TCS Daily

The Art of the Hustle

By Sidney Goldberg - February 15, 2005 12:00 AM

NEW YORK -- If you haven't seen the Gates in Central Park, don't worry about it. You haven't missed anything. I saw them opening day, Saturday, and as expected I was very disaappointed. There they were, 7,500 metal "gates," each emblazoned by saffron-colored fabric. I am totally convinced that if the fabric were purple, or striped with green and brown, the exhibit would have had equal acclaim and attention. Indeed, if Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the creators of this exhibit, had lined the park with 7,500 egg crates the multitudes would have come nonetheless, proclaiming the genius of this couple.

The Gates scam, from which the two creators pull in millions of dollars through sales of souvenirs and paintings and other works of "art," is part of an overall deterioration in the standards of art, and indeed of the concept of art itself. Novelty now trumps beauty. It began its decline a hundred years ago, when artists, prone to "epater le bourgeois," created Dadaism and a host of other "isms" that allowed them to display a kitchen sink or a urinal or a white dot on a black canvas and call it art. And the public, only too willing to acknowledge its own sense of artistic insensibility, went along with it. Before you knew it, they were oohing and aahing over the paint drops of Jackson Pollack and his worshipers and followers. There is nothing wrong with these non-objective "masterpieces," except that they should be sold as wallpaper, with wallpaper prices, instead of framed art with prices in the stratosphere.

How bad is this deterioration of artistic standards? Here are a few examples of what's going on:

  • Last month, In Frankfurt, Germany, sanitation workers mistook for trash a yellow sculpture lying in the street outside a museum and so they tossed it into the garbage truck. It turned out that the "trash" was the creation of Michael Beutler, who replaced it with another assortment of garbage.

  • Also in January, The New York Times described (favorably) "Wish Well," in a Chelsea gallery, as a "notable contribution to the department of extreme trash accumulation, kinetic division. Stacked tiers of paper, cardboard, bottles and other sorts of refuse sandwiched between sheets of plywood rise 10 feet in the air in the middle of the tower of garbage..."

  • In August of last year, in London's Tate gallery, a janitor finds a bag of paper and cardboard which he thinks is rubbish and so he tosses it into the trash, but it turns out that the "rubbish" is the work of Gustav Metzger, who replaced it with more rubbish.

  • In 2001, a janitor at the Eyestorm gallery in London tossed out a collection of coffee cups, ashtrays, and beer bottles, which turned out to be the work of Damien Hirst. Hirst, incidentally, last November, sold his "Uncaring Lovers" -- described by The New York Times as "a cabinet containing glass jars of bovine internal organs" -- for $ 321,000.

  • And last month The New York Times had to print a correction to a museum art review, explaining that one of the paintings displayed was upside down.

So who's the fool here? Not the painters who are pulling in big bucks for works of "art" that have no value. No, the fools are the customers who pay these outlandish prices for paintings and sculptures that, at best, are boring and, at worst, ugly. If you took a painting by any of the Old Masters and hung it side by side in a museum next to one of these pieces of non-objective art, which do you think would hold the viewer's attention longer and more intensely? Hands down, the Rubens or Geircault or Corot would win against the paint droppings.

Why we are led by the nose by these self-proclaimed aesthetes is a mystery. So many of them, despite their supposed pursuit of "the beautiful," live and work in studios just this side of squalor, and glory in it. They like to wear mismatched (often dirty) clothes, paying no attention to color or pattern -- striped shirt with checkerboard pants and a rumpled polka dot tie, a fashion crime called "ungepatchket" in Yiddish, and these days seen mostly at the $2 window at a race track.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are in good company among these hustlers, and whatever the commercial benefits of this exhibit, filling up restaurants and hotels with the gawkers, let's not call their creation "art."

The author is a New York-based media consultant.


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