The exhibition is a collection of dissimilar artworks by various artists who are united by their method of expression. The exhibition has normal, almost mundane things that no one would ever bother documenting for the sole reason that they’re just too common. However, whatever their intended meaning, some of those works are much like a joke gone horribly wrong. Nonetheless, the exhibition is overall rather entertaining.
The works contain references to society in a way that demands the viewers’ knowledge of certain icons, social situations or occurrences in order to see the big picture. I was infatuated with the desolate pink image of Andy Warhol’s Big Electric Chair, quite apart from whatever political or sociological message it might hold. But of course it is laden with meaning. It not only represents the icon of the death penalty in the U.S. but also planned death as opposed to chaotic, random accidental death.
In the basement rolls an amusing filmstrip made by Bruce Nauman entitled Setting a Good Corner. It reminded me of all the hours I´ve spent watching my father put together IKEA products or battle the station programmer of new television sets with only the aid of a German manual. In other words boredom silently endured out of curiosity of what the end result might be. Still, that’s being a trifle unfair. My dad doesn’t own a fancy chainsaw, let alone know how to wave it around as smashingly as Nauman does.
A thing to be wary of, when sneaking about in surroundings such as these where everything is charged with subtle meaning, is not to start overanalyzing various objects. I have another confession to make. Upon entering one of the showrooms, I saw an ordinary chair situated beneath a placard. The placard displayed the name of Bruce Nauman and his artwork Large Butt to Butt. Was this really art? Up rose my rebellious nature as I immediately sat myself down. Alas, my revolution was quick to fall apart, for as I sat there and gazed over the room I realized that what I was sitting on and appeared to be an ordinary chair was in fact an ordinary chair, put there for the comfort of weary museum visitors. The true artwork hung in midair in the middle of the room, gloating over my defeat.
Whatever difficulty I may have deciphering those peculiar conundrums, I allow myself to doubt that I’m the only one who needs the occasional hint. Sometimes they forget to connect those dots. Thankfully, there are the friendly pieces of paper coated in plastic that are scattered around the museum for people such as myself. They have basic information about the artists and their works but more importantly, some contain explanations on the idea behind an artwork or two.
The contemporary society that the artworks refer to is in some cases not all that contemporary either in time or space. As an example, Felix Gonzales-Torres’ work Placebo from 1991 refers to the medical pseudo treatment of AIDS patients. Even if a cure has not yet been found, there have undoubtedly been some changes in this field for the last ten years or so, not to mention in society’s view towards the disease and those who suffer from it. Art such as this is based on the assumption that the viewer knows the soil it springs from. At one point, Koons uses vacuum cleaners as the means of his expression.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand the artwork because we all know what a vacuum cleaner does, but there can be a discreet, yet distinct message within the fact that it is an American vacuum cleaner and not European or Korean. We are not used to vacuum cleaners that look like that and thus experience the artwork as more exotic than an American housewife would, who might even feel that the art is elevating her own life. Therefore, as much as these artists enjoy taking objects out of everyday context to make their point, it should not be forgotten that as soon as the “everyday” changes, so does their art and its meaning.
It is the sort of exhibition we wished we had from cultures such as the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians or even our very own berserk Vikings. As a result, later civilizations are usually left with huge gaps in their recorded knowledge of “ye olde times”. An exhibition such as this might reflect more accurately what contemporaries were actually thinking.