October 11, 2007


Ever since Dave Barry retired from writing columns, I haven't been keeping up with the post-modern art scene in London, "which, as far as I [Dave] can tell, exists mainly to provide me with material," such as the Turner prize for the empty room with lights going on and off, or the tragic tale of Damien Hirst's rearrangement of some trash on the floor into an "installation" that the janitor unknowingly swept up and threw away.

Nevertheless, the British art world has soldiered on even without its most apt chronicler, creating art than allows the semi-literate hacks at the Daily Mail to sound like Dave:

Three women have been hurt by falling into Tate Modern's latest installation - a crack in the floor.

At 548 feet long, up to three feet deep and 10inches wide, it zigzags the length of the Turbine Hall and has been described as a highly original work of art. …

One young woman had to be dragged out by friends after falling into the crack in the floor but was otherwise unharmed.

A few minutes later, another visitor to the gallery, who thought the crack was painted, also fell in - this time injuring her wrist.

One observer said: "Instead of art imitating life, here it's threatening life."

Colombian artist Doris Salcedo's work Shibboleth, nick-named Doris's crack, is the latest controversial installation in the Tate's massive Turbine Hall.

But one onlooker said: "We saw the first victim, a young woman who went into it with both feet up to just below her knees. She had to be dragged out by her friends.

"As we watched to see whether she was okay, an older woman deliberately stepped on it, lurched forward and landed on the ground. She told us she thought the crack was painted on the floor."

The installation cost about £300,000 and took more than six months to complete…

The crack is said to represent the division [divisive?] problem of integrating immigrants into European society.

And, yes, I'm not making this up.

Here's Barry on "plop art:"

Dade County purchased an office building from the city of Miami. The problem was that, squatting in an area that the county wanted to convert into office space, there was a large ugly wad of metal, set into the concrete. So the county sent construction workers with heavy equipment to rip out the wad, which was then going to be destroyed.

But guess what? Correct! It turns out that this was NOT an ugly wad. It was art! Specifically, it was Public Art, defined as "art that is purchased by experts who are not spending their own personal money.'' The money of course comes from the taxpayers, who are not allowed to spend this money themselves because (1) they probably wouldn't buy art, and (2) if they did, there is no way they would buy the crashed-spaceship style of art that the experts usually select for them.

The Miami wad is in fact a sculpture by the famous Italian sculptor Pomodoro (like most famous artists, he is not referred to by his first name, although I like to think it's "Bud''). This sculpture cost the taxpayers $80,000, which makes it an important work of art. In dollar terms, it is 3,200 times as important as a painting of dogs playing poker, and more than 5,000 times as important as a velveteen Elvis.

Fortunately, before the sculpture was destroyed, the error was discovered, and the Pomodoro was moved to another city office building, where it sits next to the parking garage, providing great pleasure to the many taxpayers who come to admire it.

I am kidding, of course. On the day I went to see it, the sculpture was, like so many pieces of modern taxpayer-purchased public art, being totally ignored by the actual taxpaying public, possibly because it looks -- and I say this with all due artistic respect for Bud -- like an abandoned air compressor.

So here's what I think: I think there should be a law requiring that all public art be marked with a large sign stating something like: "NOTICE! THIS IS A PIECE OF ART! THE PUBLIC SHOULD ENJOY IT TO THE TUNE OF 80,000 CLAMS!''

Also, if there happens to be an abandoned air compressor nearby, it should have a sign that says: "NOTICE! THIS IS NOT ART!'' so the public does not waste time enjoying the wrong thing. The public should enjoy what the experts have decided the public should enjoy.

Anyway, this is quite a testimony to the sheer power of momentum in human affairs. When I was a kid back in the 1960s, Life Magazine frequently brought the news of the latest cutting edge innovations going on in New York galleries to us middlebrows out in the hinterlands. In the 1970s, highbrow skeptics of contemporary art, such as Tom Stoppard in "Travesties" and Tom Wolfe in "The Painted Word," emerged.

In the three decades since, the two Toms's view -- that this kind of thing is a joke, and an increasingly unfunny, indeed boring, one -- has come to be almost universal. Nobody seems to pay any attention anymore to contemporary gallery art except to mock it, and yet ... the money keeps rolling in. $600,000 to create a 185-yard-long pedestrian hazard? Sure, why not?

