Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bad Art Or Not?

Narrow Are The Vessels
Anselm Kiefer
( photo of the installation on the grounds of the home of the collector)
Here is the installation permanently moved to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

Some information on the structure: it's 80 feet long and consists of six tons of salvaged concrete slabs. The collector, who remains anonymous, had it in his yard in Connecticut until he was sued by the Fairfield Historic District Commission because technically and legally, Narrow are the Vessels is a structure of its own, with regard to its mass and gravity. The collector, who had to temporarily close the street to allow five large flatbed trucks to deliver the slabs to his property, didn’t object to the term “structure” and didn’t fight the case. Instead, he transferred it to Massachusetts, a state with less-imposed structure laws, for it to be displayed in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The collector remained anonymous but did say he decided to replace that piece with another piece that can be moved more easily.

I saw this structure on a visit to MoCA last year. I'll share my impressions in comments.

note: I purposely did not link the artist to a web reference because I think it may affect your impressions. I knew nothing about Kiefer when I saw the installation. I can't wait to read Steve's comment on this one! :-)

Bad art or not?
You weight in.
(no pun intended)


  1. i am not a fan of installation art. most often it just looks like a white trash front yard. wire coat hangers and plastic bottles and whatnot. i have to say that i did enjoy the orange flag thing in central park- although i did not see it in person. that's a lovely idea. slabs of concrete- um, not so much.

  2. I would not call it art at all.

  3. When I see the concrete pylons and barricades used in highway construction arranged carefully in storage lots, I don't usually think of art. People arrange many objects, including large objects, in ways that are intentional - does that make them art? Do they have to be aesthetically pleasing to qualify as art? I doubt it - lots of art is deliberately ugly. Is it about the fact that an "artist" arranged it? Does that automatically make it art? I think most people would balk at that, as well. It's a trivial definition, rather circular (I mean, what makes the artist an artist? That they make art? It's a chicken and egg thing, and only good for one or two giggles.)

    Personally I think something is art because of the intended message (I discussed this more in a series on "What is Art?" over on my blog - in the fav posts section). Something is deliberately captured in the art, and passed on to the audience. So this could be art. I think it likely that it qualifies, actually. I'm sad to say that, I realize. I wonder what that means...

    So a next question might be whether it's interesting art. I think it has some interesting stories that have accumulated around it (Pagan told some of them), but that can happen around lots of objects. That makes it an object with an interesting history, but that doesn't make it interesting art. Personally I think this is boring and lazy art. It makes me yawn and turn away for other more interesting sights.

    Pagan's question is an interesting question, however - regardless of the quality or stature of the art. I really like this series by Pagan Sphinx.

    Then we ask the ultimate question. (Drum roll, please...)

    Is it good art? That's a REALLY loaded question, actually, containing TWO words that have spawned whole branches of philosophy with histories over two thousand years old: Aesthetics for art (and beauty) and Ethics for good (and moral). I have sat in on portions of endless debates on both words. Again, personally I think this is the kind of art that was interesting and provocative in an intellectual way only once. I believe this is the kind of idea that only requires artistic mention one time. After that it's not provocative, but provoking. Hence the lawsuits.

    I do hope this lives up to Pagan's expectations. It was fun to write.

  4. This seems very much like a sarcastic joke made by a contractor who didn't want to pay the disposal fees for a considerable tonnage of demolition debris.

    That impression is strongly reinforced by the apparent fact that the arrangement of the pieces isn't at all consistent from "installation" to "installation."

    I wonder if the "artist" won a bet by getting this mess into MassMoCA?

    Oh, by the way, that's not a vote for it being "art," bad or otherwise.

  5. Without seeing it close up, it's hard to get any real impression. Generally, I'm quite suspicious of such installations but I'm sure they can be very effective. having said that, no matter what form ait takes, art has to move me in some way and I expect that would just make me move towards the exit.

  6. Yes, Steve, "boring and lazy". That's exactly what I think of it.

    Cunning Runt has the right idea.

    There. Now I have made a boring and lazy comment.

  7. art is what one thinks it is but for me, this is left overs from a constuction site.

  8. I did a number of site-specific installations during the 1980s, so I disagree mightily with Betmo on what Installations look like. I'm also someone who likes Keifer's work immensely. The raw muscle of his drawings and paintings, the energy of his work, really appeals to me. And yes, this concrete installation is Good Art. It has a linear quality that mimics his drawings.

    OT. Over the weekend, my daughter and I took 3-year-old Beanie to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Jeff Koons exhibit. And Beanie loved it, especially the "inflatables." And I stand by my statement that you cannot dismiss Koons work as being a joke, because it is so damn well made. The inflatables (actually cast aluminum with polychrome coatings) are so perfect that it just staggers the imagination.

  9. I'll admit (after Divajood's comment) that this piece might need to be seen in person to get a feel for more going on than the mere concept of the overwhelming size and heapiness of it. It might be more composed than I can gather from the photo, so that, while the medium is an unusual one, it might have more to it (aesthetically) than I can tell here.

    In general, though, I don't much like brute force in artwork. That's one reason I don't care for Alex Katz' work, for instance. Size seems to be the point, and that doesn't (alone) make much claim on our attention long-term.

    Again - I'd have to see the real Keifer sculpture to understand if more is going on. And I'll also admit that even then I might miss the message. That's another thing I discuss in my posts on "What is Art." It ain't simple. But opinions on it are fun.

  10. When I saw this thing at Mass MoCA, I was very intrigued. I wondered what the inspiration was to arrange these wavy slabs, obviously salvaged from some wreckage. I spent a long time looking at it from many angles and I found it, at times quiet stunning. It is much more interesting and striking in person. I guess the only issue I take with it is that the medium was salvaged and very little, other than the arrangement of the slabs, is original work.

    Keifer is a painter, primarily. He is an artist; a well-regarded one. It's hard to know what he intended with this installation other than that they appealed to his eye.

    There's no question that it's art. My question isn't really "Is it art" but is it bad or is it not. To me, for its peculiarity and originality of thought, it's definately art. Is it good art? I'm on the fence.

  11. I came back to the Vessels post and while giving another look to the images, realized how much more I like it displayed outside.

    I like the IMAGE of the structure outdoors better than my recollection of the structure displayed indoors when I went to MoCA.

    That's really where it should have remained. Stupid that the historic society gave the collector such a hard time.

  12. That's astute, meaning that I agree! :) The interior arrangement drained the life out of what I saw trying to emerge from the lawn version.

    I suspect my negative opinion on the whole thing stems from my cultural proximity to demolition and construction, and from having viewed piles of rubble lovingly and thought, "That would be a 'hit' at MassMoCA!"

  13. I didn't like it. Inside or out. Slabs of ugly concrete. I suppose it could be considered art - have to call it something - but why bother. I can enjoy installation art, I can enjoy ugly concrete, depending on location. Sometimes a big hunk of interesting 'whatever', sitting in a site chosen especially for the piece, can be interesting and visually fun/stimulating... but I can only see construction rejects in this pile. Guess you had to be there.


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