It’s been a bad week for art lovers in Scandinavia. Last week, a gang of “Militant Graffiti Artists” in Sweden stole a fibreglass cow from the international CowParade exhibition and threatened to sacrifice it unless the cows were declared “non-art”. According to Reuters, the organisers of the Stockholm exhibition have until noon today to meet their demands… (also seen at Lycos news).
And over the weekend news broke across the world that one of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch‘s famous Scream paintings was stolen in a daring raid from the Munch Museum in Norway. Experts wonder at the idiocy of the thieves, who will have real problems getting rid of such a recognisable piece of art, as well as expressing concern over the fragile state of the painting and the likely damage caused during the rather amauteurish (albeit highly successful) theft.
This post was inspired by a visit to the Tate Modern a week or so back. I’m not particularly sophisticated when it comes to the visual arts, I tend to make judgements purely on an aesthetic level rather than an intellectual one. This might not be the best attitude to take to a gallery specialising in a form of art which is often better understood by thinking about it rather than just looking at it, and can be quite bizarre and ugly on a superficial level.
There are many pieces on show that are pretty to look at, but I felt that these were outnumbered a bit by the stranger stuff. I have to confess that I became rather tired of looking at strange objects piled in seemingly random collections and reading blurbs which over used words like “referential”, “concept”, “commentary” and “money for old rope”.
The problem with a certain selection of work is that you have to be a bit of an arts geek to stand a chance of “getting it”, as it’s meaning can only be seen in relation to it’s referents or to a certain school of thought in the art world to which it is a comment upon or an extreme example of. Much of this kind of art seems to be the equivalent of a thought experiment given form, and while this might make one of the cognoscenti pause and think “how clever”, it just serves to puzzle or frustrate the less knowledgeable visitor.
Some of the more politically orientated pieces held my interest a bit more, for instance the work of Sarah Lucas, some of which drew inspiration from the portrayal of women in popular culture, and can be seen as a visual expression of the artists views and a comment upon the culture in which they live. At least I can look at this and begin to understand what sort of framework the piece exists in.
The real treat in the end was the people watching. In order to stop feeling like a bit of a Philistine who was rather missing the point, I stopped paying a great deal of attention to the art and started watching the reactions of the people looking at it. There were plenty of blank looks and creased brows along with the thoughtful nodding and semi-informed commentary. Possibly the most amusing moment was watching the reactions of a collection of people gathered round a screen showing a video of a man in a silly mask and a pair of boxing gloves when he stopped punching himself in the face and started to masturbate. Several of them had children with them, and they’d obviously missed the adult material warning signs on the walls outside the room (possibly assuming them to be exhibits). The exodus from the room was accompanied by the sound of middle class indignation, almost a work of art in itself.
One thing that you are reminded of when wandering through the Tate Modern is that artists were producing bizarre sculptures and unusual pictures long before the current fuss over “conceptual art” and the Turner Prize ever hit the headlines. I have found that the media circus each year over the Turner prize is often more interesting than the entries, and was pleased to find a similar approach helped me get plenty out of a visit to the Tate Modern.