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June 20, 2006


I have to say that I think this whole hullaballoo is hilarious. The plinth is without question better than the sculpture was. (The sculpture is crap.) If there were any social pressures on the curatorial group to take the "two" submissions seriously, we'll probably never know the details, unless anonymous assistants choose to talk to the press.

Still, though, I'd really be wary of making this particular episode into too much of a symbol. Yes, as far as I can tell, the art market is over-heated at the moment, but, no, this particular instance shouldn't be a sign except perhaps for those might be in the market for the short haul

The more politic version of "the sculpture is crap" would be "the sculpture doesn't really move me, and I'm not entirely sure he's managed to transcend his formalist exactitude."

I'd like to get a better look at the plinth.

More seriously, Sebastian or other mockers, do you think there's a problem here? If so, is there a solution worth considering?

Just as a thought experiment, I've tried to imagine what sorts of changes in the art world would be necessary in order to guarantee that something like this could never happen again. I can't come up with anything short of a radical narrowing of the kinds of work that are permitted. Would this price, to you, be worth paying?

If not, I think we accept this (with a smile, perhaps), as inevitable.

"Just as a thought experiment, I've tried to imagine what sorts of changes in the art world would be necessary in order to guarantee that something like this could never happen again."

I don't have (or want) any policy prescriptions. I just think it is funny.

Hugh Kenner quotes somewhere a passage from a letter of Ezra Pound, to the effect that machines are beautiful, but only the parts that are actually designed to do work -- the surfaces that exert pressure, the structures that transmit force (not the decoration, which in the era that formed him was often goofy). We may have another example of the phenomenon here, of craft being better art than what was intended to please the eye.

Oops, I posted before getting to my point, which was that in this telling, the joke is really on the artist.

It underlines the current importance of a good title. For the laughing head, "One Day Closer To Paradise" is kind of, [shrug]. For a piece of slate, vaguely reminiscent of a tombstone with a mysterious little bone-like structure, it is brilliant.


What I got out of the story was finally understanding an old Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart song: "Plynth (Water Down the Drain)" or Faces "Around the Plynth." I think. My guess is running around Nelson's column or something. Googling isn't helping much.

Tis better to have plinthed and lost than never to have plinthed at all.

One of the best things about wandering around a gallery of modern art (such as the Tate Modern in London, which I can recommend to any visitor except perhaps Sebastian - no, I think especially Sebastian, but he has to promise to wander through it in the right frame of mind, which IMO the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern will induce in you unless you are holding yourself deliberately and completely closed to it) is what happens after you leave the gallery.

When wandering round the gallery, you find yourself looking closely at this and that, trying to work out if it's art or part of the furnishings: and sometimes it's both. And sometimes you can't tell. An empty slate plinth may speak to you of the invisibility and transience of all things made with hands: or you might stare at it for a long time, really seeing the texture of slate as you never had before.

But afterwards, when you go out, for a while at least (just as when walking through Constable country you see Constable landscapes in every vista) you see everything as if it were art: turning the focus of your aesthetic appreciation on the most mundane of objects, a window frame, the shape of a building against the sky and the other buildings framing it, a paving stone wet from the rain, the texture of raindrops hitting the surface of a tidal river. You see the world anew: you realise the power of the human facility to appreciate art, which is ordinarily dulled and blunted with the every day.

Art as a workout for sensation? I never thought of it that way before. I have noticed, though, that I feel much more alive and present after, for example, a live music performance.

Not just any live music performance; Stick Men With Ray Guns just didn't have quite the same effect as, say, the Atlanta Symphony.

I'm tone deaf, alas. :-( Still, I maintain the theory works, whether you prefer to experience art via ear or eye.

I'll have to look for that. It's been a while since I've been in an art gallery, and I'm probably way overdue.

I actually love art galleries. (Though I like music performances more). But I also think that art pretensions can be too big a target to just look away from.

Its an 'and' thing, not either/or. :)

I think the last time I felt moved and alive in that was was when I visited the Science Fiction Museum. :)

Jess actually cried when we saw the exhibit about the X-Prize. She had somehow missed that entire thing, and the thought of private space flight happening was enough to break her.

