October 26, 2010 6:15 PM   Subscribe

What art do people cite to make fun of art?

A five-year-old could do that / It's a colored square / Looks like an accident / So the artist left his garbage here

Which art usually provokes comments like these?

Also, about seven years ago, I saw a piece at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. that appeared to be a completely blank canvas, about 5' square. It did have an info placard and did appear to be an actual piece, not a placeholder for something else... though it may have been. Does anyone know who the artist might have been? If I'm remembering this right, which I may not be.
posted by mnemonic to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Jackson Pollock
posted by Pomo at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

My husband tends to say things like that about most modern art - in particular anything by Pollock or Rothko. in fact, i've heard more than a few people say comments like that about those artists.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2010

Richard Prince is a big one too. "He just took photos of advertisements???"
posted by johnnybeggs at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2010

Marcel Duchamps and his toliet.
posted by alaijmw at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jackson Pollock, but I may be biased because I don't think he was very talented.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:18 PM on October 26, 2010

du champ's urinal
posted by wurly at 6:18 PM on October 26, 2010

posted by Rock Steady at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Color Field painting, and much other abstract expressionism come in for a lot of that sort of criticism. Those wikipedia links have a lot of examples.
posted by dersins at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2010

When people refer derisively to "modern art" they're often talking about abstract expressionism, although recently they might be just as likely to be sneering at conceptual/installation art ("piles of trash") such as the YBAs (like Damien "Diamond-Studded Skull" Hirst and Tracey "Unkempt Bed" Emin).
posted by theodolite at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Paragon at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yves Klein

There are so many examples but in general it isn't the art that provokes that response, but a certain attitude of impatience and resentment in the viewer, who makes a conscious choice to not take the time to understand the context of the work or history of the artist.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 6:24 PM on October 26, 2010

du champ's urinal

Do people really do this? I'd think anybody informed enough to know this piece exists would also get the joke.
posted by empath at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're sort of asking a couple questions here so.... Who are artists that people cite to make fun of? I'd say Bob Ross and Thomas Kinkade.

As for the art you saw in the National Gallery, this might be a place to help track down the artist.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:28 PM on October 26, 2010

Jackson Pollock, for sure. Also, but less known by name, could be Piet Mondrian, or anyone from neoplasticism. I've also heard those phrases in regards to Picasso, though lesser so.

Actually, anything that isn't representational art, i.e. landscapes, the figure, etc, will more than likely be misunderstood by people at one point or another. If the artist is simply playing with color theory, or composition, or texture, or any basic element that is hard to grasp, then there's a good chance that a wider public just won't understand/think it's a piece of shit on canvas.
posted by shesaysgo at 6:37 PM on October 26, 2010

I like Rothko and Mondrian. A lot. I'm a big fan of modern art.

When I make fun of art I generally go for generic-contemporary-political-art mocking. Like a blown-up photograph of Obama with WHORE spray painted across it. I'm not saying I've seen that exact thing, but I've seen things like it, and it's totally the kind of thing you can imagine sitting in a gallery somewhere.

Also, I remember reading a couple years ago about some performance artist who wore a butt-plug and ate a high-fiber diet for a month, then had a show where she took a 26 foot long continuous crap in front of a crowd. (I'd link, but I can't find it in a cursory googling, and those aren't exactly links I'm going to sift through.) Anyway, I make fun of super-poop girl a lot.
posted by phunniemee at 6:40 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull.
Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary" produced a lot of controversy, and many people dismissed it as an exemplar of "provocation-for-provocation's" sake (not that I agree). That, and "Piss Christ".
posted by mammary16 at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2010

Piss Christ
posted by kirkaracha at 6:43 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found super-poop girl. Funny that I remembered it was exactly 26 feet. It's been years since I heard about it.
posted by phunniemee at 6:43 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yoko Ono. She did some interesting conceptual art and sound art, which was widely mocked.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:47 PM on October 26, 2010

This is something that people who are uninformed about art say about any art made in the last century or so. Basically anything after maybe Matisse or, at latest, early Picasso.

