WTF — Art and Free Food! by William Dolan


WTF is a periodic rant about an ill of the art world, one of humankind’s most screwed-up endeavors.

I recently found myself in a discussion about painting and specifically why good interesting work that can stand on its own rarely gets the attention that Neo-Conceptual work, even when poorly executed, receives.

Since academics have taken over art, the purpose of it is to teach a so-called lesson to the viewer. An artist is presumed to have special insight into humanity that ordinary people don’t have. By pointing out social ills, perhaps the viewer can become a better person or at least feel smarter.

To garner more success in today’s art world a painter would be better off to create an installation. Here’s an idea: an artist can hang some work on the wall and also have one of those elotes carts in the center of the gallery. The artist can write some nonsense that he or she is demonstrating the differences between the upper middle class and the struggle that is created when a minority is brought in to prop the middle class up by doing the menial and hard work that allows us our freedom. As a special treat, the cart would actually serve free corn, melon, churros, etc. This would be a way to help bridge the gap between us. Of course, the artist should use a lot of sociological buzzwords like “commodification”, “sociological construct” and maybe throw in “transgression”. Or, perhaps it can be labeled a demonstration of the dehumanization of people in the urban environment and their efforts to enjoy life. Overall, I think the key is to have a somewhat preachy or self-righteous tone to the multi-paragraph statement.

The free food helps, too. The popularity of the heavily-armed ice cream truck at this years NEXT show at Art Chicago was the free Haggen Daz and not the juxtaposition of the artillery and the ice cream truck. Of course it’s through this participation with the work that the viewer learns. It has nothing to do with feeding one’s face with free food, even if the viewer goes back for thirds. It’s a shame that the art world seems to eat this dreck up.

There is some good Neo-Conceptual art out there but most of it seems trite and any visual tools are secondary and only have to help illustrate the artist’s point. Whether it’s good or bad or even of the artist’s hand, it doesn’t matter.