Presumably, this all has to do with status displays. Before photography, creating images was difficult, so they were scarce and expensive, their creators admired, and their best works housed in special temples. But now we are awash in images in our own homes, yet the aura surrounding museums endures, so that whatever their management chooses to display on their walls -- or, in this case, in their floors -- retains prestige, even though everybody knows it's a joke.

Over the years, the joke, such as it is, has become increasingly meta: the joke is that there's no more joke. It was pretty funny 90 years ago when Marcel Duchamp made a urinal his entry in an art show because art was supposed to be high and venerable. (According to Wikipedia, "Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British artworld professionals.") But jokes depend upon surprise, and nothing anybody does anymore inside a museum is at all surprising, so they are now all unjokes, which, I guess, is the metajoke.

But nobody cares.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

The thing to do at the Tate Modern is to go to the cafe and enjoy the view back over the wobbly bridge to St Paul's.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, modern art. The annoying thing is that there is enough new art created that is original, beautiful, or at least requiring great skill that one feels compelled to keep checking it out. See the water images of Vija Celmins, for example. I guess you could argue that this sort of thing isn't really "modern" but merely "recently produced" but then you'd quickly end up defining Modern Art as "That which is clearly crap with a capital K". Anyway, the good or at least non-ridiculous works are in low single digits as a percentage of those exhibited in prestige venues but still...

My theory as to why England seems determined to take the lead in promoting this junk is from a twisted sense of inferiority. For all their accomplishments, the English have not really produced celebrated or influential painters (for my money only J.M.W. Turner is worth a look). Certainly nothing compared to the pesky continentals. So Damian Hursts of this world are an attempt at a kind of revenge.

StevenD said...

Ha, I love laughing at modern art. I think they're problem came when the government decided to fund it with tax money. That essentialy freed the artists from trying to create anything the public might actually enjoy, which is kinda the point of art.

Hucbald said...

Turn your attention to what's going on in the music world vis-a-vis new compositions. It's gotten to the same point. Since all of the creators have been trying to reinvent the wheel with every piece for the past fifty years, they no longer have any connection with the compositional tradition at all. It stopped being funny long ago. It's even gone through the tragic phase, and is now nothing but a farce.

Anonymous said...

(est. 1999)

"Your paintings are stuck,
you are stuck!
Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!"
Tracey Emin

Against conceptualism, hedonism and the cult of the ego-artist.

Stuckism is the quest for authenticity. By removing the mask of cleverness and admitting where we are, the Stuckist allows him/herself uncensored expression.

Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.

Stuckism proposes a model of art which is holistic. It is a meeting of the conscious and unconscious, thought and emotion, spiritual and material, private and public. Modernism is a school of fragmentation — one aspect of art is isolated and exaggerated to detriment of the whole. This is a fundamental distortion of the human experience and perpetrates an egocentric lie.

Artists who don’t paint aren’t artists.

Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.

The Stuckist paints pictures because painting pictures is what matters.

The Stuckist is not mesmerised by the glittering prizes, but is wholeheartedly engaged in the process of painting. Success to the Stuckist is to get out of bed in the morning and paint.

It is the Stuckist’s duty to explore his/her neurosis and innocence through the making of paintings and displaying them in public, thereby enriching society by giving shared form to individual experience and an individual form to shared experience.

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

Painting is mysterious. It creates worlds within worlds, giving access to the unseen psychological realities that we inhabit. The results are radically different from the materials employed. An existing object (e.g. a dead sheep) blocks access to the inner world and can only remain part of the physical world it inhabits, be it moorland or gallery. Ready-made art is a polemic of materialism.

Post Modernism, in its adolescent attempt to ape the clever and witty in modern art, has shown itself to be lost in a cul-de-sac of idiocy. What was once a searching and provocative process (as Dadaism) has given way to trite cleverness for commercial exploitation. The Stuckist calls for an art that is alive with all aspects of human experience; dares to communicate its ideas in primeval pigment; and possibly experiences itself as not at all clever!

