Reviews ...

Marathon more art than New York exhibit

... compared to Rodin, "Sensation" is nothing 

Jackie Wattenberg

As it happened, I was in Brooklyn the weekend of the big New York Marathon, visiting just a block away from where the runners began. And just a few blocks farther, another famous event--the headline hitter, "Sensation," the so-called art show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

How could I miss either one?

By the time I got to Fourth Avenue, the front runners had raced by, but it was more absorbing and exciting than I had foreseen to watch thousands of runners from all over the globe sprint by. Lots of men and quite a few women, all shapes and sizes, ages, marathon numbers large on their chests, some with personal names of their countries' so that the hundreds of admiring spectators could shout, "Go, Annie! Go, Guatemala!" those runners waved their appreciation and grinned without breaking their pace.

Sometimes those on the edge of the constant crowds of runners raise a hand for a "high five" exchange, and occasionally, but not often, accepted a paper cup of water. The weather had turned from 73 degrees the day before to an invigorating 40, so some of the participants wore full jogging clothes, but most just shorts and no sleeve tops. Of course, there was the duet in yellow and green clown costumes, and a short figure with striking head of a rhinoceros. Never a dull moment, never a weary face, ever a look of concentration, determination, and I'm-going-to-make-it-to-the-finish-line guts!

"On, Russia! On, Georgio! Bon chance, La France!" A man in a swiftly-moving wheel chair, a tall lean fellow with one leg going at a lively clip, a young girl with pigtails flying.

Why were they doing it?

A man with thinning grey hair stopped to kiss a pretty woman he knew nearby--he'd flown all the way across the country from San Diego for this famous, punishing event.

I stuck it out, fascinated, until the stragglers and fast walkers came by, and children joined in, drawn by the spirit of the runners. I strode off at an energized speed. Renewed spirits!

I watched TV to catch the winners later that day. "Yay, Kenya!" "Go, Mexico!"

Well, the marathon was over, but another famous attraction still to be...uh, enjoyed. Maybe. "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Above the broad street before the Museum, a powerful, amplified male voice reciting the Catholic "Hail Mary" all the way through. No doubt in protest to the Ofili Virgin Mary with paint, sequins, and elephant dung.

Inside, a snaking long line of viewers waiting to enter--the museum's biggest attendance on record.

Once inside, we came early to the controversial madonna--a plain clothed guard close by. Plus a tall, wide sheath of glass hung before the picture--possibly to prevent tossing of rotten eggs, tomatoes or any undesired material. Sad to say, it was one of the best works in the exhibit--the madonna's flowing blue garment with sequins held graceful design. No, there was no odor, and no identifiable quality of elephant dung.

If this was one of the best, what does it say about the rest of the show? Well, what can you say about a full-sized rubber bathtub on platform? No beauty there, no admirable artistic technique, just an ugly bathtub. You like bathtubs? There's another, equally ugly, of plaster. I don't believe they're waterproof.

You like polka dots? They got polka dots. Enormous round or square plaques with bright colored polka dots. And a few works of simple design, not offensive, not notable.

We have come long way in the art world since Rembrandt. Contemporary abstraction can be true art work. But stashing portions of animal bodies in a row of phone-booth shapes filled with formaldehyde does not reveal artistic talent.

These exhibitors are young English...creators. Not artists. But we have our own non-artistic artists. On exhibit in our finest galleries and museums. A 10-foot canvas with one red dot. A metal square clinging to another metal square might make a fine fireplace guard, but is it a work of art? Once you have seen room after room with the dribbles of Jackson Pollack, which I have seen, you find it hard to discern his talent, even a bit of variety.

"Sensation" had a few artists who sublimated their possible talent to a desire to shock and disgust. Too bad. Maybe there's just no new place to go in the art world. But it might be helpful in judging the authenticity of a work of art to place it nearby a Rembrandt, Picasso or Kandinsky. In the "Sensation" show, I experienced a great feeling of relief and exaltation as I had to pass through a grand hall of Rodin sculpture to get to the last rooms of "Sensation."  I'm afraid I stayed, till closing, with Rodin.

The famous art show was drawing them in, but the Marathon was more enthralling than the ugly bathtubs.

Originally published in
The Melrose Free Press on Feb. 25, 1999
Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.

December 3, 1999

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