What is “Modern Art”?

I’ve been on quite a kick for art galleries lately. It may have been because I made a cardinal error in telling my husband that I was bored. Never, ever admit to being bored. That evening entailed an hours-long discussion and web-surfing exercise for “free” or “budget-friendly” things to do in London. I finally got to the point where I had to tell him to shut up.

ImageSo lesson learned with many suggestions noted. The first one that caught my immediate interest was the British Film Institute (BFI) Mediatheque. They have over 2,000 titles that you can watch for free any given day along with an extensive film reference library. So I decided to give this a try and headed out for my adventure to Southbank.

The Mediatheque was incredible! The only downside is you are only given two hours to watch whatever you want on their database–and it’s two hours per day, max. The first thing I watched was a five-minute PSA from the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) featuring Sean Connery after his Dr. No performance. It was pretty ridiculous–not the subject matter which was actually rather interesting–it was how terrible Connery’s reading was. His eyes followed the cue cards and he looked as if he was dozing off in between sentences.

After those five minutes passed, I was under the gun to find something that was shorter than one hour and fifty-five minutes. I selected the button for Old Time Horror Films and selected a silent film At the Villa Rose. It did not have the piano soundtrack included, so the 90 minutes went by rather slowly–but it was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen.

First off, I was surprised that a silent film from 1920 was even 90 minutes long with film so expensive. Usually things are hard-pressed to make it over a single hour at that time. But the film showed flashbacks, night time, and lights out with different color gels. The regular story was the normal black/white/gray while the lights out (during the seance scene) was red, night time was blue (which how they showed a flashlight reflection on film was beyond me), and the past was yellow. Pretty well-thought out if I say so myself.

I’d go into the ridiculous story line, but if you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

After my time was up, I decided to make it a mission to hit this place up more often, but with a computer and way to take notes included. I exited the building, and instead of hitting up the Waterloo tube, I took another turn toward the Hayward Gallery. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I decided, why not, and headed in for Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It?

ImageWhat’s the point of it, indeed. It started off very “modern” and “abstract.” Common words thrown around the new art scene–I think. The first room was lined with several metronomes all going at different speeds which created “an atmosphere”–to say the least. Swirling over my head was a huge fluorescent sign that would speed up and slow down how fast it rotated spelling out “Mothers.” The meaning was lost on me unless it was trying to spell “helicopter parent.”

Now, I will take a moment here before I describe the Imagenext room to say that I admire art. I enjoy things that push the envelope and almost make me feel inspired to say, “Well, if that is art, I could do that and say I have modern art at home!” I’m not always sure how things like this get recognized as art since there seem to be thousands of artists who can also crumple up a piece of paper and put it under a piece of glass.

I followed the exhibit into the next room that had a side room for a film projection. I walked in and was absolutely shocked. It was a film called “Sick and Sh*t.” I’m going to copy what is said in the program for this particular installation:

In these films, [Martin] Creed draws attention to the fact that ‘living is a matter of trying to come to terms with what comes out of you…That includes sh*t and sick and horrible feelings. The problem with horrible feelings is you can’t paint them. But horrible vomit–you can film that.’

I mean…I had no words for what violated my eyes. Yes, you can film it, but should you is the bigger question. Thankfully, I didn’t have the displeasure of seeing the sh*t, just the vomit, and that was enough. After just five minutes inside this gallery, I wanted to bolt. But in the interest of what else was in store, I continued on this modern art discovery.

There were several frames of solid color pieces of paper mounted on the wall, and then there was a door. The door was on a mechanism that opened and closed on a timer. This was interesting because after a while, the sound of the door became white noise, which may have been the point. I seem to have still missed the point on the vomit.

Toward the stairs (that’s right, this place was three floors), was a speaker with a man blowing raspberries. Coupled with the previous video, my assumption was that it was not a sound made with the mouth. I was relieved to see that it was. I crossed the room past a man playing one note at a time on a piano (part of the exhibit), and two television monitors displaying simultaneous camera angles of the same ship docking in a port.

The space of the gallery was actually beautiful. The building and the structure were more interesting to me than the “art” that littered the walls. The second level proved to be more of the same. The lights were on a 30 seconds on/30 seconds off rotation. Again, after a while it became white noise or light, which may have been the point. Martin Creed won the Turner Prize for this in 2001 much to my surprise.

The only other thing in this room that seemed interesting was a sectioned off area of sport balls clustered together. That just showed me that he spent decent money buying sport equipment and not using it for fitness.

The third floor had a few more things in store for me. There was an outdoor installation that was prefaced with an 18 and older disclaimer. I walked outside and was met with a huge screen of a black and white image. It was a male organ doing its own fitness routine on repeat. (Was that enough of an euphemism?) After that, I just shook my head and continued on this journey only more pleased at the story I would have to tell later.

In this third floor area, there were two stacks of iron girders, a scale of various sized cacti, and a piano. On the piano was a sign that said, “This installation will continue every fifteen minutes.”

As I waited anxiously for this “installation,” I circled the room to see the various framed pieces of paper that lined the walls. There was a florescent sign Imagethat said, “The whole world + The work = The whole world.” Rather pompous, don’t you think? Then I saw a piece of paper that looked nearly blank. I came up close to read the tiny type to fall prey to the artist’s joke. It said, “f*ck off.”

Then the installation began. The piano was on a mechanism that opened the top and then slammed shut every few seconds. The sound was quite jarring–which again, was the point, I imagine.

The last room had two more pieces of “art” that were not to be missed. One was a large window that had drapes that would open and close on rotation–much like the piano, the door, and the laughter on the speaker next to the restroom. I thought the view outside the window was more beautiful than some of the things I had paid to see.

But then the last room was a large glass enclosure full of white balloons. The description in the program actually made sense to me.

In Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998) Martin Creed ‘packages and makes visible’ the air that surrounds us by precisely measuring and capturing half of it inside the nearly seven thousand white balloons. The environment he creates is both playful and claustrophobic, and drastically alters our perception of space.

ImageWalking through this room, I absolutely did feel claustrophobic and anxious to get out. I had to remind myself to breathe and push through the light bags of air.

I managed to find the door and then patted down my frizzy hair to leave this gallery. The artist did get the final joke making the exit in only one room. Yup, you guessed it, through the video room. I had to subject myself to three more seconds of vomit. I just thank my lucky stars I timed it right enough to not be subject to the sh*t.

Again, maybe I am just dense as to what “art” is, but I did not find some of these installations very artistic.

ImageNow, after I subjected myself to something that is only realized in my nightmares, I decided I would give it another shot at the Whitechapel Gallery today. Now, that’s what I would call art. It still was not an exhibit of the baroque art showcased in galleries like The National Gallery, but it was an exhibit for Hannah Hoch, a German artist who did Dada style collage art through war time. This is a well done video about the exhibit if you have five minutes to spare.

I did feel like some of the things I could do, but I would need newspaper and glue–not just a Styrofoam box I received in the mail. Each frame showed magazines or newspapers from the time and were glued together to create a new image that reflected the era whether it be war, fashion, or industry.

The gallery showcased the artist’s life, so we, as observers, could see how her style changed over the years and through historyImage. It was quite fascinating to see how war time and defeat shapes style and design.

I left feeling a little better about the image of art and what constitutes the definition. I’m curious to know from anyone reading what you consider what art is and how I may be misinterpreting what I saw at either gallery. Maybe what I believe to be creative works of art in magazine clippings is not what others consider gallery-worthy. Or maybe someone can explain in further detail why witnessing human sickness can be considered art and worthy of my £11.

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