Controversy in local and regional art

Artlarking readers, I have something a little bit more personal to write about this week. I’ll preface this post with this brief disclaimer: Some of you will not agree with my point-of-view in this post, and that’s great! Please continue the dialogue with by commenting, discussing these issues with friends/family members/significant others/the guy you always see on Muni, etc. There will never be a full-stop neatly concluding any subject within the contemporary art world. Diverse opinions that challenge my own are part of the reason I fell in love with studying art, and this blog will share of few of those points-of-view with you.

Staircase, 2010 by Verese Lazyers

I feel as though the artwork has gone topsy-turvy in recent weeks, and I sincerely wish I could attribute it to a lunar alignment. SF’s own Ritual Roasters on Valencia removed Verese Layzers photographs because they was perceived by the owner to be “too serious.” The SFist quoted an e-mail from the owner to Layzers saying art in cafes should be “fluffier stuff, stuff that doesn’t make people think about the tough questions in life.” Layzers photographic series deals with losing a loved one, and isn’t that something we can all universally relate to? It’s unclear if the owner objected to the work itself or the artist’s statement, regardless, I think Ritual Roasters patrons missed out on seeing a high quality exhibition.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in a coffee shop, casually enjoying an iced coffee, I usually take note of how incredibly mundane or tacky coffee shop art can be (not unlike paintings and photos in hotel rooms, woof!). I would enjoy seeing more works of art that challenge me, and draw me in by a greater theme. In fact, I think it would make for fabulous conversation over coffee. This particularly irks me because I recently mentioned Ritual Roasters in a previous blog post, complementing them on bring art to the general public. My opinion of Ritual Roasters still stands, but heavy sigh.

I recently finished reading Marcia Tucker’s memoir, and as the founding director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, she had seen a lot of ground-breaking, unconventional contemporary art works in her career. I agree completely with her sentiment on works of art that challenge its viewers:

The work I like most is always the art that I don’t understand—the stuff that sticks in my mind but eludes me in every other way. It nags at me, making sure that when I least expect it, it’ll interrupt my dinner or my sleep with stupid questions like, “Why do I make you uncomfortable? Why can’t you just accept me as I am? (Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World, Prologue, page 1)

Moving on to another art world scuffle on the opposite end of the spectrum: An artist I worked with last year presented a public art installation so well-received that the idea is being stolen. Literally. I coordinated a public art program for the 2010 01SJ Biennial titled “Play Me, I’m Yours” by UK-based artist, Luke Jerram in which upright pianos are placed around cities, decorated by the community, and made available for the public to play and enjoy. The installation has traveled around the world, and shortly before the San Jose iteration of the installation, “Play Me, I’m Yours” had a brief stint in NYC. This year, New York has brought back the project, bigger and grander than ever… and dropped Luke in the process. The New York Times recently covered the issue, and I have to admit I read the article more than once because I was in such shock. Sing for Hope, a performing arts non-profit, will host another iteration of “Play Me, I’m Yours” without giving Luke any credit or consulting him on the project. There isn’t even a thinly veiled public relations campaign to convince the people that they are modifying the idea and making it their own. Same city, same project.

Removal of the mural by the Italian street artist known as Blu. Commissioned by MOCA as part of the "Art in the Streets" exhibition.

Finally, and in my opinion the most controversial event featured in this post, the censorship of art in LA. The MOCA commissioned a piece by Blu, a notable street artist, for the “Art in the Streets” show that has garnered a flurry of media attention. The LA Times reported that the anti-war mural was painted over by the very institution that commissioned it. It’s no secret to anyone that Blu has an anti-capitalistic bent to his work, and this particular work certainly sparks further investigation and reflection. At the very least, I think the MOCA could have moderated a discuss on the work even if they were committed to removing it. Maybe the fleeting existence of the physical work only goes to serve Blu’s agenda on the relationship between money, power and influence.

Art is inherently emotional, and when it comes to expressing our feelings about a work of art, there is no wrong answer. I’ve always been of the opinion that the greatest works of art the take ideas you’re uncomfortable with and shove them underneath your noise so you can’t help by confront them. Similarly, I find value in works of art that I don’t find immediately aesthetically pleasing (the phrase “aesthetically pleasing” also opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to debates about art and its function). I’ll wrap up this post with a quote from Leo Steinberg, “If a work of art disturbs you, it probably a good work. If you hate it, it’s probably great.”

I’ll turn it over to you Artlarking readers, what do you think?

4 thoughts on “Controversy in local and regional art

  1. Pingback: Leo Steinberg | Seit über 10.000 Jahren Erfahrung in Versklavung

  2. Varese

    I am happy to report that a gallery owner has invited me to show the work. Making Room will be at Krowswork Gallery, 480 23rd St., Oakland,, from March 30th to April 28th, along with two other artists’ work. (I also have another “serious” series in this show.) The opening is the evening of March 30th. I hope you (Denise) and you readers can come out to see it. Serious responses to the event — like this article — ultimately led this gallery owner to find me.

    1. denisebennett Post author

      Congratulations! I was just at the Krowswork Gallery last Friday, and I’m looking forward to seeing your show. If there is a Facebook invite or link you’d like us to share, please let me know. Best wishes for all of your future projects.


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