30 November 1997

Art. The ultimate sellout?

You've probably no doubt heard about the Andres Serrano exhibition that was supposed to be being shown at the National Gallery of Victoria. It got canned due to a bunch of neanderthals masquerading as offended religious types doing far more offensive things than the photo that they were protesting against. Things like bludgeoning the photo in question. Damaging another photo as a diversion so that someone else could have a go at the piece entitled Piss Christ.

Religion is stupid. Religion has caused more wars than anything else, or anyone. The Iran-Iraq war that was effectively a stalemate for around ten years while soldiers got themselves killed, was a jihad between rival Shiite and Sunnite Muslims. Beirut is effectively a continuing battle between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Any of the wars between India and Pakistan. The crusades. Need I say more?

However, art is just as ridiculous. Piss Christ was a very neutral piece of work, compared to some of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of art. Piss Christ was golden-brown in colour, which basically sucks anyway, so the reason that the media concentrated their efforts on that particular piece of work is a mystery. But this doesn't explain the following:

  • Apparently, in London, there was an exhibition containing as a centrepiece, a fully plumbed toilet;
  • Some guy in New York gives himself paint enemas so that he can spray it out his butt on to a canvas;
  • And there is a bloke in Melbourne who wires his body up to a synth so that he can make music from his heart rate.

It seems that in order to create art, you have to come up with the silliest concept in order for people to say things like, "It's the hidden surrealism of the underlying metaphor for human existence from a post-modern viewpoint that underlines the complicated simplicity of this work," and, "de rigueur."

This is crap.

What happened to entertainment?

Ultimately, the perceived aim of the 'artist' seems to be to come up with something that sells. Piss Christ basically was a vehicle for Serrano to boost his media profile and come up with a work that will make him a very rich person. Piss Christ was valued at $US20,000 before its first exhibition. After the NGV imbroglio, this has jumped 2000% to $US400,000. It would seem that Serrano's ultimate aim would be to keep showing the work at exhibitions around the world and bask in the notoriety that Piss Christ will bring him until that point where it's value peaks and he can fleece some wealthy investor of his bucks.

It's not right, is it? Some would say it's a con and they would be correct. Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles is owned by the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. It's probably worth about $A40 million. Just quietly, I've seen this, and it's big. That's about all that I can say. For heaven's sake, it's just a piece of canvas with some paint on it. Not particularly memorable, and with a considerable amount of Australian taxpayers money spent on it.

The art community is always first to criticise when an artist is seen to have sold out, a move that is remarkably hypocritical considering that it can be seen that an artist's ultimate aim is to sell out to the highest bidder.

But I have the solution. Ban the term 'art'. Call painters 'painters', sculptors 'sculptors', photographers 'photographers' and performance artists 'wankers'. Ban all media coverage of these events. The kerfuffle surrounding the Serrano exhibition would not exist, and semi-talented wannabes would not be getting rich out of their ability to exploit gallery benefactors, the media and, of course, you, the paying punters.

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