Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Makes it Art?

...apparently, a light switch does not. See full story here. The article also gives an excellent recap of the more famous faux pas mistaking art for trash and so forth. These include:
  • the 1926 incident when Edward Steichen bought a bronze version of Constantin Brancusi's Bird In Space. The purchase wasn't the problem. But because it didn't look like a bird (i.e., no head, feathers, beak, and so forth) US customs refused to accept it as a work of art, and instead classified it as "a manufacture of metal ... held dutiable at 40%".
Some art has been made, perhaps 'more', famous through its destruction.
  • In 2000 a drawing sent to Sotheby's auction house was put through a shredder instead of up for auction. The creator, Lucian Freud, valued at £100,000, was not re-enacting the famous homage to deKooning enacted by a young Rauschenberg (1953), unfortunately. The loss of the Freud drawing was a case of human error.
  • As was the case with Gustav Metzger's trash bag, on view at Tate and entitled Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art. The sculpture/installation was mistakenly thrown away by maintenance staff who viewed it as it was, an overflowing trash bag in need of emptying.
  • In 2007 an art storage company in London was ordered to compensate a Swiss collector after an Anish Kapoor sculpture was apparently thrown away, mistaken for trash.
We can classify art as a creation that follows or breaks the rules certainly (i.e., if it doesn't look like a bird, it cannot be a bird so therefore, it must be art). This reminds me of Daniel's installation that had been on display for three years, as part of the "Live.Learn.Believe" outdoor sculpture program funded by GC alum, Richard Spears (class of 1957). The sculpture was located on the corner of Jackson and Mulberry and had the appearance of a teeter-totter but was much more intentional and visually interesting than a traditional playground toy. As Daniel and I were looking at his sculpture one day, an elderly man rode by and stopped to ask us about it. He questioned what it was to which we replied that we wanted to know what he thought it was. The gentleman reasoned that it had to be art because it wasn't like another teeter-totter that he'd seen before. In other words, Daniel's work was unfamiliar to this Georgetown resident. Therefore, he classified it and posited that it was art.

Blurring the boundaries between life and art, while a tenet of modernism, also serves to problematize how we think of modern and contemporary art today. As artists-, art historians-, and curators-in- training, what do you think? Where are the boundaries blurred and where are they distinct? Is Dan Flavin's installation art or just a bunch of light tubes?

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