The headlines read, in arty lower case:
ron mueck scales-up and stacks 100 sculpted skulls at the national gallery of victoria
The National Gallery of Victoria is holding the world premiere of Ron Meuck’s room full of oversized, resin-cast skulls: see - https://www.google.com.au/search?q=skull+art+gallery+victoria&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuud63_4vYAhUBULwKHe_tDz8Q_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=1094#imgrc=8RS5KNJx5Lh_9M:
One is reminded of Cambodia’s tragedy, (see below), but the display of this collection of items, 100 of them, (why not 102?), is in an art gallery, so it must be art. Is this like the difference between war damage and a Gehry? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/frank-o-gehry-art-of-war.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/new-gehry-projects-in-aleppo.html
The comment on the ABC News by the gallery’s curator, as if to explain the idea, was: “We bring our own baggage to it.” Such is art; such is life, so it seems. One wonders what baggage one might take away from the room filled with large skulls. When did art become anything one wants it to be; seeing it for what it might be through one’s own ‘baggage’?
It becomes hard to imagine a transformative art, one that might hold meaning meaningfully and reverberate with life and living - to manage to enrich being, to confirm experience rather than challenge it with puzzling and confronting questions, dark doubts and quirky, ad hoc uncertainties.
Such an approach to art allows anything strange and different to be seen as art, indeed, as important art; as significant art that usually gains its status through mass media’s manic reporting on its strange identity. If one chooses to argue otherwise, to question its standing, the stance becomes an easy matter to criticise as it questions one’s 'baggage,' identifying it, you, as being the problem: “It’s your fault: it's your problem.”
It is happening more and more today in the field of art – and architecture too. Where might anyone start a debate that could be resolved in mutual agreement when issues are encouraged to be so aimlessly fluid; fuzzy? Where is the sense, the presence, when everything and anything might be possible? What are the core, life-enhancing ideas beyond surprising hype and blurb?
The response to the uncritical recognition of this approach to art is for artists to make things increasingly puzzling and enigmatic; outrageous – for everyone to be told to try try to see something in it, whatever, even when there might be nothing, or nothing specific intended. Is art now like looking at ink blots?
It is a little like casting dust to the wind – or ashes, perhaps, (whose?) – and asking folk to see meaning in this: and if one is unable to, then it is one’s own unimaginative weakness that is the problem, as it leaves one’s skull in a spin. Is this the meaning? Who knows; who cares?
The artist apparently has the right to stand aside in almost self-satisfied, contempuous silence, and look on with a knowing, mocking eye: knowing there is nothing there; and mocking those making an attempt to create meaning. One senses that the artist might be present in a void of complete nothingness, waiting for some response that can be owned to be revealed. One thinks here of Doris Lessing on radio some years ago, not because of aimlessness, but because of the baggage brought to her reading. Robyn Williams, an ABC Science reporter, once, after Doris Lessing had read her short story on the dung beetle to the audience, stood up and confidently pontificated on the reason for this choice, cleverly analysing everything in his smart, precise, confident, pseuo-intellectual manner. The writer’s response was, “No. I chose it because it was of the appropriate length for the show.” Williams sat down quietly without saying anything, but, it seemed, with a silent whimper. This is the ‘baggage’ problem. Why do artists rely on it for their substance and standing?
Art as an enigma – and architecture too: see Gehry, Hadid. It becomes a real headache to understand such skull art that can be anything, and can be seen as anything.
Take for example an art gallery with several spaces available for an exhibition. The first room might be filled with oversized resin-cast skulls – like this exhibition. The next space might, perhaps, – let’s take a random set of somethings by way of example – be a room with a tiny, miniature Giacometti-like skull mounted in the centre of the floor on a fine bronze stand - Man; the third area might be filled with dead cats – fifty of them, all different breeds, called L. All this is art. The fourth space might have three large, empty, antique frames located carefully on the walls, one being slightly askew - Family Portraits; the next area – let’s say it has been made dark and has flashing lights and laser beams buzzing around spelling out words – perhaps obscenities: Urban Diction.
