Thursday, March 8, 2012

Challenges: part 4

This post part of a series: (part 1, part 2, part 3)

70 years of artists had been trying to challenge the definition of art by going more abstract.  By the mid-1950s, going abstract had become accepted and mainstream, so artist-challengers took a new tact.   

Challenge #10: It can even be art when it is so straightforwardly representational it is almost boring.
Jasper Johns, Flag, encaustic oil and fabric collage on plywood, 1954-55, New York MOMA

Challenge #11: Until this point, it seems art had always been about the object within the frame.  Well, art can also be about the frame.

The title of this artwork, Hang Up, is a clever play on words: an art work hangs up on the wall of a museum, and we have a hang up about seeing and recognizing as art any type of work which doesn't fit into this mold.  And here's a question -is this work of art a sculpture since it's more 3-D than 2-D, or a (albeit unusual) painting, since it hangs on the wall in a rectangular shape?

Eva Hesse, Hang Up, Acrylic paint on cloth over wood, 1966, Art Institute of Chicago

Challenge #12: The Art-ness of an artwork doesn't even have to rest in an object, but can be in the concept.  This is a challenge to the very powerful economic structure of buying and selling art, because how can you sell a concept?

In the example I give here, artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres was searching for a way to represent the sad, slow, wasting away loss of his lover due to AIDS, who was sick at the time and died the following year.  He wanted an artwork that was as frail as a human was against this disease, an artwork that slowly disappeared.  And so, he lay a stack of paper on the floor in a museum; visitors were encouraged to take a page, until the stack was gone.  He said of this work: "This refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favor of a disappearing, changing, unstable and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross disappear day by day right in front of my eyes."

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Loverboy), 1990

This story of a long line of continued challenges, expanding what is accepted in the definition of "Art" has many more examples than the few I highlighted over these past few posts.  It is a process that is certainly not over, although many artists today would argue that radical challenges to the definition of "Art" have themselves become passé, and now art should focus on trying to challenge other areas of society.

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