Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feeling Poorer at the Guggenheim

When I was in fifth grade, a class trip took me to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York. Perhaps a philistine at the time, I was unimpressed with the architecture. My report to the teacher indicated I felt the building was "ugly" and that it "did not fit in with its surroundings". I may have mentioned it looked like a toilet bowl.

Many years later and with several years of art school and art-making behind me, I now appreciate (but don't especially love) the building itself. The swirling galleries are a stroke of genius, but the shoe-horned anterooms are a bother. That said, the exhibitions (aside from the outstanding permanent collection), with their dogged focus on the "new", are often enough not better than a scam, and an expensive one, at eighteen dollars a visit.

This weekend I saw a show of conceptualism and minimalism there. I have nothing against either of these genres. Their practitioners often enough have some interesting perspectives. However, they often confront us with what amount to cliche, silliness, effrontery and a palpable desire to insult.

Moreover, many of the effects they present are not better than (and often less effective than) what can be seen at the shopping mall--video screens, cheap scrims, pop caricatures; but done in a less committed way than at the mall. Does anyone who can muster the intellectual fortitude to make their way to the Guggenheim in the first place need tepid, mundane commentary on the tepid and mundane? Does it add to the sum of all light (or at all necessary) to print on the wall phrases like "I am closer than you think."? And the shopping mall is rather more welcoming: it's free!

One of the works consisted of a knee-high sculpture of Disney's Pinocchio face down in a pool of water. I found this both interesting and amusing in a disturbing way. The rest of the work--all of it--could have been hauled away in a truck like so much holiday-season detritus and not have been missed.

Or, the Guggenheim could take into account our recessionary times and lower the price--to what it costs to enter a typical shopping mall.