2.18.2004

One-liners and Drive-bys

Tyler at MAN contemplated his recent NYC gallery walk on his blog today, musings that I have myself been thinking about for a while now...He asked for comments...So here they are:

CONTEMPORARY CONCEPTUAL ART

Tyler: "...Such is the problem with much conceptual art: Once you grasp the idea, you often don't need to look at the art."

This is what I refer to as a "one-liner," an artwork that creates its presence less from its visual representation and more from a singular concept that drives the experience of the work. [I wrote about this back on 1/25/04 at collected works]

Think of it as the "low fat" version of milk or ice cream or [insert your favorite food here] -- something essential from the original is missing, but after you get used to the taste of it (skim milk versus whole milk), you don't realize that the product you are consuming is a fundamentally different experience from the original. After months of drinking skim, go back to drinking whole milk and it tastes completely different -- almost sickly thick, creamy and too heavy. Gross! Gimmie the skim again and save the whole milk for the grannies!

Working from this metaphor, consider the long-term impacts of consuming fat-free or lite products...How is it messing with our digestive systems? Consider the digestive system as the parallel to the part of the brain that derives pleasure from the experience of artwork. What are the long-term consequences of experiencing these one-liner artworks? How does that mess with our expectations of artists and artworks?

Cliffort Geertz called for thick description in ethnography writing, putting anthropologists to the task of achieving a deeper understanding and reading of the meanings embedded within actions observed in cultures. A multi-faceted reading of an artwork is nearly impossible with the one-liner since it simply does not provide depth beyond a single concept.

Hypothesis 1 – Much of the one-liner art is from a younger generation of artists, those that are receiving as much accolades -- without thick criticism -- as are many of the pop music stars of today.

Hypothesis 2 – Why the one-liner version of conceptual art? Perhaps these artists are unconsciously demonstrating what happens when you grow up with your experience informed and indoctrinated by the language of advertising. Maybe the one-liner is the artistic manifestation of the cut-to-the-chase, low-fat, one size fits all, have it your way, join the low carb revolution, get it while its hot, advertising message.

If we are getting an advertising slogan from one-liner conceptual art, does that mean that an exhibition is like the “stuff” between sections of a sitcom, a conglomerate of commercials?

Is walking from gallery to gallery like channel surfing on a lazy Saturday?

Tyler: "Everyone who looks at a work of art subconsciously puts it to a test in the first three-to-five seconds they look at it. I know I do. For me it's a very straightforward test: Do I want to look at this? Is there something here to keep me visually engaged?"

Do we stick with this channel or move on? Do we let the one-liner message seep in? Do we try to derive something more from a commercial or do we just get the logo imprinted into our memories, and to the company’s hopes, conjured up later?

DRIVE BYS

Tyler: "As I sat on the train, I wondered if the nature of the Chelsea crawl, 30-40 galleries in six hours, creates or contributes to that. Or does it just discipline the art-goer to look closely and recognize what s/he already likes?"

Is gallery-going turning into a drive-by experience? Or perhaps more fittingly, a Drive-Thru experience, one Big Name Artist to go, Super Size the video art fries and make it a medium Triple Thick One-Liner Shake…Oh, you don’t do the Triple Thick? Okay, give me a lite Coke, I mean, Diet Coke.

Pace. Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon can tell you that pacing is essential. If the pace of everyday life is about cramming everything you can into a tiny window of time…

[multi-tasking in the car: eating a breakfast bar while driving to work, listening to your sister’s latest crisis and giving advice on the cell phone, planning what your post-work activities will be]

…how can we expect that won’t impact our should-be slower activities and experiences, like gallery-going? Even the name for the activity, “gallery-going” is an active verb acting on us. Replacement? No suggestions right now.

Is all of this a serious red flag, an alarm to answer to? Maybe not...Until I hear of TiVo partnering with the Guggenheim...

Coffee today: Double cup, one sugar, and yes, some heavy cream, save the skim.

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