Friday, December 16, 2011

Artsy Fartsy

Here's an easy, contention-free question: what is art?  A few months ago I did a post on street art around LA.  I have thought a lot about public art in general and in particular, the Urban Light installation by Chris Burden at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)...

...and "Bubble Gum Alley" in San Luis Obispo, CA.

The former is high art world approved; the latter may not be considered art at all.  Both installations consist of multiple every day, functional items: lamp posts and bubble gum (okay, and condoms). 

The light installation is beautiful - especially at night; however, I have often thought it a bit boring and safe when looked at as a piece of art.  This is why I thought it would be a good choice to juxtapose against Bubble Gum Alley.  My choice ended up being a bit ironic because it turns out that in his younger years, Chris Burden created some intense and controversial works.  In the 1970s he did a series focused on personal danger in which he was shot in the arm, nailed to a Volkswagen, and shimmied through broken glass with his hands held behind his back.

(Burden's next installation at LACMA is titled Metropolis ii.  It is a sculpture of a city with miniature cars racing through it at 240 miles an hour.   I got a peek at it a few weeks ago, but the last I heard it is still being installed.)

Bubble Gum Alley is not beautiful - I'm betting especially not so at night.  There is a lot of DNA on those walls.  Of course, one can't discuss DNA in art without bringing up photographer Andres Serrano, a controversial, but established artist that uses blood, urine, and semen in his work.  If he can do it, so can all the teenagers in San Louis Obispo.

Bubble Gum Alley is gross, but it's a collective work that has impact.

Urban Light is pretty.  And what's wrong with pretty?

One is made for the public; the other by the public.