Friday, September 30, 2016

Getting Grumpy Over Avant Garde

The main gallery space at Kendall College's ArtPrize venue.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The docent on duty handed me a slick, tri-fold brochure explaining the exhibit. Instinctively, I held it in my hand without opening it. The brochure was ballast for an artist intent on looking at art.

The long hallway heading into the bowels of the Kendall College gallery space was a disappointment, with little more than small, “Artifacts from the Future” evenly placed on a long, white shelf. The future looked boring.

The first room – a main gallery space – was equally-uninspired. At one end of it, a small group of people feverishly worked at sewing machines, occasionally piling their completed efforts in a corner. At the opposite end of the gallery, a projected image of constantly-moving icons showed progress of objects, in real time, via social media. No one told them social media-supported art was so two minutes ago – and has been for five years. Between the two installations was another comprised of white tumors crawling up the wall and onto the ceiling. Snore.

A second, smaller room was hung with objects. None grabbed my attention. The drone of a video loop playing somewhere could barely be heard above the ambient noise. A docent wondered aloud if the volume should be boosted a bit.

A third room held plants and growing apparatus. Some of the plants – ornamental kale – sang and nodded their heads. A white-frocked lab technician stood awkwardly at a counter devoid of anything interesting.

The last room was hung with percussion instruments, each fitted with electro-mechanical devices to play, in turn, a chaotic string of noise. More droning.

It took me less than three minutes to scan the stately ArtPrize venue, and I was not impressed. At all. Nothing stood out as visually-captivating or cerebrally-relevant. It was avant garde at its worst.

I get grumpy when others try to play games with art. It’s called the VISUAL arts, and no brochure; no tastefully-placed artist statement; no rambling discussion by an artist can do what the art itself should do. In the end, I don’t really care about the watershed experience or the traumatic background or the connectivity to the world at large. I don’t want any artist to tell me about their work. I want them to SHOW me; I want their work to speak for itself.

Most every artist wants, in some way, to be on the cutting edge. Recent art school graduates want it the most, and credential-toting high brows tell us that new eyes are the promising stars of art.  They are, we are told, the advance guard. Few – very few – are actually that. The blessed actually use their young noggins and raw talent to push their own boundaries, excelling in the process and creating a passion for their work. That sort of recipe is obvious when the results are placed on the table for all to enjoy.

But there are those who ride along on the shirttails of greater minds, and masquerade as esoteric avant-garde. They are no advance guard. They do not pave the way with promise; they only jettison flotsam and jetsam of ill-conceived art, allowing it to grow as singing, ornamental kale; as illogically-placed tailors; as uninspired video loops in the galleries of our time.


  1. Have you seen the movie "Art School Confidential"?
    I once asked a Kendall student coworker of mine what kind of art he did. "Abstract expressionism" was his reply. I said, "Oh, so you can't draw?", I said with a smirk. He stuttered and stammered "er, uhm" while fighting the self-exposing smile on his face and replied, "Well not every artist has to know how to draw!" My opinion of his art dropped off the edge without ever seeing it. He dropped out a couple months later. I'm assuming he had a drawing assignment.