Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Going to MOMA the other day and, especially, noticing the crowd at the Brice Marden show, revived one of my perennial complaints/issues: To the extent--however arguable one thinks it is--you can correlate certain varieties of abstract visual art (here, let's concentrate on early 60s minimalism) with contemporary eai, why is the "market", ie, the number of people interested, so much larger for the former than the latter?
I'd guess that, at the time I was there, there were about 200 people milling about the exhibit. Over the course of the day, I think it's safe to say that well over 1,000 people attended (probably much more, but let's say 1,000). Let's say that 100 out of this 1,000 were actually seriously looking at the paintings, not just in attendance beacause it was hip to be there, dragged by their girlfriends, etc. I don't know how long the exhibition is running, but if it's two months and that's the average, you're talking 6,000 people seriously looking at and appreciating very "difficult" paintings, art that deals with issues that are at least tangentially relate to those raised by eai having to do with space, extended time, placement of tones, subtle variation, etc. (of course, many different aspects as well). 6,000 is far, far in excess of the number of people likely to pick up, say, the upcoming MIMEO release on Cathnor (one, interestingly enough, based on--possibly apocryphal--ideas of Cy Twombley). And that's just people who happened to visit MOMA in NYC.
The obvious question is: Why isn't a substantial fraction of that 6,000 listening to music that's at least a rough equivalent, aesthetically speaking, of the visual art they're admiring? Forget eai, I have a tough time believeing they're going home and turning on Cartridge Music or Pithoprakta or Four Systems. Why this vast disconnect between the so-called avant-garde in music and visual art (or music and any number of art forms with an enormously greater audience)?
Always bothered me. The most likely answer I've come up with is that it's simply a matter of time and how much of it the average person is willing to spend to come to grips with--or, crucially, to appear to have come to grips with--a given work. You can stand in front of an Agnes Martin for ten seconds and claim to have "seen" it. Now, while I grant that there exist people with far greater visual/esthetic acumen than myself, I have a tough time believing anyone's really seen a Martin (or any other decent visual work) in ten seconds, really grasped what there is to be grasped. But you can say you did and move on. To even maintain that pretense about, for example, Rowe and Nakamura's "between", you have to devote a couple of hours to actually listening to the music-and that's just once! As before, there's no way (imho) that a mere single listen is going to do more than to peel away the uppermost layer of the music, but it's at least a minimum requirement and one that necessitates some 720 times more seconds to accomplish, an investment I just think most people aren't willing to make.
A parallel question is raised: What do these artists listen to? I'm afraid that the answer might not be far different from the guy in the gallery with My Chemical Romance on his IPod. I happened to catch a little profile of Brice Marden on PBS the other night--not terribly impressive. But I bet the, if you'll excuse me, "quality percentage" is higher.
The thing is, in my experience it works in reverse rather well. Fans of AMM, say, aren't likely to be found drooling over the latest Leroy Nieman lithos or waiting in line for Dan Brown to sign copies of his new book. And yes, I think these yokels are the rough equivalents of whoever's the flavor of the week in corporate pop.
Rant over. For now.