Saturday, March 05, 2005

To Be Art Or Not To Be Art

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As I approached the door of Matthew Marks Gallery this afternoon, three young women walked out, laughing. As they passed me, one of them exclaimed, "That was, without a doubt, the worst of the worst! I've never seen something that bad."

The gallery is currently exhibiting recent work by Robert Gober. Upon entering, the first "sculpture" I saw was rather simple. Resting on its side, on top of a simple concrete slab, was an unopened package of diapers. As I recall, they were Huggies brand. That was the artwork; Gober purchased a package of Huggies and placed it on a concrete slab in a New York art gallery.

In his recent review of "The Gates," The New Yorker art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, writes, "Art used to mean paintings and statues. Now it means practically anything human-made that is unclassifiable otherwise." Reading this, I recalled a comment I overheard a tourist make last year. He was looking at TRANSMOTION, a multi-media, roving installation constructed on the flatbed of a tractor-trailer, and he said to his wife, "Well, if you don't know what it is, it must be art."

This afternoon, looking at Gober's diapers, I considered both of those definitions. Because I could identify the object at my feet as diapers, Gober's "sculpture" failed to pass the tourist test. Gober doesn't make the diapers, but they are "human-made." Will this sculpture pass the Schjeldahl test? No. I'm looking at a package of Huggies, for God's sake! Huggies are classifiable as, well, diapers. They hold baby shit. They're not art.

In the rear of the gallery, I studied a lactating, crucified Christ. This Christ, though, has been beheaded or perhaps he never had a head. The water-milk coming from Christ's nipples fountains out away from his hanging body and enters a small, rough pit in the floor of the gallery. Now this, I'm sure, is art! I'm momentarily pleased, but then realize that it is bad art.

Gober gives me Huggies and a headless, lactating Christ. Feeling the same way the three young ladies had, I quickly exited the gallery.

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