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Question: Have you guys been to P.S.1 recently, and then wanted to die? Or am I just getting older? Here’s my non-expert question: Is most contemporary art always amateur bullshit, or was I once a sucker for stuff that now I’m smart enough to see through? Keep up the good work.
Answer: Jeremy, the answers in brief are: Yes, yes, sometimes, and yes. Let’s parse your question, shall we?
Have you guys been to P.S.1 recently, and then wanted to die?
It has been so long since I’ve been to P.S.1 that I had to remind myself you were referring to the art museum, not the miserable state of our municipal school system. I was imagining a crack den in the French language lab, the locker room turned into an old-fashioned ‘70s bathhouse, and the shop kitted out like something from Saw III.
But then, I remembered MoMA, and it all came back. The tortuous walks around galleries hung with art and filled with installations that made the Whitney Biennial positively pleasant. Oh, the pretension! Oh, the affectations! The smells of rank body odor, Jovan Musk for Men, and sweet oil paint wafted back as I remembered my days as an art student, a millennium ago. I recalled trying to impress dates with my knowledge of contemporary art, which consisted of nothing more than what was found on the exhibition’s brochure, which I swiped and read in the restroom. I’m sure if you were there, all those years ago, I would have been one of those people who would’ve tempted you to jam a red coat hanger from the abortion installation into your brain via your nose to stop the pain as I talked about the social statement being made, the parallels between sadomasochism and surgery, and the need for further dialogue between church and state.
Or am I just getting older?
Arguably, there’s something repulsively attractive about being 22 years old and stoned and going to a gallery filled with, say, paintings that are nothing more than black canvasses, and turning to your girlfriend, who is equally stoned and having an attack of the munchies, and seeing great personal meaning in the “work.” “This represents the black abyss of my love,” you say to her. “I want you to bungee jump into my darkness,” she replies. “Only don’t rebound.” You chomp on her mouth and taste the garlic from the hummus she wolfed down during tabletop sex. You both vow to get black-square tattoos on your privates to commemorate the moment. This way there would be an eternal black love portal between you—a true black peg fitting into a black hole.
But then life comes at you hard. Garlic Mouth becomes just a fond memory, as your wife pounds at you daily to get rid of that “ridiculous black smudge on your pinga signifying nothing.” You breed, an overambitious mortgage pings off what little dignity you have, then Mrs. X, who has gained four dress sizes after popping out three kids and who never forgets to remind you she did it naturally, with all the pain that entails, looks at you one day and says, “You know, you have the body of a much older man.” And you’re concerned about not grasping the fine points of snot on glass? Priorities, dude.
Is most contemporary art always amateur bullshit, or was I once a sucker for stuff that now I’m smart enough to see through?
Look, you can piss on a wall and find meaning in the pattern it makes. Is that art? If the face of Abraham Lincoln appears, hell, yes. At least to me. (And it means you have astonishingly good aim.) Plus, it’s a historical phenomenon that can get you and your urine on Fox 5 News.
See, anything you create is art. Remember that kid who was so young she practically had an umbilical cord trailing behind her, and whose scribbles sold for tens of thousands of dollars? The only question to ask about any art is: Do I like it?
But something is on your side, my friend, that will free you from the worry of whether you’re keeping up with the scions of the art world: this weird time-warp thing that happens where we get stuck in the precise moment in our lives when we feel the best about ourselves and never see the need to move on. For example, The One (Who Brings Me Love, Joy, and Happiness) and I used to live across the hall from a gay couple in their 60s. But it was as if their wardrobe, hairstyles—including product—and footwear came to a screeching halt somewhere in 1973. It was all polyester shirts with wild patterns, duo-tone pants, bell sleeves, and shag haircuts. The One and I used to laugh, saying, “That will never happen to us, will it, lovie?” Well, nowadays, flat-front khakis, oxford shirts, Potsie Webber haircut, and a penchant for Gloria Gaynor and Madonna (at her vogueing best) seems to be the spot where my cultural bus stopped. It’s as if my neurons threw up their tendril ends and said, “Screw it. We can’t take in any more information. This is it, bud. We’re not going any farther. You can’t make us, you can’t make us.” So, I, too, look at some of the stuff at P.S. 1 and scratch my head. And my 40-something years of living elbow to the forefront and scream, “This is garbage.” (Or to be more accurate: gar-baajh for the cultural elite among us.) I’m now free to aggravate my friends who still think being a poseur in a gallery is as much an art form as the art they’re looking at.
If you’re not there yet, Jeremy, just wait. Fifteen years from now, you’ll be standing in a hologram solarium wondering if any of the little punks around you syncing their iBrains to the curatorial mainframe ever heard of the Arcade Fire before the band died in the 2012 hovercraft explosion. Peas right back atcha.