Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shocking Developments

At the end of last week's episode of Work of Art, they showed coming attractions for the episode that aired tonight, with the theme of shocking art. This included guest artist Andres Serrano and his famous photo Piss Christ. The first comment on one of the show's blogs on the Bravo website was a viewer claiming to be deeply offended by this quick view of the photo and promising a boycott of the network if this wasn't edited out of the show. My first reaction was to be a bit surprised that anyone is still shocked by this piece, since its period of notoriety was about 20 years ago. (my second was that anyone who is easily offended probably has many other reasons to stop watching Bravo) Serrano's piece was one of several of that time period that were routinely presented by conservative types as proof of the evils of contemporary art, even as they rarely understood what the works were about.

So in tonight's episode (spoilers in this paragraph), the contestants were given the single direction to create shocking art. This turns out to be a more difficult assignment than one might expect. The problem is that artists have been trying to shock people for centuries, and while the average person on the street might be surprised and offended by some art, regular art viewers have seen it all before. If all you have going for yourself is a shocking concept or image, the art connoisseur will likely be bored. And tonight I found the episode a little boring. The contestants all seemed to take the theme as permission to be naughty, and most went for variations on sex and religion, the two quickest routes to controversy. The problem is that the artists seemed to be having fun, but there was little attempt at making "art". Very few of the products were visually interesting. Neither of the two on the short list of successful pieces were particularly shocking, but at least they had layers of meaning. This time they sent two contestants home- last week's winner John (a cartoony painting of adolescent appeal) and conceptualist (four gone in four weeks) Nao, whose performance piece was weird, but lacked direction and was not anywhere close to shocking by the standards of performance art.

I don't consider any of my own art to be shocking; after all I have been proclaimed the "Master of the Mundane". Not that this hasn't stopped some people from being offended, and I told a few stories about this last month. I have no specific interest in trying to shock the viewer, a strategy that may cost more opportunities than it brings in. On the other hand, I do like being a little subversive now and then. Draw the viewer in before they discover that things are a little off. A good example is the print at the top of this post, from my Ecclesiastes series. The print is 12" x 8", large enough for the hot fudge sundae to be easily recognized from across a gallery. It's only when they come up close that the flies are noticed and anticipation becomes revulsion.


Post a Comment

<< Home