Sunday, April 10, 2011

We must call a halt to rubbish collection in art galleries

Marcel Duchamp was subversive in more ways than one. By sending a urinal to an art exhibition and introducing the concept of “art without an artist” he turned concepts of art upside down, focused in the popular mind the separation between art and beauty, and was instrumental in introducing the emphasis in contemporary art on the viewer as an active participant in creating the work of art, by questioning his or her relationship to the viewed art work. Perhaps without realising it, he introduced a profound neurobiological angle to art more forcefully than ever before.

But his work has had, I believe, another and very unwelcome outcome. It has licensed museum curators and directors to collect all kinds of rubbish and exhibit them as art works, with the fatuous expectation that visitors to museums will start delving deeply into themselves and questioning their relation to what is displayed.

I recently visited an important, though not major, art gallery in an important European city and couldn’t help feeling that this process has now gone on to absurd levels. Filing cabinets, doors, chairs, a collection of dolls, the inevitable Brillo boxes, sticks and stones and bric à brac of all sorts clutter the museum. If their intention is to start a questioning process, why not just tell all prospective visitors to question everything that they see in their lives, and save museum space for more inspirational works? In fact, what impressed me most in the museum I visited was not the collection on display but rather the spacious rooms and the inviting architecture. The museum itself, rather than what was on display in it, became the main attraction.

I believe that this mindless process, of collecting junk and displaying it as art, must stop, which might also halt the production of these mindless works at source, or at least help to reduce it. How to do so is another, and more difficult, matter. But an incident at Tate Britain in London some years ago may point the way. Wandering through the vast and seemingly aimless collection of bric à brac at the museum I visited, I actually found it difficult at times to distinguish between displays which form part of the museum’s collection and accidental objects left there by chance. Apparently, a cleaner at Tate Britain experienced the same difficulty a few years ago. He or she threw out a bag of rubbish, accidentally we are told, that was part of an exhibition supposedly emphasizing “the finite existence of art”. The bag was recovered but is now apparently covered at night and staff have been made aware that it is part of an artistic exhibition.

The cleaner evidently had no time to question the relationship of his or her being to the rubbish bag, and reached the right conclusion. Perhaps what she or he did was not quite so accidental after all. It was, after all, about "the finite existence of art"

He or she represents, perhaps, the views of many!


Schniggs said...

Duchamp was in the business of reconfiguring neural pathways. He brought a urinal into venerated art-space.

The emotional reaction to a urinal is something (most) people didn't expect to experience in an art gallery. It would have been a disappointment; unless the viewer had a bone to pick with the art establishment.

Duchamp's "art" results in Pavlovian neurosis: it poses the impossible combinaton of sacred and profane. Fountain vs. Urinal. If what Duchamp did was art; then a healthy person would dismiss art altogether.

Marcel was just a "negative campaigner" against the values of his time. Critical theory with nothing to fill the void- well, nothing except piles of garbage.

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Clear it Waste said...

Art Galleries often makes a lot of garbage. So it is better to have a regular rubbish collection.