Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What the Avant Garde Offers Us Today

Or, What Brown Can Do For You

It's easy to criticize some of the contemporary art world's more flamboyant and provocative trends, and that's because for the most part, they're crap. The intentionally obscure and insular world of modern visual arts has made a fetish of alienating all but a select few initiates, reveling at the incomprehension of otherwise enthusiastic gallery and museum goers. Naturally, self-indulgent crap art has reached its literal reduction to absurdity with Belgian artist Wim Delvoye's installation "Cloaca." It's actually been around for a year or two, so it's doubtless been upstaged by something even more simultaneously banal and grotesque, but it serves as a fine example of type. For a detailed description you can read Belgian critic Els Fiers' fawning review, but it will suffice to explain that it is a mechanical shitting machine. Attendants insert food into one end and something very like the human final result emerges on the other side after a reasonable interval. According to Fiers' keen critical eye, the product is "something close to genuine, human shit."

He could fairly expand his assessment to include much of contemporary artisitic endeavor, at least insofar as it's celebrated in "elite" environments. Unfortunately the average person is too intellectually intimidated to say so. The lesson here is that just because you're not scandalized by Chris Ofili's combination of Marist iconography and animal dung doesn't mean that "Sensations" was an artisitic triumph. The next time you look at a preserved slice of farm animal suspended in a preservation tank with a confused grimace and someone from the black-turtleneck mafia stifles a condescending snicker, smack them with your program and keep walking until you see something worth looking at. Don't let the postmodernist toffs define what's worth being called art.


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