.There's a game I like to play on Facebook every now and again that I call Art or N'art? I have a fondness for challenging contemporary art and so when I'm visiting an institutional repository of such work, I'll take a photograph of something that might be art -- or, then again, might simply be a pile of crumbling bricks or some construction debris waiting to be hauled away. Then I'll challenge my friends: Is it art? Or n'art?
The answer, much like the Scarlet Pimpernel can be damned elusive.
Today I took a jaunt to 798 Art Zone, an old industrial neighborhood of Beijing that has been taken over by art centers and galleries and a swarm of parasitic cafes and shops. It was quite wonderful and I hope to return someday and spend a lot more time there. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art had a major retrospective on Xu Bing, an artist I had never even heard of and now one of my favorites. I may write something about him here, if I can find the time.
I also went to see Muse, which is either a gallery or a show at the 798 Building. And here I find myself punked by my own petard. Art or N'art? Postmodern irony or misguided spectacle? I honestly dunno.
The exhibition consists of a series of room in which famous works by several great painters are projected on the walls... and partially animated.
Renoir's dancers slowly incline their heads toward and away from each other, seemingly caught in a nightmare from which they cannot awaken. All move heavily, sluggishly, as if trying (and failing) to escape the embrace of paint. Luncheon of the Boating Party rocks from side to side, people shifting in relation to each other, as if it were set not on a restaurant balcony but on a boat on a heavy sea. Watching it, I felt seasick.
Van Gogh's people, by contrast, only have to contend with the moving rays of a killer sun.
Gustav Klimt's The Kiss, blown up to fill a wall, suffers from daggers and confetti of light that flow down the image, giving it a kind of Hallmark romanticism, while little colored florettes dance about on the floor, doing their damnedest to distract the viewer from the original image.
A cat wanders through several of Matisse's jostling the bric-a-brac and complaining plaintively. As well it might.
Finally, a room titled Henry's Scissors strives to provide Matisse's cut-outs with a playfulness they already had. Bird-shapes flap, fronds sway, and snippets of blue assemble themselves into women.
Each room is accompanied by its own relentlessly chipper music.
So... Art or N'art? It certainly has the nervy chutzpah of much postmodern art. But if I had to guess (I wouldn't bet money), I'd go with N'art. I think it's a misguided attempt to "bring the classics to life," to make them accessible by turning them into spectacle.
But I could be wrong. Over at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, there's a life-sized Seward Johnson sculpture of Luncheon of the Boating Party which is well on its way to the the thing I saw today.
Which is to say, I'm baffled. Maybe somebody reading this knows for sure? If so... you tell me.