Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back East: The Snark Hits the Asia Society

As an art critic, we are confronted, every time we see contemporary art, with a burning question.  “Where the heck is the restroom?” we ask ourselves.  Then, once we have dispensed with that matter, we can concentrate on having profound reactions to the contemporary art.  “Huh,” are our exact words.  And we sincerely mean them.

Because … okay.  Pssst.  Over here.  We’re going to level with you.  Now, don’t tell anybody, but, critic though we are, we frankly just don’t quite “get” contemporary art. It’s kind of like the way we just don’t quite “get” golf, except for the cool kind where you get to putt through dragons and stuff and at the end you might win a free game. 

Come to think of it, Nobody’s Fool - the current exhibit at the Asia Society on Park Avenue and 77th Street, featuring the work of Yoshitomo Nara - is not too far from mini-golf art, if you will.  Take these dogs (I rather like these dogs).  Can’t you imagine thwacking a ball between them to win that free game? I can:

The Asia Society describes Nara as “one of the leading artists of Japan’s influential Neo Pop art,” which – follow us closely here – is pop art that is neo.  (This is the sort of thing you know when you are an art critic.)  Here is a quote from their website: “Nara’s cute, though often menacing, children and animals are so readily associated with popular culture, particularly manga comics and animation, that viewers may neglect to contemplate his evocative imagery in depth. His popular appeal masks the serious social and personal dimensions of his work—feelings of helplessness and rage, and a sense of isolation in a hyper-networked society."

Well.  All righty then.  Now allow us to editorialize for a moment.


Whoops.  Let us get back into our plural Critic Voice.  What we mean to say is: God forbid we should ever interpret art on our own.  Here is our theory: all such copy, at museums worldwide, is written by the superhero Captain Obvious.  Those of you who were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie (we ourselves were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie) who memorized every episode of Whose Line is it Anyway will recall that Captain Obvious was a superhero played by (our hero) Colin Mochrie, who began the sketch by standing in the middle of the stage and remarking, quote, "I'm standing."  This same Captain Obvious is clearly the individual responsible for all art commentary in museums everywhere, as evidenced by the following caption to Nara's painting "White Riot."

Here is the painting:

Now you’d think this baby speaks for itself, right? "Hello.  I am a kind of ... cat dog ... Pokémon thingy, or whatever, and I am REALLY pissed off": that is clearly the Deeper Meaning here.  Right?

Well, no offense, but: WROOOOOONG, loser-face.  Clearly YOU have never been an art person.  Here is Captain Obvious, speaking on behalf of the Asia Society, to refine your mind.  We quote:

Characters that are ½ child and ½ animal recur frequently in Nara’s work … He is much indebted to children’s book illustrations, which capture the most significant narrative moments in succinct and selective compositions, in contrast to the multitude of sequential images in comic books.  Here, this creature’s expression suggests a decisive moment of confrontation.” 

Actually, we personally were thinking constipation before Captain Obvious set us straight.  But enough about us.

On the other hand, some of Nara's work is graciously allowed to speak for itself.  For example, the painting “Remember Me” features the enormous head of a little girl staring at you with bulging, sparkly eyes so hideous you could not forget her if you had a lobotomy for that express purpose.



But this is not the most memorable item in the exhibition.  No, that honor goes to the framed pieces of notebook paper with Nara's scribbles on them.  That's right.  Nara made notes - just like you do every day, only you don’t get an exhibit – which have framed on the wall for your delectation.  The Asia Society has labeled these items as – remember, we are quoting here – “ballpoint pen on notebook paper.”  Just in case your layman's eye couldn't pick out the artist's media. We can only be thankful in such cases that the industrious curators neglect to include, say, an artist's finest nose-blowings ("Snot on Kleenex, 2005")
Another highlight was the “Doors” exhibit consisting of a group of interconnected playhouse-style fixtures. There was a TV on inside one of the houses, featuring images of Nara's work to music.  We noticed a young woman happily watching the TV ; she looked to have been camped out there for some time.  What's more, she looked very peaceful, very happy.  Our theory, as a critic – not to get too lofty here, but we feel we must share it – is that she had found the secret remote control to change the channel to porn.

Our final port of call was the gift shop, which we mention not because of anything related to art, but because of something far, far deeper: we found this oeuvre.

My First Book of Sushi is a strangely poetic little composition which features the following meditation:
"Why, why, why, my little shu mai, why do I love you so?"*
Call me a sentimentalist if you will, but I believe those are words we all - critics and noncritics alike - can stand to remember in these troubled times.  Anyway, should you happen to be in the city any time soon, you owe it to yourself to stop by the Asia Society and take in Nobody's Fool.  We highly recommend this exhibit.  We especially highly recommend the secret remote control.

Meanwhile, till next time; we hope you have enjoyed this column, written in #2 "The Princeton Review" pencil on "Hewlett Packard" printer paper.  We cordially invite the Asia Society to offer us a lavish exhibit.  (We trust they will be forward-thinking enough to overlook the, you know, Caucasian thing.)

* Another good one, which we also quote verbatim: "Ikura, squishy salmon roe / Like dabby dots of jelly, / Salty on my lips / And yummy in my belly.” (©460 B.C., Herodotus)

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    1 comment:

    Brian McCullough said...

    Can you call a child's book of sushi an oeuvre? An hors d'oeuvre, yes, but ...