Behold, the 'can of vision' -- but hold the can opener

October 06, 2002|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

TODAY WE HAVE an important art news update from England, or Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, or whatever they're calling it these days.

As you may recall, the last time we checked in on the British art community, it had awarded a major art prize, plus 20,000 pounds (about $30,000) to an artist named Martin Creed, for a work entitled The Lights Going On and Off. It consisted of a vacant room in which the lights went on and off.

Yes. He got thirty grand for that. Why? Because The Lights Going On and Off possesses the quality that your sophisticated art snot looks for above all else in a work of art, namely: No normal human would ever mistake it for art. Normal humans, confronted with a room containing only blinking lights, would say: "Where's the art? And what's wrong with these lights?"

The public prefers the old-fashioned style of art, where you have some clue as to what the art is supposed to represent. This is why the Sistine Chapel frescoes painted by the great Italian artist Mike L. Angelo are so popular. The public is impressed because (1) the people in the frescoes actually look like people, and (2) Mike painted them on the ceiling. The public has painted its share of ceilings, and it always winds up with most of the paint in its hair. So the public considers the Sistine Chapel to be a major artistic achievement, and will spend several minutes gazing at it in awe and wonder ("Do you think he used a roller?") before moving on to the next thing on the tour, which ideally will be lunch.

The public has, over the years, learned to tolerate modern art, but only to the degree that it has nice colors that would go with the public's home decor. When examining a modern painting, the public invariably pictures it hanging over the public's living-room sofa. As far as the public is concerned, museums should put sofas in front of all the paintings, to make it easier to judge them.

This kind of thing drives your professional art snots crazy. They cannot stand the thought that they would like the same art as the stupid old moron public. And so, as the public has become more accepting of modern art, the art snots have made it their business to like only those works of "art" that are so spectacularly inartistic that the public could not possibly like them, such as The Lights Going On and Off.

Which leads us to the latest development in the British art world. You are going to think I made this development up. Even I sometimes wonder if I made it up, although I know for a fact that I did not, because I am looking at a story about it from the London Telegraph. Here is the key sentence:

"The Tate Gallery has paid 22,300 pounds of public money for a work that is, quite literally, a load of excrement."

Yes. The Tate Gallery, which is a prestigious British art museum, spent 22,300 pounds -- or roughly $35,000 -- of British taxpayers' money to purchase a can containing approximately one ounce of an artist's very own personal ... OK, let's call it his artistic vision. The artist is an Italian named Piero Manzoni, who died in 1963, but not before filling 90 cans with his vision. According to the Telegraph, "The cans were sealed according to industrial standards and then circulated to museums around the world."

Now if somebody were to send you a can of vision, even sealed according to industrial standards, your response would be to report that person to the police. This is why you are a normal human, as opposed to an art professional. The art museums bought it. The Telegraph states that, in addition to the Tate, both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Museum in Paris have paid actual money for cans of Manzoni's vision. (Notice that I am tastefully refraining from making a joke involving "Pompidou.")

Anyway, here's what I'm picturing. I'm picturing a British citizen, a regular working guy who's struggling to get by on what money he has left after taxes. He wakes up one morning, grabs his newspaper and goes into the bathroom. While he's in there, he reads about how art snots have spent tax money -- more money than he makes in a year -- on this "art." The guy becomes angry, very angry. He's about to hurl the paper down in fury, but then, suddenly, while sitting there ...

... he has a vision. And as he does, it dawns on him that he has a golden opportunity here, a chance to make, at last, some serious money.

I'm talking, of course, about art forgery.

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