This weekend's entertainment: a trip to see the New Additions to the
Altoids Curiously Strong Collection --- a travelling art show cum
marketing gimmick which is presently ensconsed at the Clifford-Smith
gallery, in the new gallery district on Harrison Avenue, as a Boston
Phoenix pick of the week.
Most of the show, like a lot of bad art, seems organized on the
general theory that if you can't figure out why anyone would create,
curate, or care about the work that is sitting in front of you, it
only goes to show that the artist is that much smarter than you are.
If you don't see why, for instance, you are supposed to be interested
in video shot from a miniature surveillance camera glued to the back
of a tarantula crawling through a desert (a piece by Sam Easterson,
which includes the dead tarantula) you're just not hip enough to get
Sometimes, to reinforce the pretense, the art is accompanied by
manifestoes which explain them to the viewers --- and if the manifesto
is also head-swimming gibberish, that just reinforces the message.
Sometimes, in fact, the manifesto swallows up the work. Quoth the
- Trisha Donnelly's sound piece, a simple bell ringing in
the galleries once an hour, is meant to blend seamlessly into the
exhibition space so that visitors may not recognize the tolling as an
art work. Nonetheless, the bell's associations with the formalities
and austerity of church and state have the capacity to profoundly
affect one's viewing experience.
Or, one might just think that the gallery has a nice clock.
And so it goes, through a mannikin made of duct tape, a drawing of
a few dozen matchbooks which "makes the ephemeral visible" because the
cover of each matchbook has something to do with the song the artist
was listening to while drawing it (cool!), a model of a hotel
pool made out of styrofoam packing material (wow, deep!), and
posters for a Jackson Pollack exhibit which have "appropriate" old
Peanuts strips for use as a background. Quoth the official guide,
"Connecting these two cultural artifacts --- understood to be at
opposite ends of the high/low spectrum [it's important to point
that out, or someone might not know] --- Muller cleverly
questions whether artistic identity is arbitrarily assigned" (Yes,
how true! Including Muller!).
While most pieces go for obscurantism, there are a few which go to
the opposite extreme:
- In a scathing indictment of racism in the United States,
Dreas Scott juxtaposes a quintessentially sterotypical black figure of
the antebellum south --- Aunt Jemima --- with the text "if white
people didn't invent air, what would we breathe?"
Well, I feel scorched.
The sad thing is that the notion of art as a comment on social
issues --- without the hackneyed, didactic extremes of Dread Scott ---
isn't always pretense. A few doors down from Clifford-Smith, in the
new gallery space of the Open Studios Press, there's an exhibit of new
American painting, highlighted by a genuinely creepy piece by Melora
Kuhn called "Lineup". The picture shows four prepubescent girls in a
lineup, standing on circus stands, with the lines of a police lineup
in the background; it's half as if they're on display, and half as if
they're accused. Whatever is going on, they don't much like it ---
they stare right back at the viewer, implacable and angry. Without
any direct reference to, say, the Jonbenet Ramsey case, this
does make you think about how our society deals with young
kids. It's just as well they're not in the same room as the Altoids
Curiously Strong Collection; it would wilt under their gaze.