Hating Contemporary Art (Thanks for Nothing, MoMA)

Sitting through a boring movie doesn’t mean you’ll never watch another movie again. Hearing a tedious piece of music won’t ruin music for you. A dull comedian won’t prevent you from laughing next week. But one insufferable play can keep you from ever wanting to go to the theater again. Likewise, one banal art exhibit can scar you for life. Do you find that to be so?

I had a big laugh last May when this sink by “artist” Robert Gober sold at a Christie’s contemporary art auction for $4,197,000.

sinkI’d never heard of this guy and thought the piece suffered from naked-emperor syndrome. This is the type of junk that alienates people from contemporary art. It’s a $4.2M joke played on the buyer. I’d forgotten all about the damn thing until I walked into the Museum of Modern Art and saw a career retrospective of Gober’s work.

I did a quick breath meditation and cleared my mind of all preconceived notions and previous judgments. I went in fresh. A white, blank slate.

I found the work so pretentious and uninspiring that I’m angry that my time was wasted. I’m getting all worked up again typing this. I want to take the MoMA curators and shake them. What do they see in this crap? C’mon down to the famous art museum and pay $25 to see a leg sticking out of a wall.

gorberleg2Or a leg sticking out of the wall with an anchor hanging from it.

gorberleg1Or a realistic, anatomically detailed, paraffin torso…

gorberleg3…with a music score written across his ass. What is this? It’s NOTHING.

gorberleg4I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. I don’t want to be one of those precious deep thinkers who find metaphorical mystery in bundles of newspapers stacked in a corner. I guffawed at this because I’ve got the exact same installation in my garage.

gorbernewsRemember the $4 million sink? You want more? We got more! We got sinks with running water.

gorbersink2 Sinks filling a room. (With bundles of newspaper. Fancy. Introspective.)

gorbersink3Giant sinks. Sinks within sinks.

gorbersink1Apparently, he went through a wallpaper phase. Here, we have a room covered with images of penises and vaginas. Aren’t you shocked?! Tee-hee. I guess I can’t bring the kiddies to this one.

gorberwall3The next room was covered with wallpaper containing images of a lynching while whitey-white man sleeps peacefully. Ooh. I feel so guilty.

gorberwallpaperThe perimeter of the room is ringed with bags of cat litter for NO APPARENT REASON.

gorberwall1This was the one piece I liked. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. A suitcase sits on the gallery floor.

gorbercase1Look inside and you’ll find a sewer grate.

gorbercase2Below the grate you’ll see that they’ve actually cut a hole in the gallery floor. A tabloid scene is below. The feet of a man standing in a pond holding a child. It’s a big surprise and the only thing I saw that showed a modicum of imagination.

gober suitcase 2I don’t need pretty pictures. Heaven knows those Francis Bacon smears are fairly horrific but I enjoy them. And I like pop art. It’s simple but fun. This stuff has no admirable qualities that I can detect. I am astonished at its popularity. MoMA owes me one free admission, those bastards.

Suppose someone is new to the art world and wants to expand their horizons. They walk into MoMA and see this crap. What are the odds that person will ever bother with art again? Especially contemporary art? On the other hand, they laughed at Degas for painting dancers who were tying their shoes and reading newspapers instead of dancing. What do I know?

Step aside, junior, and let some contemporary artists with vision and a fertile imagination

show you

how it’s done.

As always, feel free to disagree.

84 thoughts on “Hating Contemporary Art (Thanks for Nothing, MoMA)

  1. $4,197,000 for a sink? To look at? That thing better shoot diamonds from its drain.

    Yeah, I don’t get art like that. But I suppose it gets people talking. And laughing, though maybe not in a good way…

      • the little eclipse on the floor kinda is nice. (anti eclipse?) moonlike
        and the sink with running water has a nice texture. one would have been enough though

  2. Now this type of art escapes me. I’m sure that appropriate metaphors can be had for each installation but that’s all in the viewer’s head. How is that art? What did the artist do to change the artwork in order to lift it into the category of art? If a sink is art, then all of life is art (which it is) but that removes the “artist” completely from the equation. An artist should get no recognition if their art work can also be found at the local Home Depot or Lowes. He/she made no contribution, added no value.

