Wednesday, August 13, 2014

But is it art?

In the main concourse of the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam hangs a large notice which begins by saying that I may not like everything that I was about see that day. And that it was okay. I do not remember much else of this notice but it reassured me greatly. It was part of the 'Art As Therapy' route that you could take, if you so choose to, around the museum and it was one created by the philosopher Alain De Botton and someone else. Now, I must put my hand up to being one of those bourgeois Indians who have made it a nouvelle habit of visiting art museums around the world only to have my photo taken next to Mona Lisa/Sunflowers or any other painting that I have only ever heard of and feel compelled to record my presence in front of it rather spend the few precious seconds that I get amidst heaving summer crowds looking at it. Mind you, my own reaction when squeezed by such throngs at Tirupathi would be different. I wouldn't be posing with the Perumaal, no, that would be blasphemous.

Anyway, so as I was looking at the paintings that cataloged in glorious brush strokes the tedium of medieval lifestyle, I began to wonder, so, bloody what? Milk maid? So bloody what? Sunflowers? So bloody what? Windmills? Who honestly cares? I was at once aware at my own pretending to enjoy it while still being very aware of the pointlessness of it. May be pointless is rather strong a word, I found myself wondering why the painters did what they did. Perhaps they wanted to document their world for future generations to see them. Perhaps they wanted to tell a familiar story and were compelled to do so in their own way. Perhaps they wanted to show off their talents. Perhaps they were commissioned by their rich patrons to depict them for posterity. Perhaps it was all of the above. I was thinking about the whys of it so much that I was aware that I wasn't enjoying the painting as I was supposed to (supposed by whom? And why should we?). I felt like a cheat being there.

I was also conflicted by the thought that so much of the art that was there in the spectacular setting of the Rijks Museum was beautiful. Even those that showed beheadings and gruesome murder was set in a gorgeous frame and a painted so skillfully that it became a thing of beauty softening the gore it portrayed. Why must it be so? And was that what the painters intended? Has their astronomical rise in value since they were painted meant that they are to be preserved in museums and removed from their normal settings? And has this removal meant that they are now even more distant from the people for whom it was intended?

You see, not long earlier I had been to the Serpentine Gallery in London to witness and to take part in Marina Abramovich's 512 hours performance piece. Now, that's a kind of art that is at least not hung on a wall for all to stand in front of and pose. I had not heard of Marina until someone sent me a youtube link of her now famous MoMA performance of The Artist is Here. It is most arresting and if you haven't, do take three minutes to watch it on the link in the previous sentence. So having seen the video and having read about Marina's most utterly extraordinary life where she has pushed her own body to its extremes, I was curious to be part of her new installation. It seemed somehow more visceral and less disingenuous to me.

The Serpentine Gallery is not very well sign posted and it involved me dragging my son along the entire length of Hyde Park. We stopped midway to dip our toes in the paddling pool in memory of Princess Diana - no, our dip was not in her honour, only the heat necessitated it but the elliptical pool is there to mark her life. So, having finally found the Serpentine Gallery along the long, circuitous and scenic way, I was greeted by a queue of about 20-or so gallery goers. Presently, a security guard informed me that the installation was only for those over 12 years of age and so I would have to leave my son outside but that they would keep an eye on him for me.

Diana Memorial, Hyde Park
When my turn came, I was asked to deposit my mobile and my belongings in a locker before being directed to the gallery.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Kookaburra said...

Aaah I am still looking forward to the second part ... :) Eagerly awaiting.