Are you trying to figure out which artist did this piece you saw in the National Gallery? Or are you trying to make an inventory of artists people tend not to get?

If the latter, I would guess anybody well known in the last century.

If what you saw looked like "a blank white canvas", it may have been Robert Rauschenberg, who did a series of white paintings. Exhibited properly, the paintings don't really look like "blank white canvases". Unless you have a lot of preconceived notions about how dumb modern art is. Which is an attitude commonly held by people who say things like, "a third grader could do this."
posted by Sara C. at 6:54 PM on October 26, 2010

Willem de Kooning.

Hell, I went to art school, and I dig a whole lot of crazy shit, but de Kooning still looks to me like someone gave a seven-year-old a case of Red Bull, a box of Crayolas, and a punch in the face. And not in a good way.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:58 PM on October 26, 2010

The blank canvas might have been Rauschenberg.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:01 PM on October 26, 2010

Barnett Newman's Voice of Fire was widely ridiculed when it was bought by the National Gallery of Canada 20 years ago.
posted by Crane Shot at 7:07 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks all, good answers so far. Though I'm not looking for character judgments of people who make fun of art.
posted by mnemonic at 7:10 PM on October 26, 2010

John Cage is the obvious go-to for music/sound art, particularly the widely misunderstood 4'33".
posted by speicus at 7:11 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

And, yes, people tend to make these remarks about pretty much anything post-Impressionist and/or non-representational. Pick up any introductory text on 20th century art, and 90% of the works therein should fulfill your criteria. Franz Kline comes to mind.

Pollock is pretty much the textbook example of what you're talking about, though. He's practically a litmus test—I'm not saying that you have to like Pollock (I'm not a huge fan, personally), but if you immediately balk at him, chances are you're not going to "get" modern art in general.

Josef Albers was the first thing I thought of when I read the "colored square" bit. (I didn't know until just now that he did hundreds of similar pieces called Homage to the Square, but that certainly explains why I've seen it in damn near every gallery I've been to.)

Rauschenberg pretty much defines the "pile of garbage" genre.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:13 PM on October 26, 2010

My Lonesome Cowboy (nsfw) has become my go to objet d'art.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:17 PM on October 26, 2010

I can't read the plot summaries of The Cremaster Cycle without cracking up.

Also - the "white canvas" is a plot device in the play Art. Did you by any chance see this play?
posted by Mid at 7:30 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Robert Ryman is known for his all-white (not blank!) paintings such as these. His work is in the collection of the National Gallery, though it appears the piece currently on view is larger than the piece you saw.
posted by judith at 7:30 PM on October 26, 2010

Sys Rq, I look at De Kooning paintings and think, "Wow, he was seven years old his whole life." That said, I don't know enough about De Kooning to know whether that was, like, the point, or what.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on October 26, 2010

On further consideration, I think dersins is right: although people say these things about modern art in general, they seem to say them about abstract expressionism in particular.

I think the antipathy toward the genre is twofold. First, there's the lack of concrete referents, which people are so obsessed with for some reason. (This is the "abstract" part.) If it's not a picture of something, many people don't know what to do with it. They don't know how to look at a painting unless it represents a real-world object.

Secondly, there's the failure to conceal—in fact, the strong emphasis on—the artist's brushstrokes and the process of painting. (This is the "expressionist" part.) If you're expecting representation, then yes, this will come across as terribly inept—it shatters the illusion, and reminds the viewer that they're just looking at pigment on a piece of cloth. But it is, of course, quite deliberate. This kind of art isn't about creating an illusion of a real-world object, so to judge it by the same technical criteria as representational art is silly.

I know you're not looking for editorial perspectives, but I think a lot of this just boils down to people's expectations. If you have one idea about what art is, and you're presented with an artwork that operates in totally different ways, of course you're going to find it lacking.