    Sorry Mark, my little soap box. I would not enjoy the exhibition currently at MoMA.

    Cool post Mark – thanks for taking us into the modern art world

    • I sincerely wonder what the artists and dealers and agents and museum curators see when then look at stuff like this. I consider myself a fairly open-minded person with an average intelligence (at least!). I see nothing at all. It all looks quite ridiculous to me. And it sells for millions! I don’t get it.

      Your soap box will always have a home here.

  3. I could not agree more. I would not call any of that art. And I DO mostly prefer just happy pictures. But this is crap. This is ridiculous. And they try to make you feel like the stupid one if you don’t bah like a sheep and declare it so rich and deep and meaningful. This is part of why I changed my major from art to English. Neither is lucrative, but one has rules and makes sense. It is hard not to hate the art, the “artists” and the fools who pretend to enjoy it.

    • Do me a favor. Actually, do yourself a favor. Click on the two links at the bottom of this post. You don’t need to read the text and I’m not fishing for comments. I just want you to scroll through those two posts to see just how great contemporary art can be. Sometimes, modern art can dazzle.

      And welcome, btw.

    • Look who it is! I haven’t seen you in a really long time. Does this mean you’ll start to post again? I’ll take your URL out of the suspended animation folder.

      I SAW that decomposing shark when it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art! I took my daughter to see it. That piece was less…ummm…crappy than this crap. That had a bit of a wow factor. When you turned the corner and walked into the gallery, it really did take you back. But in a good way. Not like this junk that was obviously meant to shock. Gober tries too hard.

  4. The worst was The Newspaper installation…what the hell?
    …the funniest? Definitely Whitey-white sleeping while a lynching is happening. I also feel guilty and ashamed and yet I can’t stop laughing.
    Give me Picasso or Give me Death! ha!

    • Welcome! Please wipe your feet on the mat.

      I can’t recall the exact price but I remember seeing some of Gober’s bundled newspaper installations selling at another Christie’s auction for an obscene amount of cash. I don’t GET IT and I NEVER WILL. I can’t help wondering if I would have laughed at some of Picasso’s work before I bought into the cult. I shouldn’t admit this in a public forum but sometimes I’m easily lead around by the nose by the critics. Nobody is immune.

  5. I wonder what music was printed on those lifeless buttocks. It should have been ‘Colonel Bogey’. I’d give the piece a comedy value of 10 bucks. That would increase to 10 million bucks if a bunch of art critics convinced a billion dollar hedge fund it was funnier than Laurel and Hardy.

    • That’s actually a relevant question. What music did he choose to tattoo on that ass? It must relate the the work somehow. The creepiest part of that particular piece was that the leg has hair on it that looked pretty authentic. There were other torsos there as well. One had candles growing out of the legs. Stupid.

  6. It’s stuff like this that makes people look at me funny when I say I love all kinds of art. This? Um, I suppose the artist likes it.

    I am guessing that the music is a classical movement of some sort.

    (crappy pun)

  7. Trouble with the sink is that Duchamp had the same idea 100+ years ago.

    How does one work your way up into making things you could knock up in your garage in 15 minutes and then sell for 4 million dollars?

  8. All it does is make me want to take a piss in the sink. Not the one with the running faucets, the dry one, make somebody spend some of that admission money to clean it up. It makes me wonder if there’s some sort of inner circle where they all sit around looking at their bank accounts laughing at the dopes who pretend that they get it and fork over $4.25 mill to stake their claim. Totally lame. The suitcase with surprise inside the surprise, yes, thank you.

  9. Lazy. That’s what some “artists” are. Some spend ages getting a piece they are proud to show and lazy buggers just show up with a sink.He didn’t even make that sink! Some poor factory worker should sue him for infringement.

  10. i have body parts all over my theater room left over from a community theater production of “Pippin” about 20 years ago… does that make me pretentious? does that make me an artist? does that make me a packrat with a twisted sense of humor?

  11. Wow that’s total dogshit. There’s no other word for it. If that dogshit was shown at the local gallery crawl they’d be lucky to get 20 bucks for it.

    • I wonder how this happens? How does it go from $20 dogshit to $4M supposed masterpiece. I know taste and, taste in art especially, is subjective, but this disparity in valuation is a deep mystery to me. Do you need favorable write-ups in ArtNews? A powerful agent? A bunch of wealthy sheep doing what they’re told?