Continuing this fantasy, the sixth room might have nothing in it at all but surfaces bright and white - Full Void; while the seventh could be said to be a well-known artist’s bedroom, completely transported as it was, unannounced, on the third day of the third month, to be left on display for three weeks only, named The Trilogy – a little like the Bacon/Olley studio transplants that are to endure forever: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/bacons-sacrambled-studio-francis.html
And we could go on: the next space might perhaps be an oversized goldfish tank filled with twenty-one identical Pisces, its title; with the neighbouring area holding three naked figures – one male and two female, (gender self-allocated), wondering what to do with themselves as they wander around slowly and deliberately in the smoky haze that catches beams of light moving just as slowly and deliberately: MEMEME. Again, there might be yet another area with, say, a stuffed bear and a badger standing side by side, with a carrot hanging nearby: Eden.
One could go on and on, but the scene has been set. The point is that any of these scenarios could be real; that we could, at any time, be asked to consider these displays in a gallery as art and be told: “You sort it our with your baggage.” Of course, one can already see the frenzy created by the dead cats in L: the gallery would at first refuse the media’s cry, presented as the public’s demand, for the exhibition to be closed down – animal welfare. And this would go on and on generating huge crowds until someone was silenced. It would be the same response given to, say, a crucified Christ-like figure being displayed upside-down in a red room - Geez!! Protesting crowds might gather around the gallery demanding blood in the very best Christian manner. Perhaps we have already seen all of these works of art and their responses, or ones very like these?
If art is to be completely value-free – well, might try to be with no serious idea of depth, or statement of intent – then simply anything can be put before the public to allow it to respond: a tangerine room with a red dot in it titled Green; a mirrored room with a moving mirror on a mirror ball - Reflections 2 (there was no number 1; the ball uses Star Wars BB-8 technology); a pool of water shaped as a splash - Dessert (a poor pun); a huge sculpture of nothing at all, called - well, whatever you want it to be: maybe this is a competition with a T-Shirt prize? The public is encouraged by the media hype, and lines up to pay and parade past the art, knowingly. Is this called ‘bringing baggage’? Is this what art/architecture has become: anything at all: the more alarming the better? One can already start to write the artist’s statements to accompany all of the above phantom ‘works’. The range of examples, real copy, is best exampled in the SWELL Sculpture Exhibition catalogues: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2017-catalogue.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2016-catalogue.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/swell-sculpture-festival-catalogue-2015.html and other links in these sites.
The big challenge for us today is to demand more of our art and our architecture: of our artists and our architects. Using ‘baggage’ is not good enough. ‘Baggage’ is something that is always there. It is how to transcend this raw, personal experience that needs to be pondered: how to transform it; enrich it; to make living something surprisingly otherwise. One has to ask if today’s mental health issues might have something to do with allowing our ‘baggage’ to become the centrepiece of our being.
All above images of Meuck's show by Sean Fennessey
How can things be bettered? Skull art seems to be an excuse rather than anything else; a way for nothing to become something using the techniques of media advertising and promotion: make an attraction; create a public discussion; establish a demand to be counted in the millions; then claim the greatness of the art has been confirmed: and is it in the sales room – again by the millions: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/05/graphic-freud-design-as-sex.html
This image and the one below by Tom Ross
What must one do? Where does our ‘baggage’ come from? Ironically, one has to ask if it is being shaped, has been shaped, by media promotions: and art? Do we have to accept art as an enigmatic enigma for everyone to indulge in - for MY and someone else’s ‘baggage’ to become entwined in a ‘meaningful’ mishmash of randomness? What about life and its living - flesh and blood?
Try bringing your 'baggage' to these Cambodian lives. Do we have to turn things stark, stern, and shocking into a scene to entertain our ‘baggage’ - a stageset for our selfies?
18 December 2017
The day after publishing this piece, an article on the exhibition appeared in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/18/ngv-triennial-astounding-blockbuster-grips-the-heart-and-repels-the-nostrils?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail
It is strange to see that the hypothetical exhibition outlined in the SKULL ART text appears to be not too different to the actual NGV Triennial show:
also see - https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/jul/24/id-be-crushed-if-this-was-gone-before-anyone-got-to-see-it-rones-omega-house-in-pictures?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail that is not unlike the envisaged bedroom proposal.
The article in The Guardian puts yet another layer on things arty – they become props for selfies; decorative backgrounds! So we are able to not only bring our own ‘baggage,’ but we can also photograph its presence too, for personal delight and promotional social requirements, all to confirm and declare ME.
Then there is yet another aspect to art and galleries: the commerce. The NGV has, amongst a range of items, a Skull Skateboard, a Temporary Tattoo Set, and a Triennial T-Shirt! It all appears to fit the same mould as that prepared for ‘baggage’ - adding to it as it trivialises everything.
We should not forget the killing fields.
We should heed this request, this history.