Not for the faint of art

January 18, 2004|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Whenever I write about art, I get mail from the Serious Art Community informing me that I am a clueless idiot. So let me begin by stipulating that I am a clueless idiot. This is probably why I was unable to appreciate a work of art I viewed recently, titled: Chair.

I saw Chair at Art Basel, a big art show held recently on Miami Beach. It attracted thousands of Serious Art People, who wear mostly black outfits and maintain serious expressions no matter what work of art they are viewing.

This is hard, because a lot of Serious Art consists of bizarre or startlingly unattractive objects, or "performances" wherein artists do something Conceptual, such as squirt Cheez Whiz into an orifice that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for snack toppings.

But no matter what the art is, a Serious Art Person will view it with the somber expression of a radiologist examining X-rays of a tumor. Whereas an amateur will give himself away by laughing; or saying "Huh?"; or (this is the most embarrassing) asking an art-gallery person: "Is this wastebasket a piece of art? Or can I put my gum wrapper in it?"

But back to Art Basel: I didn't go to the main show. I went to an officially sanctioned satellite show called Art Positions, which was a group of large, walk-in shipping containers set up on the beach, serving as mini art galleries. Serious Art People drifted solemnly from container to container.

I managed not to say anything stupid until I encountered a slide projector sitting on the floor, projecting a rectangle of white light and twitching lens dust onto the wall. I asked the gallery person if there was supposed to be a slide in the projector; he patiently explained that, no, this was a work of art titled Autofocus Slide Projector Dust.

In another container, there was a work of art consisting of a video, repeated over and over, showing a man -- not in peak physical condition, I might add --in-line skating around a vast empty space, stark naked. I'm proud to say I betrayed no emotion while viewing this work, although my daughter, who is 3, said, quite loudly: "You can see his tushy! Yuck!"

Anyway, in the corner of one container there was a ratty old collapsed armchair -- worn, dirty, leaking stuffing, possibly housing active vermin colonies. I asked the gallery person if the chair was art, and she said yes, it was a work titled Chair. I asked her what role the artist had played in creating Chair. She said: "He found it."

Chair is for sale. The price is $2,800. Really. I looked up Chair on a Serious Art Internet site, which said: "The chair offers not a weedy patina of desuetude but an apotheosis of its former occupant" (www.artcritical.com / blurbs / JSMcMillian.htm).

See, I missed that altogether, about the desuetude and the apotheosis. I thought it was just a crappy old junk chair some guy took off a trash pile and was now trying to sell for 2,800 clams.

I was also baffled by an artwork called Moonwalk, presented by a Paris art gallery. You walked into the gallery / container, and it was empty, just blank white walls. Around the ceiling were a half-dozen speakers making a high-pitched sound, like this: "boop." That was the art: "boop." Sitting outside on a folding chair was a gallery person, smoking Marlboros. I wondered what it would be like to fly all the way from Paris to Miami, only to spend four days sitting outside an empty shipping container going "boop." I would go insane. I would have an apotheosis of freaking desuetude.

In another container, there was a work that consisted of a hole drilled in the floor and some weeds stuck in it. I believe the price on that was $6,000. While I was examining it, I heard one Serious Art Person say to another (I swear): "Wouldn't that be wonderful in the foyer?"

I want to state, for the record, that there was also some very nice-looking art on display. And I want to repeat that I am a clueless idiot. So you Serious Art People don't need to write letters reminding me. I agree that you know MUCH more about art than I do, OK?

So YOU buy the chair.

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