  12. “I’ve got the same installation in my garage” made me laugh out loud…
    I feel like this would be a parody of an art exhibit in a comedy satirizing bad conceptual artists in Soho. And I want to drop kick the idiot who paid 4 mil for a sink. I can think of whole countries that can be fed for that kind of money. Grrrr…

    • Do you remember a Martin Scorsese film called “After Hours?” It takes place in our old neighborhood.The main character, played by Griffin Dunn, is on a search to see an exhibit of a plaster of Paris bagel. At least that was played for laughs. I keep waiting for someone to defend this exhibit but there are no takers as of yet.

      • I LOVE that movie. In my early 20’s, I used a short comic monologue from that film. “Surrender, Dorothy!”

        Remember that? Rosanna Arquette?

      • I don’t know, but it’s the perfect depiction of the Soho scene in the 80’s. And the 90’s, when I was an adult living in that world.

        And probably today, too. Don’t know, as I no longer am part of that scene.

        “Us” as in former downtown New Yorkers? Or (gasp) old people?

      • Jesus…I guess both of your “us” definitions are accurate. That was sobering. I’m taking my 8-year old to a movie at the MALL today. It’s a long road from a plaster of Paris bagel.

  13. I’d not heard of Robert Gober so I googled and looked at more of his work. He seems to have an obsession with the domestic, especially plumbing and those who install it, and the candles scream ‘church’ to me, so I wonder if the musical score is a hymn? The running water, the hanging wallpaper – coupled with another sculpture I saw of the lower half of a female torso with a booted male leg protruding from the vagina – all builds a picture of sin and baptism. I don’t think he wants you/us to feel guilt about past actions, I think he wants us to move on: accept it happened (wake up to it) and stop trying to wash the guilt/pain away because it can’t be washed away, we have to bring it into harmony with the other elements of our existence. I wonder if he’s read Nietzsche? As an aside, his sinks remind me not just of Duchamp, but also of Antonio López García.

    Whenever I look at work that is toted as art I always remember Richard Eyre’s definition: “Art is the expression of the voice of talented individuals with a point of view,” and ask, ‘what is this person’s point of view?’ before looking at the craftsmanship etc. So, that’s a seat of the pants attempt at giving the man a break, but it’s difficult to judge the work of a sculptor by looking at a few photographs. It’s not his fault people have stupid money, and flail about trying to buy kudos with it, and if the work is being sold on by a private collector Gober won’t be getting any of the inflated price. He probably didn’t get anywhere near that much for it originally.

    • Thanks, very much, for these interesting thoughts. I’ve seen the light regarding the valuation and marketing of his work. Is he to blame if some idiot wants to pay $4M for a sink? Certainly not. My dismissiveness was misplaced. I was shooting the messenger which is wrong. Nevertheless, It doesn’t make his work any more palpable to me.

      I had not heard of him either until the Christie’s auction in May and here we have a complete retrospective at MoMA–no mean feat! I like to think I have my finger on the pulse but this guy got by me, not that I feel I’ve missed anything. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of Duchamp either, but his ready-mades didn’t arouse the ire in me that this stuff does. Not quite sure why.

      • I feel duty bound to check him out further now to try and see where he’s coming from. Also, I might try and get to know the MoMA director, it’s been mooted here that Nicholas Serota, director of Tate Modern (possibly Tate as a whole) has far too much influence on the tastes of those in the art world and contemporary art buyers, etc. They have a lot of power these people.

        Perhaps Duchamp’s ready-mades don’t bother you as much because he was, at least, being original, and now it’s been done it feels like those who keep doing it are taking the piss.

      • I’m not sure I’m all hung up on the work being original or derivative of other work. As I mentioned, I’m a fan of pop art and much (most?) of that is anything BUT original. Those guys borrowed shamefully and it doesn’t spoil the fun for me. Maybe I’m put off by the gross sexuality of it. It’s not even titillating. It’s biological.

        Serota isn’t the only one. The theater critic for the New York Times, Ben Brantley, can, quite literally, sink an entire Broadway production with one bad review. I’m not sure how these king makers/killers enmass such so much power but it’s dangerous.

