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Within the bounds of perception

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By John Pawlak

My wife and I recently traveled to the east coast to visit my brother and family. While out there, we drove into New York City and spent a few hours walking through SOHO to soak up the local culture and to browse the art galleries. As we strolled down Wooster St., we passed a gallery that apparently was undergoing a significant renovation. Well, at least that’s what it looked like. Through the large window, we saw a huge mound of dirt (about 15-by-20 feet and 10 feet high) piled against what appeared to be a concrete section of a bridge. Two women walking out of the gallery were laughing and they told us that we had to go in to see “it.”

And so, we ventured into the gallery and discovered that there were no renovations being done. The pile of dirt and concrete slab were in fact the exhibit. Upon closer inspection, we found the concrete slab to be a textured wooden structure. From the far side of the exhibit, the pile of dirt turned out to be a mesh of wire and netting covered with about six inches of dirt. The exhibit was titled “Collapse.”

The woman in the gallery told us that the exhibit represented a neomodernistic viewing of society’s collapse which challenged the boundaries of perception by presenting an illusion of destruction that blurred the distinction of comparative aesthetics and one’s inner desire to accept the universal fate that awaits us all. The dirt symbolized the primal elements of conceptual pluralism and embodied the continuum of change. She remarked how wonderful it had been to observe how the color of the drying dirt changed over the past week.  It was a sublime interpretation of our limitations as supported by the delusions of the human experience.

Uh ... comparative aesthetics? Conceptual pluralism? Drying dirt? The true measure of the “human experience” is a sad thing indeed when someone actually gets paid to present a pile of drying dirt as art.

But what is art? What defines one thing as art and another as junk? Picasso took a set of handlebars and a seat from an old bicycle and fashioned a work called “Bull’s Head,” a sculpture that was heralded as “a stroke of genius, a creative work of art that exemplified metamorphosis and transgressed iconoclasm.” That translates to “making lots of money from idiots who buy discarded trash simply because someone famous calls it art.”

I’m sure that there are some people who would scoff and accuse me of being an uneducated fool who doesn’t have the training to appreciate the subtleties of great art. To those people, I’d like to say that my dog left a piece of art out in the back yard and over the past few days ... and it’s been changing color as it dries! I call it “Dogmatic Drop.” Any buyers?

Now, I have yet to say what ‘Yart’ is. Yart is a word coined by my wife and me that we use when shopping in galleries. If the gallery is selling a painting that looks like a seven-year old painted it with their feet, we call it Yart. That stands for “Why would anyone consider this art?” More confusing, why would anyone pay big bucks for it? We’ve seen paintings that look exactly like a drop cloth in a kindergarten class selling for thousands of dollars. Galleries wouldn’t show them if someone out there wasn’t buying them. There’s an old saying in art schools — “A fool and his money are soon parted, especially if you can convince the fool that dyed dryer lint glued to a poster board is worth $5,000.”

So again, what is art and what is Yart? Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell tomato soup cans are Yart. Anything done by Jackson Pollock is Yart. The fuzzy colored spectrums of Mark Rothko are Yart. The works of Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline – all Yart.

But you don’t have to go to the Guggenheim or MOMA to bathe in the festering void of talent. Yart is ubiquitous and many galleries in Santa Fe and Taos will gladly sell you as much Yart as you’re willing to buy. I sometimes wonder if the “artists” who make this stuff really believe that their work is good, or do they find it as amazing as I do that someone likes their stuff? They probably laugh all the way to the bank.

It takes little talent to recognize little talent. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then some people really need a better prescription.