100 Years of Defining the Boundaries of Art: from Marcel Duchamp to Jens Haaning
To get accepted to art school, one of the entry exams that I had to take was an exam that was based basically on a book of the history of modern art suggested by the art academy. At the time, I was finishing up my compulsorily military service and was anxious to get on with the rest of my life. I dashed out to a book store, picked up the book and literally studied it by heart. Pictures and all. I got excepted to the art academy and had a summer to kill until starting college. I got a job at a summer camp as part of the art staff. I loved art and my parents' house had wonderful art books. The most modern of their collection was the post-impressionist. So, towards the end of that infamous “artbook-for-the-exam”, when the discussion focused on the surrealists and the Dadaist, I found myself, for the first time of many, contemplating the place and reason for Duchamp’s “Fountain”. Over that summer I found myself involved in passionate discussions about Duchamp and the Dadaists in general, trying to figure it out the importance of the Dadaists. Through my fellow art staff friends, I understood the importance of taking an item out of its usual context, cleaning it up to being sterile, reframing it in new surroundings and by such giving it new meaning. My limited art education up until then stressed the importance of aesthetic value in art. I realized that there are other factors when contemplating and appreciating art. Artist visualizes words and thoughts. It is no wonder that today a common way to describe an artist is as a “visual storyteller”.
“Pink Beach” - Acrylic on Rolled Canvas, 123/203cm @Barbar Adler Art Oct.2021
An artist, according to the statement, message, and thoughts on art can also be called a “visual poet or a “visual-philosopher”. I had no dispute whatsoever with the surrealists, as their works always had immense aesthetic value even though the subject matter was often difficult to digest. I still couldn’t quite get past the feeling of fraud when looking at “ready-made” art. It took my entire third year and a fantastic in-depth course on the Dadaists and Surrealists to finally accept the importance and contribution to the arts. The Dadaists, along with the manifests that they wrote, can be considered by no doubt, as visual philosophy, defining the boundaries of what can be considered art. A definite reflection of their time. During that same year, on a very cold Friday morning, a very drunk and angry classical drawing teacher threw the trash in the middle of the room and told the astounded class that that was our subject to draw. When asked “why?” he replied the life is trashy and as artists, we reflect and draw life. Well, my life then or now cannot be described that way, but I can understand other ways of seeing life.
So, art is not all about aesthetic value. I get that.
"Dancer"- Acrylic on Canvas, 70/100cm@Barbar Adler Art Oct.2021
Fast forward almost 40 years since those first thoughts on the boundaries of art and I find myself challenged once again. The Swedish artist Jens Haaning is being taken to court by the museum that commissioned him for two pieces. They claim to have received 2 blank canvases instead of paintings done by this artist for the sum of $84000. The artist claims otherwise.
The questions and thoughts that arise in my mind are:
1. Can a vacant canvas be called a work of art if the artist describes it as such by naming framing and place of context?
2. Did the museum have conversations with this artist and come to an agreement on what is being commissioned?
3. By no doubt, the law, in general, is a convention, consensus agreed upon by society.
Laws are the last frontier of the conscience, between right and wrong. Laws, therefore can change according to how society grasps, understands, and defines its conscience. In this case, if the museum wins, it is a loss for art, as it defines/limits the freedom of speech/ the freedom of art. If the artist wins, it is a loss for art as it means that the aesthetic value, the core essence of art, is lost. It would have been better if this case was taken care of out of the courtroom and discussed publicly. We are left with concepts only. The wall remains empty. The space remains colorless.
We all need art. A colorful painting can tie the room together nicely, adding an extra window to the space. A mindscape. Allowing for a momentary break from ourselves, from the intensity of life.
Everybody needs art. There is Art for everyone’s state of mind, desires and tastes. Take a break, reflect and delve into some of my art, to my stories.
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