  14. I agree. All of that does nothing for me. Except the ass coming out of the forrest and out of the wall with the stuff written all over his ass. I rather like that one. Maybe it’s because I like the signed butts of the cabbage patch dolls.

    • There was a really viscous piece, as Palimpsest mentions above–a man’s leg protruding from a vagina. I didn’t want to post a photo of it. It’s far too graphic for my tastes. The question has been asked: what piece of music is written on that ass and how is it relevant to the piece? I’d Google it but I’m afraid it might be a piece I admire and I wouldn’t want to see it desecrated. It turns out I’m a bit of a prig!

  15. Love the garage line… but the rest of this makes me mad for no apparent reason. Okay, I have a reason. And I have both newspapers AND kitty litter, not to mention an abundance of indoor plumbing. But does anyone pay me millions for my wealth of incidental, highly-practical art? Nope.

    • Do you know why that garage line has struck a chord with a few people? Because it’s 100% TRUE. And nothing is funnier than the truth. This exhibit pissed me off proper. I hate being made to feel like I don’t “get it.” As you know, I’m very sensitive.

      • Yes, you’re a sensitive one all right. And I’m with you, I don’t get it. I think there are some things that I will never get; the fault of the artist or a deficiency in me? While there are many defects written into my genes and general intellect, I just gotta think that there is somewhat little redeeming quality to a collection of basin ware and random limbs sticking out of walls.

  16. Perhaps the artist has OCD and just needs to wash his hands while working. And somebody made a mistake and put that sink into the exhibit. Along with legs and legs with anchors.

    Here at the American museum there was a display (I haven’t been back for a while). It was a Taj Mahal made out of gold and silver tin foil. Reynolds Wrap. I saw it with two artists friends of mine who were in raptures about it. All I could think was of the artist’s wife, who had to be named Madge, on the phone with her sister: “He’s in the garage with the Reynolds Wrap again, Ethel …”

    I really am more of a classical art kind of girl.

    And why was I not following you? How did that happen? The situation has been remedied …

    • Golly…what is that stuff called? Is it folk art? I can’t think this morning but I know what you’re talking about. Houses made from beer cans and the like. Some of it I can appreciate, not so much for its intrinsic beauty, but for the Herculean effort that goes into it. I didn’t know Taj Mahal was a practitioner. I thought he was just a guy with a guitar. I like your supposed vignette. Poor Madge. Dishpan hands and a weird husband.

      I don’t know…why WERE’T you following me? For that matter, why isn’t THE WORLD following me?! Mwwwhahahah!

      • My friends were less amused by my vignette. They took on very superior attitudes for at least 15 minutes. Artists are weird.

        And i thought i followed you. I feel terrible ………..

      • Artists ARE weird. They’re temperamental, to boot. A lethal combo.

        Don’t feel terrible. Seriously? Can you imagine your life being so care-free and void of struggle that you actually had room to feel terrible about something like that? Ah, what bliss that would be.

  17. The genitalia wallpaper can be interpreted as being about concealment. As Eryl said, Gober is fascinated by domestic spaces. Respectable middle class home makers aspire to having beautiful perfect homes that they hope reflect their innate charm and inner beauty… truth is, nobody is as perfect as the perfect home that they wish to create. In a sense, the aspiring respectable homemakers are papering over the cracks with soft furnishings and Cath Kidston stencilling kits. Could it be that Gober is simply be drawing our attention to our desire to cover up the fact that a lot of bad and ugly things go on in respectable domestic environments?
    Sx

    • Thanks, tons, for this thoughtful commentary. It’s not far removed from a book of short stories by John Cheever I just finished. They’re a peek under the rug of the perfect, happy home myth. The stories were considered shocking when they were first published because they punctured a balloon that white middle class America has been floating for generations. Perhaps I felt the same brand of anger walking through this exhibit. Or, perhaps I’m mad at the lack of effort. Or both.

  18. Ah – I remember those forced days at the MoMa in high school. That first one’s a joke. At least one had to think a bit to come up with the butt music.

    And you won’t believe this, but the post date is within sight. Shoot me the title I asked for.

  19. Pingback: Introducing: My Way Back Machine | Exile on Pain Street

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