Against the jingoism of Brit Art and the ego-artist. Stuckism is an international non-movement.

Stuckism is anti ‘ism’. Stuckism doesn’t become an ‘ism’ because Stuckism is not Stuckism, it is stuck!

Brit Art, in being sponsored by Saachis, main stream conservatism and the Labour government, makes a mockery of its claim to be subversive or avant-garde.

The ego-artist’s constant striving for public recognition results in a constant fear of failure. The Stuckist risks failure wilfully and mindfully by daring to transmute his/her ideas through the realms of painting. Whereas the ego-artist’s fear of failure inevitably brings about an underlying self-loathing, the failures that the Stuckist encounters engage him/her in a deepening process which leads to the understanding of the futility of all striving. The Stuckist doesn’t strive — which is to avoid who and where you are — the Stuckist engages with the moment.

The Stuckist gives up the laborious task of playing games of novelty, shock and gimmick. The Stuckist neither looks backwards nor forwards but is engaged with the study of the human condition. The Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humour over wittiness and painting over smugness.

If it is the conceptualist’s wish to always be clever, then it is the Stuckist’s duty to always be wrong.

The Stuckist is opposed to the sterility of the white wall gallery system and calls for exhibitions to be held in homes and musty museums, with access to sofas, tables, chairs and cups of tea. The surroundings in which art is experienced (rather than viewed) should not be artificial and vacuous.

Crimes of education: instead of promoting the advancement of personal expression through appropriate art processes and thereby enriching society, the art school system has become a slick bureaucracy, whose primary motivation is financial. The Stuckists call for an open policy of admission to all art schools based on the individual’s work regardless of his/her academic record, or so-called lack of it.

We further call for the policy of entrapping rich and untalented students from at home and abroad to be halted forthwith.

We also demand that all college buildings be available for adult education and recreational use of the indigenous population of the respective catchment area. If a school or college is unable to offer benefits to the community it is guesting in, then it has no right to be tolerated.

Stuckism embraces all that it denounces. We only denounce that which stops at the starting point — Stuckism starts at the stopping point!

Billy Childish
Charles Thomson


The following have been proposed to the Bureau of Inquiry for possible inclusion as Honorary Stuckists:

Katsushika Hokusai
Utagawa Hiroshige
Vincent van Gogh
Edvard Munch
Karl Schmidt-Rotluff
Max Beckman
Kurt Schwitters

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: In the 1970s, highbrow skeptics of contemporary art, such as Tom Stoppard in "Travesties" and Tom Wolfe in "The Painted Word" emerged.

You wanna know how bad things are today?

When I first skimmed through that sentence, in my mind's voice, I tried to pronounce "Travesties" as "Transvestites".

And then I thought to myself - wait a second, I'm pronouncing that wrong - and besides, they didn't have trannies back in the seventies, anyway.

Well, the Rocky Horror Picture Show notwithstanding...

Anonymous said...

I have always made the claim that what makes art is the frame.

If I take and scribble on a post-it note with colored pencils, is it art?


But take that post-it, matte it, put a large frame around it, and mount it in the Louvre...it's art.

Some people will hate it, some will love it, but they will all discuss it as serious art.

Anonymous said...


Reminds us of the Python sketch!

"Apartments? I thought you wanted a slaughterhouse."


Anonymous said...

"Modern art" is just the democratic version of the Emperor's New Clothes.

(I agree that without taxpayer funding and absurd public policies like "percent for art" rules, the whole mess would largely go away.)

Anonymous said...

You are confusing "modern" with "post-modern" - they are not at all the same thing.

modern = Picasso, Giacometti, O'Keefe, and other painters, sculptors of great if unconventional talent


post-modern = little piles of trash in the corner, ugly wads of metal, cracks in the pavement and Yoko Ono and other slackers and charlatans of no talent other than that of deceiving gallery directors.

Steve Sailer said...

Right. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC has a wonderful collection from pre-WWII. Perhaps England wasn't rich enough until recently for the Tate in London to get in on the good semi-old stuff, so the Brits spend lots of their new money on new crud.

Dennis Dale said...

