Saturday, September 26, 2009
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Midway Contemporary Art gallery in Minneapolis. I was part of a group that received a guided tour by a founder of the gallery and in depth analysis of many of the piece’s on display. One artwork in particular struck me. In a small room that goes by the description of “Gallery 2”, I was confronted by a massive blue rectangle that measures 94 x 17 x 4 inches leaning up against the wall.
My first impression was that someone had left one of their child’s building blocks in the gallery and that evil aliens had enlarged using cosmic rays to ridicule the foundations of American childhood. It was smooth and sleek, with perfect corners, clean lines, and was the color of the Pacific on a bright 90 degree day in 1965. I am not a fan of the modernist movement at all. The extreme emphasis on form and medium being art is so a little ridiculous to my frame of mind. If that was all that art was, than the people at Sherman Williams who make hundreds of colors of acrylic house paint should be heralded as the new masters. I am more about content, subject matter, feeling, motivation.
After a brief glance and a little shake of my head at how much time must have gone into the construction of a gigantic blue rectangle, my thoughts turned to the next piece. Big blue was gone from my mind in an instant because my uneducated non-modernist viewpoint suggested that it was just that- a big blue rectangle. Who cares about a big blue rectangle? As I went on to the next piece I heard the gallery operator mention that they had to increase their insurance due to the fact that the big blue rectangle was worth $200,000. Are you serious? I could finish my education, travel the world, and feed the homeless for months off $200,000. If someone wanted a rectangle, go to IKEA and buy some storage totes- you’d have enough for a Ferrari left over. I instantly hate big blue, which I found out is named “Sound”, by California artist John McCraken. The fact that an inanimate object that is so plain could excite that amount of interest was ridiculous in my opinion. The gallery owner went on to inform us that “Sound” was handmade fiberglass with high gloss lacquer. Given his southern California background, the artist likes to use the same materials that go into surf board construction. John McCraken also treats color as a material in his art. His decision to lean his objects against the wall rather going for a more conventional instillation was in his own mind the best way to reduce the forms down to their utmost basic abstract concept. (John McCraken Sketchbook: Interview with Neville Wakefield 15)
All of this basic went over mind head. I still could not wrap my mind around a blue rectangle supposedly worth $200,000. A classmate of mine tried to put it into perspective by informing me about the amount of time and meticulous craftsmanship that must have gone into a handmade perfect rectangle of that size. McCraken could have just sent his piece of to the factory to get machined, but instead he loving crafted his art by hand, just as the surfboard masters of old produced individual boards that combined perfection and personality. I was not ready to hear it. My mind still kept shouting $200,000, $200,000, $200,000! This morning, as I was researching the piece to write a very nasty critique, I was listening to my roommates talk about a friend of theirs from college who had moved to Vegas and tried to make a life for herself far away from friends and family in Minnesota. Long story short, she ended up prostituting herself and then got hook on drugs. I instantly felt sorry, not for the girl who I didn’t know, but for “Sound” who I came to know through indifference, fierce hatred, pity, and then finally a bizarre sort of love. It brings to mind an overpriced streetwalker, told by society that her purest essence is to lean against the wall with cold, deep, perfect beauty to wait for the highest bid. Pared down to her barest form, with nothing left but that which the viewer gives, she emanates reflects of our own desires and needs. She is lost, alone, powerful, and abused. She needs love, but has nothing left for love to cling to. Perfection, gloss, sleek beauty…. Nothing.
Image courtesy of midwayart.org