Small (and probably repetitious) art-rant ahead.
Art-rant-averse readers, please click elsewhere.
So I get that modern art is often mostly context. I understood that years ago, when I visited my first modern art museum to find viewers oohing and ahhing over a big plexiglass cube with a man’s shirt inside.
The shirt was a nerd-typical white, pressed and folded with a small, round inkstain on the pocket. Next to it was a placard entitled “TGIF,” or some such.
In a drawer, this was a shirt going back to the laundry. In a museum case with a title, it was art.
OK. I get that. But sometimes I wonder if artists, gallery owners and curators aren’t hiding behind a curtain somewhere, totally plowed on peppermint schnapps and howling, “Can you believe they fell for THAT one?”
Yesterday I’m thumbing through last year’s Sculpture Magazine (the publication that regularly questions whether figurative sculpture is really art*). And inside, on page 46, is an interview with Irish painter and sculptor Fergus Martin, talking about his sensational new exhibition, Pipe Dreams.
Pipe Dreams (Pipe Dream 3 is pictured above) consists of hotdog-shaped plastic tubes, spray-painted in bright colors, resting on little white stands in precise alignment. They’re billed as taking “dreams to a fundamentally visual level with a ‘floating raft of color in space.'”
As I’m reading, I wonder exactly where the art is. Did Martin sculpt the shape? Nope, he bought it; the tubes are used to make industrial models of oil refineries. Did he cut them to size? Naaah, “I liked being true to them, and so the tubes and caps are ready-made lengths.”
Did he paint them himself? Nope. “I had a car painter paint the sculptures.” Did he mix the paint to obtain just the right shade? Does the color have a special significance? Nope. “I chose the lime green because I liked the coolness of the color. I chose the colors off a chart instinctually.”
So he wanted to illustrate the term “pipe dreams,” and went off seeking material to make his point? Nope. “‘Pipe Dreams’ refers to the pipes and also to unreal, fantastic, even illusory things, as well as hopes and plans. This made me think of dreaming and dreamers, and I found that right for this work.”
In other words, he found a bunch of shapes he liked, had ’em spray-painted, stuck them on the floor, and then had to figure out what to call them.
To be fair to Mr. Martin, he does vary the distance between pipes in the different works, and in one he even has a pipe that is a different length than the others. Of course, a bored oil refinery engineer with a few extra tubes might produce exactly the same thing. So why is it art in Mr. Martin’s case and not art when somebody else does it?
Because Mr. Martin has credentials, that’s why. He’s gotten awards for this stuff. Been exhibited in museums. He has gen-u-wine chops, so if he says a bunch of painted plastic pipe on the floor is art, then by golly, it’s art.
But for heaven’s sake, at least Mark Rothko actually painted the square on the canvas himself. And that other artist probably dripped the ink on his own shirt, right?
Mr. Martin says he’s “had some difficulty exhibiting the Pipe Dreams because children want to play with them.”
Too bad the kids don’t have credentials. I bet we’d see a lot of new art.
*And after awhile they usually decide that it is.