behind the scrim: a visit to the new museum

i like a jacques tati film better than anyone, but if you want to live out an art world version of “playtime” rush over to the new museum.  i brought my friend virginia to the opening on sunday. i had ordered a ticket which never arrived by e-mail, and my name was not in the m-r  “will call” line at the entry, where they insisted we check our coats. they let us in “anyway”, as if it were our fault they had no tickets.

we waited ten minutes for the main elevator, until a guard, wearing a red baseball jacket with a large “target” logo, asked us to use the small “staff” elevator which she said was faster. we went up to the top floor, where there was a magnificent view through big windows all of which were sandblased with enormous target logos. in the middle of the room was a very messy set of drawers full of targetlike candy, which was being given away absolutely free.

 i went to the ladies room, as did virginia. in another stall i heard her laugh. she said, “have you tried to wash your hands yet?” “no!”  i replied, and tried to do this. on pulling the faucet lever nothing happened. i put my hands under and waited a while. clearly it was not motion sensitive. she shouted “try the soap!”  i didn’t really want soap on my hands without being able to wash it off, but “just for fun” i tried pressing the soap machine button. immediatley strong sprays of water sprang forth from the water faucet in all directions except down, drenching myself and all four walls of the stall. things were livening up in the art world. we inspected the education center on the  tk floor. we found a room. all white of course, with a stack of new white modern chairs each of which was marked with a piece of blue tape saying “bad”. we walked down the stairs and looked at some of the “art”.

from the website:

“unmonumental” is an exhibition about fragmented forms, torn pictures and clashing sounds. investigating the nature of collage in contemporary art practices, “unmonumental” also describes the present as an age of crumbling symbols and broken icons.

i think this is another way of saying “unimpressive” “unbelievably amateurish” and just plain “un-good”.  it’s not collage, i love collage. broken icons? it’s crap. as far as i could see it was a celebration of the unskilled. it featured a garden hose snaking through a lawn chair, eastern european fruit juice packages taped together with other stuff, a big board with belts going through holes in it, a lump of clay, and more. but the piece de resistance was an installation near the door to the stairwell. there was a man painting this door, (painting it white, of course). next to the door there was a bunch of roped-off construction debris and another door, right next to the one he was painting.

i’m a pretty sophisticated person, but i really had to ask the guard, “is this art”? i pointed to the door being painted. “no” she said. “is this art?” i asked, pointing to the door not being painted, because it was already white, and the construction debris. ” yes” she said.

downstairs i met an acquaintance, who ended up showing my friend his portfolio on his iphone while i was distracted by having an interesting and intelligent conversation with another one of the guards. apparently this iphone demonstration is common now. his friend asked me what i thought of the show. he found it “thrilling”. i replied i thought it was a piece of s—. later he accused me of being rude, which i freely admitted.

there was an incredibly boring video installation on the ground floor, so everyone congregated in the book store, where you can at least buy a t shirt that says “t shirt” on it. here comes the best part: they wouldn’t let us out of the museum. there was a line forming near the door. we couldn’t figure this out. the guard, wearing the red target jacket, said that the line continued into the street, and through the building next door. if we wanted to go out we’d have to  queue up in the freezing cold without our coats, waiting to get them. we did this, and finally joined a 20 minute line inside a room next door, where angry, complaining people were offered bottled target water, for free!  we didn’t need water, we needed our coats. normally i have a sense of humor about these things, but without the gravitas of a permanent collection, the new museum is a tribute to the kind of gimmicky contemporary art which is nothing more than the emperors new clothes. without the emperor.

the artspeak that accompanies this exhibition “a chronology of unmonumental moments in the 21st century,” makes my blood boil. i can draw. there, i said it. not one of these “artists” can. call me revisionist, call me old-fashioned. i like matisse and picasso. warhol drew beautifully. this “unmonumental” aesthetic is merely a convenient ruse that unskilled people can hide behind, like the scrim over this tacky, unsubstantial facade, which covers…nothing.

©  laurie rosenwald