have (and that holds in any generation).

5. Modern Art is very worth learning about and learning to appreciate. Start with Robert Hughes' Shock of the New.

6. You are more right than you think about the Amish quilts. Personally, I find quilts fairly boring and consider it nothing more than creeping feminism to find them in museums, but I am, as I have already admited, a complete reactionary sexist. Real men don't quilt, and real men don't appreciate them beyond a perfunctory, "that's lovely, dear." However, if a man were to risk his reputation by taking a deeper look at quilts, he would find some amazing compostional and craft elements. They are certainly more interesting than the (let me guess) Yves Klein you were looking at.

7. You are right. Found objects are not art, and anyone who says otherwise is a lazy ass in search of a grant (please note that some of my favorite drinking buddies are lazy asses in search of grants - I have nothing against them). However, found objects can be used well in art. Are you sure that there was no art to the use of said found objects?

Erik! I'm glad you checked in, I was hoping you would.

The found object that I had in mind was a crunched up auto fender, placed in the center of the room. Not mounted, not painted any way other than as it would have normally appeared as a fender. Now, it is possible that maybe the "artist" in question smashed the fender himself, but if he did it was unrecognizable from one found in a junkyard--nothing notable about it.

It only made me jealous that I had not gone to the salvage yard first, found a rusted fender and sold it to the museum. However, I don't have the name or the agent, I guess.

I suppose you could call the wadded up paper glued to the cardboard an art project rather than a "found" object--since the paper was so artistically wadded? Or perhaps it was the addition of the strand of Christmas lights wound around the whole composition.....

After I wrote my post, I realized that the galleries were probably the place to look at contemporary art. But I always feel inadequate--and like they are ready to shoo the frumpy housewife type out of the door. I know, I know, I shouldn't let 'em make me feel that way, but there are only so many willow thin waif girls dressed in black that one can be around without feeling like a galumping gorilla......


I know what you mean about those waif girls. Just blow on them. They fall over. Actually I know a whole bunch of them and many are quite nice, they really care about art, etc. I stopped regularly doing the first Thursday gallery crawl, though. I just got sick and tired of the really bad art (the local stuff was usually not so bad, rather the kee-rap that was being shown from New Yawn and London (especially London, which is sad, given the great painters who were severely neglected when London was actually an interesting arts town. Now it is full of empty flash and dazzle. Ugh. The Englisch).

Now I only go to selected galleries (Paul Thiebaud, Triangle, Maxwell, and a couple of others, but those are the main ones), and never on openings. Openings and first Thursdays are about the worst way to see art. First, the galleries are too packed. Second, there is too much of a social scene. Third, you cannot avoid overhearing the dumbest comments imaginable, and then have to resist skewering these people, which takes the focus away from the art.

There are advantages, though: free (but rarely good) wine, it is a social scene, so you get to see your artworld friends that you only see at artworld events (you don't think I run into those waifs at the butcher, do you?), sometimes you can help an artist friend by rescuing him from some idiot or drunk who is bending his ear over utter nonsense, and you get to get a quick view of the new shows, so that you can go back later to the stuff that is worth seeing again.

There is (I think it is still there) a lovely gallery near the River Oaks theater. It is a cooperative and the artists are very good, prices reasonable. There will be things there you want to own - and maybe could afford.

Artists cooperatives can be a very good place to look for art. Of course, since they require the artists to spend considerable time on the marketing and running of the gallery, artists get out of them as soon as they can find a regular gallery rep. So, unless the cooperative can continue to attract good young artists, they become the hair trap at the bottom of the professional art world. There was one in Sacramento that used to have Wayne Thiebaud involved, but now it has degenerated into housewive's crafts projects.

On the other hand, I have seen some continue to thrive and keep interesting art in the forefront. But don't be surprised if the exciting, excellent artists' co-op gallery that you find this year becomes really awful in five years. I have seen it happen several times.

I also recommend college galleries. Sometimes the senior shows (and graduate shows) can be quite worthwhile.



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This page contains a single entry by MamaT published on June 7, 2004 9:04 AM.

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