I'm sure Salcedo found the unintended (I assume) interplay of public with installation highly meaningful.
The "division" represented by her crack literally threatens to swallow us up! Those with bruised and twisted ankles are of course fortunate to have had this intimate and meaningful interaction with an important work of art.

One thing assures we in the U.S. will be denied (spared) this important work--litigation. Damn lawyers.

Anonymous said...

The hole in the floor symbolizes the value of modern art.

Something of equal value would be to dig a hole outside the museum, fill it with currency to the value of the grant, and have members of the public shovel dirt over it.

Anonymous said...

Presumably, this all has to do with status displays.

Once again, Steve Sailer takes his high road and - instead of calling a spade a spade - gives Marxism a pass.

One observer said: "Instead of art imitating life, here it's threatening life."

On the O'Reilly Factor this week Texas Governor candidate Kinky Friedman (12% of the vote) informed the audience:

"...Bob Dylan said that art should not reflect a culture, it should subvert it."

Yes, of course. Sure. That's what Da Vinci and all the other greats did? Instead of uplifting their fellow man with their artistic works, they instead subverted the particular culture they happen to find themselves in?

How would Kinky and Bob Dylan answer? Perhaps with one answer to the public ... and another answer in private.

OK. Let's follow their logic. When Egyptian archeologists unearth ancient artifacts are we to understand that that artwork was subverting the culture? And that is also the case for ancient Greco, Roman, Chinese, Japanese, Aztec, Norse artifacts also? This amazing stuff that stands the test of time and inspires mankind today, it was all designed to subvert the culture in which it was produced? Uh...no. Obviously.

So, something has changed in the modern era. The curators and the critics inform us that no longer is the purpose of art to uplift and ennoble. Now we get:

"...art should not reflect a culture, it should subvert it."

Let's call a spade a spade. The arts have been deliberately repurposed to degrade the existing culture. This is part of a program known as Culture Cracking. It is not a joke, as Steve Sailer would have you believe. It is an attack. It is Marxism.

Anonymous said...

Art isn't considered to be art anymore unless it 'breaks new boundaries,' whichh means that you have lots of self-important hacks out there trying not to simply execute well but to create something entirely "new."

AN artist who aims to please his audience isn't an artist anymore - he's a sellout.

Anonymous said...

highly relevant link:

Artist implants 'third ear' on his own arm

article quote:

"Performance artists are known for pushing the bounderies, but one Australian has astonished his contemporaries by having a third ear implanted onto his arm."

this man's "third ear" artistry cleverly mocks and reveals van gogh as bourgeois.

One of Steve's Henchmen

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the incident years ago in Germany when some janitors mistook a piece of modern "art" for refuse and threw it out in the trash.

Anonymous said...

But who's still buying all this stuff? The Japs?

Anonymous said...

Whatever else Dylan (assuming that quote is authentic) and Friedman may be, neither one has ever shown much affinity for Marxism. Except for his support of civil rights in the early 1960s, Dylan's political views have always been pretty enigmatic. Friedman's platform when he ran for governor was fairly leftist economically but was strongly anti-illegal immigrant.

Anonymous said...


Though Dylan and Friedman are not political Marxists (at least not now, and perhaps never), one can perceive that they are what's popularly called "cultural Marxists": those persons who subvert the culture around them. The term "cultural Marxism" makes sense to people who regard Marxism as wholly destructive. Perhaps a better term would be "culture destroyers" or "nihilists" - although "nihilist," in art, has become associated with particular movements, just as it has in politics. "Culture wrecker" would be better, or, for brevity, perhaps "subvert" would do. It is a neologism but rhymes with "pervert" and goes in the same category.

Jim O said...

There used to be this thing in Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan that you had to walk around to get into the local federal bureaucrat building. It was a long curved wall that I assumed was a construction barrier. I often wondered what could possibly take so long to build. I was stunned to discover, after years (and miles) of walking around it, that it was "art." During the controversy surrounding its proposed removal, if I recall correctly, the artist said that it was designed to "confront you in your own space." Well, it did that!

tommy said...

Three women have been hurt by falling into Tate Modern's latest installation - a crack in the floor.

Clearly, contemporary art critics would opine, the women, and not the artist, were at fault: they just didn't recognize good art when they saw it.