Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Tate Award and my Rusty Muffler.

The Tate Gallery in Britain must have disappointed the fans of cutting edge art when it announced the nominees for the esteemed Tate award for 2006. ``We are moving away from sensationalism and toward a more serious realm,'' said Stephen Deuchar, the Director of the Tate. Seriousness? Is the sensationalist party over? Does this mean that they weren't "serious" until now?

As an American Artist, I have watched each year, as the Tate's huge monetary prize has been lavishly awarded to the corniest of conceptual entertainers. It's always a hoot. I dig whenever artists get awarded stuff, but am always disappointed when the "controversial" winning work ends up seeming like an art school project put together two nights before the final critique. ( I did attend art school and even I mockingly turned in a bent-up rusty car muffler as a supposed "sculpture" for a particularly lame 3-D design class, so I am familiar with the sloppy options available for fine artists to embrace as they bullshit their way past whatever generation holds tight to the rudder of culture du-jour).


Art-as-circus-stunts ought to be born from acts of sarcastic defiance, but when everyone on the shortlist is popping out of a clown-car, who exactly is risking anything? If all the young artists back in my dopey 3-D design class were busy turning in bent-up rusty mufflers, I would have never done so myself. I always go for that "road less traveled" idea, and am a bit weirded-out when a big progressive institution like the Tate seems to always tramp firmly on the corny road most easily trodden. But now, why the sudden news that the Tate wants "serious" art to showcase?

The "seriousness" of art is a matter of taste and cultural reference, I suppose, but is the Tate actually taking a risk in not promoting a goofy oblique installation this year? Does the Tate suddenly feel that "serious" art will be all the rage?
Will "serious" art now be marketed as the culture du jour? Must the weathervane of change spin around and expel gas equally as disconnected to our daily lives? "Serious" art? Why now?

Oh, I see: Because of the London tube bombings? Because of the alarming Blair-Bush marriage? Because of the pending ethnic war brewing in Europe? Because of complaints that the Tate was not really representing the totality of British art culture, but only the zany aspect? We must beware of labels like "serious" art, "political" art, "abstract" art, "figurative" art and "cutting edge" art when they are adopted by big prize-givers with agendas.

I'd like to see other labels. How about: "Art that reflects the spectrum of passions among the British scene". Or maybe the terminology doesn't need to be spelled out so damned politely. Maybe the prize could just be approached with that term in mind in the first place.

Oh, my rusty muffler? I kept my poker face when I submitted it, so I got an "A".