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Monday, April 28, 2014

Confusion About Contemporary Art


It’s not always easy to recognize a work of contemporary art.

A few years ago I visited the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. There was a very cool minimalist art installation set behind “Caution” tape, to one side of a large hall: a step ladder, bucket and mop, a neatly folded tarp and paint can and brushes. Of course, it turned out to be an actual work project!  

A couple of weeks ago this pen and ink drawing, "Snowy Mountain" by contemporary Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo, was tossed in the trash. It had just sold for almost US $ 4MM. Security footage showed a guard kicking the work into a pile of garbage which janitors then hauled away. Last I heard, the landfill was being searched.

Earlier this year, a cleaning woman at an exhibition in Bari, Italy, mistook parts of an art installation for garbage and threw them away.

In 2001, a Damien Hirst installation in a London gallery was cleaned up by a janitor; it featured ashtrays, empty coffee cups and other detritus. Hirst had set it out earlier that evening during the launch party of his latest exhibition.  The befuddled cleaner said: "As soon as I clapped eyes on it I sighed because there was so much mess. I didn't think for a second that it was a work of art - it didn't look much like art to me. So I cleared it all into bin-bags and dumped it."

If it needs a sign explaining that it’s art … is it art?  Just because a famous artist had a hand in its creation … is it art?  If one person says it’s art … does that make it art?