People also seem to be obsessed with the notion that modern artists are frauds, that they're trying to hoodwink the audience, that they're all getting rich by selling multi-million-dollar canvases that took no skill to produce. Even if all of that's true, people need to forget about the cult of the virtuoso, forget about the economic absurdities of the gallery system, and just look at and be with the artworks, and judge them for nothing more (or less) than the content of the artwork itself.

Who cares how something was made, and whether the process of making it took decades of training or a few careless moments? Who cares whether someone else was willing to pay millions of dollars for it, or whether that expense was justified or ridiculous? All of that is incidental—it's not what art is about.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2010

That lady who saved her used tampons, put them in a case, and called it art. Dear god, I don't want to look for a link to that though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:53 PM on October 26, 2010

White on White
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2010

Rikrit Tiravanija once had a Guggenheim exhibit where he cooked food for people (pad thai, specifically) and called it art. I didn't go to the original exhibit, but I did get to taste his food at another event and it was, well, terrible.

I always thought that was hilarious. You would think that if this guy is going to be world-renowned artist for cooking food, his food would be decent. But no. I would decline a dinner invite from this guy.

Also, I'm going to defend OP from some of the complaints here. I was an art history major, specifically focused on modern and contemporary art, and a lot of stuff today can be really outlandish. There's a lot of art out there that needs making fun of. And really, when it comes down to it, I would take a Rembrandt sketch over a diamond encrusted skull. Modern art can be interesting to study, but ask me who the best artist is, and I will name an Old Master. I've had to endure quite a few deigning looks from the contemporary crowd when I respond with "Michelangelo" rather than, say, Ant Farm or Chris Burden.

" People also seem to be obsessed with the notion that modern artists are frauds, that they're trying to hoodwink the audience." FWIW, some artists were explicit about this. Like Picabia, or Marcel Broodthaers, who stated from the outset he switched to artistry (from poetry) in order to create insincere artworks and sell them for money.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:27 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was in Art School we all used to joke that every Fernando Botero sculpture had a Giacometti inside screaming to get out. Nowadays there's so much outlandish product being sold as Art that making fun of it seems too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (which I think Damien Hirst is showing at Saatchi & Saatchi this November).
posted by motown missile at 9:01 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't tell you who the artist of the all white painting is, but I can tell you that you are not misremembering. I saw the same painting when I visited Washington DC on a middle school trip a billion years ago. I remember it clearly because I set off an alarm when I touched it to try to tell if there was actual paint on the canvas and then a security guard yelled at me.
posted by lilnublet at 9:22 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Jeff Koons? I'm sure a lot of people would have a problem with someone floating three basketballs in an aquarium or lining up a bunch of vacuum cleaners.
posted by Gilbert at 9:42 PM on October 26, 2010

Thomas Kinkade
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:52 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cy Twombly.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:09 PM on October 26, 2010

Let's not forget Marcel Duchamp.
posted by TheRoach at 10:55 PM on October 26, 2010

Lots of people hate Jeff Koons.
posted by beerbajay at 12:25 AM on October 27, 2010

Jeff Koons, ugh. When I visited Versailles every single room had a fucking plastic lobster hanging from the ceiling or a porcelain statue of Michael Jackson or some such thing. It was bloody hard to get a decent look at the actual tapestries and furniture of the palace, which was what we came to see.
posted by andraste at 2:14 AM on October 27, 2010

There are different answers depending on who is doing the fun-making.

Who do artists make fun of? Thomas Kinkade. Yoko Ono. Matisse, sort of strangely. All of the painters I know actually love Bob Ross for various reasons.

Who do critics/patrons/otherwise pretty informed consumers make fun of? This varies the most. Koons and Hurst seem to be big ones. Lots of people make fun of Frank Gehry. Cristo. Anyone successful, really.

Who do the mostly uninformed make fun of? Anyone since Cezanne. Pollack, Duchamp, Picasso (still!), Rothko, Haring. I have to admit that Rothko and Pollack especially are pretty hard to understand without both seeing them in person and knowing pretty intimately the act of painting.

