My Dear Ms. Brown,
It was very nice to see you after being away for the last few years. I just returned from a walk and felt compelled to write to you after reflecting on what we were discussing at your party last week.
Lazy morning–I did not want to do any errands today. Around noon, I headed to the Musée d’Art Now! and what a shock to my lazy state. They’ve opened a new exhibit, Action: Exercise of the Minimum. While the title didn’t catch me at first, the sky seemed ready to empty itself and I didn’t think to cary an umbrella with me. Besides, I walked to the museum intentionally, I figured I might as well give it a try (with an open mind). I want to tell you a little about what I saw–I think it was put together with good intentions.
The first piece was placed in the main entrance, a sort of foreshadow on what to expect. Maybe foreshadow isn’t the right word–it was very colorful. It was Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, on loan from the Guggenheim. In fact it imposed all of its 60×240 inches of grandeur upon the entering public. Described as “charged” by the colors’ “interaction” with one another, the piece was intended to introduce us to action on minimalist terms I think. At least, that seems to have been the gist of the nearby plaque with the painting’s information. What a way to exhibit something minimal about action. If I can simply describe the piece to you, I’m sure you will understand how ridiculous I find it.
We get this giant group of, well, essentially simple, plain, parallel blocks of the rainbow colors. I suppose I sometimes think of blocks involved in action–if I have to lift something. That however, is beside the point. What is Kelly’s brilliance? He put five colors in a basic and unchanging geometric form, right next to each other. What am I to think of this? According to the description–it’s the charge these colors have interacting with one another. Was that Kelly’s point? Should anyone care? I think I could apply a theory to its greatness based on the blocks of color being in a state of total apathy with each other and my description would be every bit as valid, even though it is the reverse of the “official” version. If I allow it the benefit of the doubt, I want to understand what it is that brings Kelly’s creation to life in our world as a manifestation of art. While I don’t mean to obsess over this one painting, maybe you can shed some light on why I might be interested in the piece or capable of enjoying Kelly’s effort.
Let me tell you about a couple of the other challengers for a place in the world’s wonders that I saw. There was L. Madison Nagobi’s Fateful Brush with 140,000 Strokes–a veritable white painting, yet totally unlike the others I’ve seen framed. This one was completely white too but Nagobi used precisely 140,000 horizontal brush strokes to apply white acrylic paint onto his foamboard receptacle. According to the description, his painstaking painting is in accord with very definite rules he set for movement. You see, he let himself paint only horizontal lines and only with one paintbrush, yet he would allow no single line to be the same. To accomplish this, Nagobi had to vary the length of time in which he completed each white line. 140,000 different timeframes. 140,000 speeds at which he could move his left hand (a detail the description provided, but I don’t see what is so important about knowing that it was his left hand).
It seems Nagobi’s wife was a big help to him while he worked. She dutifully fed him and kept him clean with the occasional sponge bath. Sadly, on finishing his last line, which took two whole weeks to paint just by itself, Nagobi collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. His wife discovered in the meantime, that Nagobi’s brother had a much more exciting passion for the horizontal plane.
Fateful Brush with 140,000 Strokes is breathtaking if you’re one to gasp at the mundane. I mean Nagobi’s exercise is interesting but the work instantiates none of what is so interesting about it–in fact, the work itself dishonours Nagobi’s vision because it fails to convey anything that communicates the power of determination that the Nagobi couple put into its creation. Perhaps the most beautiful thing I might have taken from the piece would have been the beauty of a man toying with time as an aesthetic. He’d have done better to perform alongside Eiko and Koma.
Finally, the exhibit ended with the “chaotic” movement and flury invoked by Jehosephat Cream’s painting, Green Dot1. How can I describe it? According to the museum’s notes, Green Dot is reminiscent of an individual cell of chlorophyll. Supposedly reminding us of our innocense when we were young and playing on lawns. It has to do with suburbanites mowing their lawns (some obvious action there). Really though, a fifty foot high white flag with a bright green dot in the center–evoking Japan and a connection to post-holocaust non-lawnmowing movement? What shall I say? It’s the end? From what can any of that feeling possibly be attributed?
I give you a description of the images–the rest were of the same ilk. I know that’s not fair on my part. You can guess my opinion of these works is not the highest–maybe it’s the lowest. What have these artists created? Their concepts in some cases (though frequently not all) are impressive but when that is the case, it’s only the concept that impresses! The instantiation is so banal and lacking innovation, exploration, experimentation, passion, emotion, wisdom, enlightenment, or any conceivable spark that might give these works their own authentic presence, their own life amongst the world of humankind, that in my opinion there is little reason for the exhibit to be displayed.
The plaques with the descriptions are quite sufficient if not superior to the works themselves. And a majority of the time, the artists could not even lay claim to the descriptions. The descriptions were usually conceived and written by critics, researchers, and the like who are only too happy to impart their mental wanderings onto these celebrated dwarves of creative execution. I have half a mind to replace this very letter with a blank piece of paper and send you a description of someone’s idea about what constitutes a good letter–which may be the only way to sufficiently convey the quality of the exhibit to you. My fear in that case, would be that I inadvertantly convey an obscene decadence of creativity in my act of mailing the letter.
On another note, I hope you were able to remove the spot of wine Herr Oscar spilled on your beautiful, new, scarlet sofa at the party last week. I’m sure Jen didn’t mean to anger him, but she does tease, and very drunk people are prone to be impulsively messy. Not that I think Oscar did it intentionally. It’s just hard to see how Jenny screaming “We’ll never get out alive” could annoy someone so much.