Speaking of Art ...

...clothes hangers? Video images? Junk from the Grand Canal???

Jackie Wattenberg

I have great respect for the National Endowment for the Arts.  All of the European countries, with centuries of great art about them, subsidize all of their arts.  We lag behind, Newt Gingrich and pals flaunt their cultural lack when they disdain the N.E.A.  

But in the world of fine arts, I  have to admit I understand why many people are dismayed by what is sometimes on display as ART.  A recent New York Times review of this summer's Venice Biennale, a vast exhibition of art works from around the world, made me blink.  I once covered that renowned exhibition and found it rewarding in its paintings and sculptures.

But the Times' critic seemed to be struggling valiantly to focus on genuine art works, citing video images, performance art, tricky photography, psycho-socio-political statements and mounds of junk found in the bottom of the Grand Canal.  Only a couple of mentions of works that contained -- of all things -- paint!

Even about 20 years ago, artistic endeavors included, in one show I had to review, an "arrangement" on the floor of a three-foot square display within a wooden stall of lovely white sand in which four clothes hangers were set in a neat row.  Beside this, another bin of sand with square mirrors implanted.  Talk about originality!  Talk about innovation!  Talk about clothes hangers and mirrors and sand.

Talk about junk.  Just suppose -- just kidding -- that someone was so impressed with one of these that he bought it for his home -- how would he get it home and . . . uh, display it?  Why, Heaven help him, he might have to set it up with a clothes hanger a tenth of an inch off, and the concept would be thrown asunder!

So you might worry, if you believed the kind of creativity that a critic or a great catalog  writer can dream up:  "An amazing feat -- taking a simple and mundane article recognizable by all of us and, through subtle and original presentation in a concept that is both personal and universal to raise these familiar objects to the level of both artistic expression and profound inner contemplation -- incredible!  The artist, Garth Hogwash, had indeed the boldness, the daring to experiment with form and space using not the dreary old materials used for centuries but objects whose very nature inspires only indifference even as we all -- if we are honest! -- admit to indifference to a multitude of life's major and minor themes, and through his dynamic concept projects their innate potential with such intensity that we eschew that indifference, we MUST see these objects anew, and thus our own inner selves with a fresh insight, exalting in an  appreciation of not only the design, the softness of the sand, the intricacy of the perfectly-placed clothes hangers, but the extension of our contemplation into ourselves and the profound design of life itself!

Hogwash is incredible!  Both simple and profound!"

So, on to real art, and of course to the nation's marvelous dimensions of music, dance, photography, theater and architecture.  In the new century, we don't want to be viewed as Philistines.

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