Perhaps I'm more deadened than the average person, but I have a really hard time seeing art in most of what passes for art these days. At most I can appreciate the effort and craft that went into creating something, but much of the time it just strikes me as if someone threw some paint or metal against a wall and slapped a pithy title on it.

This is very funny.

Although the plinth does not qualify, this would not be the first time that a mistake ended up being thought of as art. So the underlying idea that a mistake can legitimately become appreciated as art should not be dismissed out of hand.

But a plinth?

In a slight variation on Jesurgislac's observation: I decided a while ago to make a sincere and proactive effort to learn to appreciate art, specifically art that left me cold. Being a rather linear scientist type, that's a big category. My effort was ultimately rewarded by the insight that most of what gets passed off as art is crap. My appreciation for art has expanded somewhat, but my appreciation for crap has expanded enormously. One of the few pleasures of my commute is looking at and appreciating the random crap at the side of the road, the patterns of dust and debris kicked up by cars and sculpted by wind and rain. It's really quite lovely.

"I think the last time I felt moved and alive in that was was when I visited the Science Fiction Museum."

Speaking of which, I have a post on space art right here behind this display.

Also a post not far below about Jim Baen's stroke.

"But a plinth?"

We're trying to politely ignore your lithp.

Re togolosh's comment, I'm reminded of a Sondheim lyric:

Pretty isn't beautiful,
Pretty is what changes.
What the eye arranges
Is what is beautiful.

I remember one of the art appreciation classes I took way back when, where one assignment was to go to a local museum and write a paper about a specific painting there.

In classic college student fashion, I waited until the day before it was due to go to the museum, and found three or four of my classmates there. We made our way as a group to the piece we had to write about, and the more we talked about what we saw in it, the more excited we got. It was an amazing experience.

I still remember the guards watching us like hawks - we never quite touched the canvas, but we got close a number of times.

The interesting bit about the "plinth affair" (via Crooked Timber) that really made me wonder, was that if Mr. Hensel hadn’t pointed the absence of his sculpture to the RA: how long would the plinth have remained on exhibition before any noticed?

After it won an award?

Death to bold.

Thanks, Gary.
Second comment was meant to be a bold-slaying, but went awry.

Years ago I went to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art with some friends who were young and skeptical/snotty (in a good way), and their reaction to the art was to form a small group around a bench in one of the galleries, staring at it seriously with their chins in their hands, until some unsuspecting patrons came up and started looking at it with them. Unfortunately they couldn't keep themselves from cracking up at that point, but it was great while it lasted.

A typical bold failure mode, just as an advisory, is failure to close the tag because the backslash was omitted, which opens yet another bold tag. The way to be sure (other than nuking the site from orbit) is to close the bold tag at LEAST twice when you're attempting to clean up. If that doesn't work, you have to wait for the janitor to show up and fix it behind the scenes.

"If that doesn't work, you have to wait for the janitor to show up and fix it behind the scenes."

Non-union labor, too.

"One of the best things about wandering around a gallery of modern art... is what happens after you leave the gallery."

Probably because I'm a mathematician who spent a career doing networks and small computers, but I have a similar experience after visiting any of the Smithsonian technology exhibits (either historical or current). I find myself looking at all kinds of widgets with a different eye to how all the pieces fit and work together to provide the intended function.

"If that doesn't work, you have to wait for the janitor to show up and fix it behind the scenes."

I dislike lazy programmers. It simply isn't that hard to scan the comment text for the allowed HTML tags and auto-close any bold or italics that are left hanging. It's not even a performance issue, since it can be done once at the time the comment is posted.

"But a plinth?"

We're trying to politely ignore your lithp.

Don't worry, Gary: some day your plinth will come.



You want more than one? Greedy...

Darn English orthography doesn't let us distinguish between voiced and voiceless labiodental fricatives, leading to such regrettable confusion as the above. This is a prime example of why we need spelling reform ASAP -- how many more people who type with a lisp must be accused of selfish polyandry before this country wakes up to the problem?

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