Jerk! This was the opening salvo in reaction to the winner of the recent Contemporary Art Award down at the Waikato Art Museum. And it came pretty quickly; within a day of the opening. The conversation had started. How can a bus shelter be art! Jerk. And the response was actually written on the art work itself by some disgruntled member of the public, scrawled graffiti-like across the inside of the replica and life-size construction, which is parked outside the museum, up close and adjacent to Victoria St.
So far, so predictable. Nervous museum director, Cherie Meecham, in an attempt to placate and pre-empt adverse reaction to what most would see as a con, trotted out the well-worn mantra about it being great because it would get people talking about art.
Please. Stop saying that already. The purpose of art is not to get people talking about art, at least not in this way.
But I can sympathise with a bemused, even angry public who are simply nonplussed by this sort of "art" stuff. Even the journalist writing it up in the Times was desperately trying to figure it out by providing some palpable meaning to the thing, loading on to it a human drama with the byline, “Gimme Shelter”, and relaying how the homeless of Hamilton were already using it.
Of course that is not what the thing was about. Not according to the artists anyway. There was a more lofty, more esoteric and sniffy art history preoccupation at work here: “design politics”, according to the blurb.
And here's the rub. The subject of the work, its meaning, its point, was probably well outside the ordinary person's frame of reference or knowledge base. What's Brutalism? And who gives a toss?
What this comes down to is art talking about art, or art crawling up its own backside. Not a subject your average bloke is eminently fascinated with.
What punters won't realise is that this is the sort of stuff that gets art curators in this country salivating at the mouth. The more pointy-headed the art the better. Never mind that half the world and its uncle are left scratching theirs.
Art is not like it was back in the day. It was easy back then. You looked up and there was Michelangelo's God floating above you or Leonardo's Mona Lisa smiling across at you. Comprehensible. Got in a flash and oozing adroitness with a brush.
Unfortunately most of the public got lost about the turn of the 20th century when art went modern. Now it's postmodern and nothing much has improved for the standard gallery-goer.
It's been the same with literature and poetry. It got hard and incomprehensible. Where had all the rhymes gone? How can it be poetry without the rhymes!
One can hear the same anguished outcry in letters to the editor. Where's the skill, the form, the beauty?
And that's the issue. All those things reside now not in the physical artefact itself, but in the idea behind the artefact. It's called conceptual art. You don't need manual skill but you do need a degree in art history.
This of course is top-end stuff. You chose your judge and you've chosen your art.
And here's the thing.
Competitions like this are not so much about the art; they are really about the curator who needs, in this higher echelon goldfish bowl of the arts community, to appear to be up with the play.
Peter Dornauf is a Hamilton artist, writer and teacher.
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