The white painting was likely either Malevich or Rauschenberg. If Malevich, the significance is that it was done in 1918, while most people still didn't understand impressionism and artist were actively rebelling against the photographic image. Some have claimed that it was a joke from the beginning, but these people (Suprematists) weren't Dadaists. It was an intellectual gesture made as artists were beginning to discover that painting and art had no inherent properties. Rauschenberg, I think, did it as a public personal exercise since pretty much everything he did was pretty closely related to the myth he'd built around himself and his work.
posted by cmoj at 10:33 AM on October 27, 2010

three basketballs

That was actually a major feat of logistics and engineering. Koons cites that as the most difficult work he's done. It took months. Apparently it's really hard to get the weight of a basketball and the salinity of the water just right so that it has the exact buoyancy you want. I seem to remember for some of them they had to use glycerine or something. And then they had to reproduce it in a gallery setting.
posted by cmoj at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2010

In the UK Emin and Hirst - specifically My Bed and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - are cited as Why Modern Art Is All Crap. Both these works are over ten years old now. Many things from the Saatchi collection or the Sensation exhibit.

I have heard people mock Duchamp's Urinal.
posted by mippy at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2010

Yoko Ono.

FWIW, I've never heard anyone actually familiar with Yoko Ono's art badmouth it. Ono's work is among the most concise and accessible of its type; even a Philistine troglodyte could grok it. The trouble is that most people aren't familiar with Yoko Ono's work. They just know it's "conceptual art" and therefore "pretentious" and therefore "bad." Most of all, they know that she's that weird caterwauling Japanese lady who broke up the Beatles. (Personally, I am of the mind that Yoko Ono didn't break up the Beatles so much as the Beatles broke up Yoko Ono.)

Anyone familiar with Ono's art who wanted to slag off the genre as pure wankery would probably take aim at Vito Acconci.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am familiar with her work. I know people who are. I badmouth it when it comes up. So do they. I, and the people I speak of are fans of heavily conceptual art, but Yoko's only concept is "I'm famous and rich! I'm allowed to do this and people will think it's art!" I'm not sure what troglodytes grokking has to do with defining good work.

Anyone familiar with Ono's art who wanted to slag off the genre as pure wankery would probably take aim at Vito Acconci.

I'm sure you meant the irony, but it works against you. What't thought provoking about some dude jerking off in a gallery? Yoko Ono is the reason that people discount conceptual art. Like, it's her. She caused it.

I don't know what "the Beatles broke up Yoko Ono" means, but I don't think she broke up the Beatles either. If she had that would have been the most interesting thing she'd ever done. The caterwauling sucks too.

Ono is probably the one artist that I have a major personal problem with because she actually actively hurts the art world.
posted by cmoj at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2010

Yoko's only concept is "I'm famous and rich! I'm allowed to do this and people will think it's art!"

This is somewhat true lately, because she is largely famous now for being John Lennon's widow. Which has extended her reach in terms of publicity and getting really huge museums and galleries interested in her work, which is lackluster at this point. Probably because she's ensconced in the Dakota, completely out of touch with what the art world is doing nowadays.

But her back in the day stuff? Before she met Lennon? Amazing. And even if you don't happen to like it, it's hard to claim that it is "only" well known because she's rich and famous. Because at the time, she wasn't. She was also doing work entirely in keeping with what other artists who were part of the same movement were also doing at that time, so it's hard to call out her entire career as bullshit and then praise people like Joseph Beuys or Nam June Paik. It's possible that her reputation has grown a little unfairly because of Lennon, but then that's also true for any other artist who ever became well known for anything or was associated with any other more successful person.
posted by Sara C. at 12:39 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw an exhibition by Richard Tuttle at LA MOCA that included a US Letter sized piece of framed white paper with one tiny pencil-drawn squiggly loop in the center, almost like a hair had become trapped in between the glass and the paper. It was awesome! So, Richard Tuttle.
posted by rocco at 3:26 PM on October 28, 2010

I don't know what "the Beatles broke up Yoko Ono" means

Sara C. summed it up pretty nicely, I think.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:38 PM on October 28, 2010

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