The Irony of “Anti-Art”

The contemporary art world is a weird and wacky place. It’s often filled with abstractions and confusion, and artists can get away with pretty much anything. One of the most controversial art trends of the past hundred years, was the introduction of the “ready-made,” or art consisting of objects that were found, rather than constructed. In the turn of the century, Dadaism was in, and artists were challenging the definition between everyday objects and art. This concept is still very common today; but in its overuse, seems to have lost its edge. Take these pieces I saw at a recent gallery viewing, for example:

  • Bits of trash that were picked up off the street, stapled to the wall.
  • Plastic bags, hanging from string.
  • Canvas, with a piece of fur glued to it.
  • Balloons. Just balloons.
  • A man’s fingernail clippings. Framed, naturally.

Artists… guys, I get it. You want your art to be enticing. You want it to challenge the aesthetic norms. You want it to make a statement. I get it, I really do. As an artist, I take into account the subjective nature that is art; everyone’s got their own right to create and their own right to interpretation. But aren’t we also supposed to push creative boundaries? This whole “I’m putting regular objects in an art gallery, and it’s going to blow your mind,” concept… well, it’s been done to death.

Look at Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. It’s literally just a urinal that was found and signed, and probably the most influential “anti-art” piece to hit the modern scene. Nowadays, critics say the piece was intended to challenge the traditional definition of art, and dismantle the pretentiousness surrounding the high-end art world. (Although frankly, I think the artist was just taking the piss.) It wasn’t until  Fountain was rejected from a New York gallery, the story spread and Duchamp achieved success by making a point. People began to reconsider the aesthetic value of objects, and challenge the standards by which we judge art. The urinal made a lot of critics angry, caused a ton of controversy, and most importantly, got a lot of people talking… back in 1917.

r mutt, Duchamp, Fountain, anti-art -

Almost a century later, artists are still relying on this technique to shock critics and push the boundaries of what we call art. The only reason people gave a hoot about Duchamp’s urinal is that it hadn’t been seen before. Since then, the concept has been repeated so many times that it’s no longer edgy or interesting. Oddly enough, the original Fountain was actually lost early on, yet there are numerous replicas on display throughout the world. Replicas, of store-bought urinals, on display… in high-end galleries. I guess the lesson is, you can’t shock the art world for long – it will just take whatever weird idea you throw at it, and make it the norm.

Since Duchamp’s day there have been countless artists following in his footsteps. Examples such as Equivalent VIII (bricks, 1966), Transparent Tubes (plastic tubes, 1968), and An Oak Tree (a glass of water, 1973). Even though they make their artistic claim as being conceptual, rather than traditionally aesthetic, these works  still maintain that “anti-art” influence, in that they rely on objects that were found, rather than created, by the artist.

Maurizio Cattelan works oeuvres, anti-art -
Another Fucking Ready-made

In 1996, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, literally stole the contents of another gallery, boxed it up, and presented the unopened boxes as his own work, titled Another Fucking Ready-made. The point has been made, anything can be art. Can we move past this now? Creating art simply to shock critics or challenge the traditional standards, ironically, has become a boring, common standard. I’m all for using non-traditional mediums to create art, but where can we go from here? Instead of trying to deconstruct the traditional art standards of the past, we should focus on creating a higher standard of art for the future. If you really want to challenge the norm and change the way people view art, stop repeating the same old trick, and instead create something so incredible that no one can top it. That would be mind-blowing.

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