Blog: Object Culture Part XV Is Anything Art

Christine Alfery

Posted on March 09 2021

Blog: Object Culture Part XV Is Anything Art

Featured image: How Do I Get There?

Where did the idea/concept start that all things can be called art?

For me the work of artist Andy Warhol, is a good place to start. Many begin with the work of Marcel DuChamp and his conceptual break down between fine art and every day objects. DuChamps works, Fountain done in 1917, The Bicycle Wheel 1913, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors 1923 and Bottle Rack 1914 are several of Duchamp’s works that have been discussed and linked to this breakdown.

Fast forward to the work of Andy Warhol who was a major pop art artist in the 60’s. Andy Warhol's conceptual work contributed to this breakdown, collapsing even more of the boundaries between high and low cultural works.
Warhol’s work was noted for capturing the 60’s era which included mass marketing and the desire to acquire the new and better. The production of plastic became part of acquiring objects. Acquiring objects was an end in itself and Andy Warhol’s work captured this.

Cultural objects became sources of power and symbols of status: soup in a can, soda in a bottle, blonde hair color and text as art to list a few. Not only was Warhol recording time, his time, but Warhol also captured the heart of the art culture; breaking rules, breaking boundaries, changing boundaries were all part of the game. And if artwork did any of these things, they became icons of the time. For Pop Art artists, anything could be art and anything *was* art. Pop Art infiltrated the lives of the society so deeply that we can still feel its strong presence today.

Back when DuChamp first began the discussion was the time of Abstract Expressionism. During this time, thoughts and emotions and perceptions were expressed through a kind of imagery that was practically incomprehensible as it highly subjective. Yes, it offered an entire array of interpretations and “new” ideas for art and ways of thinking about art. Subjectivity in a work of art became an accepted norm for how art was understood. And the abstract expressionists made a viewer feel “ok” while placing their subjectivity onto the object they created. DuChamp challenged this way of thinking with objects from our daily routine, popular culture elements. Television and advertising entertainment, the cult of celebrities, comic books, interior and product design, newspapers and magazines - all of them got a whole new meaning with Pop art.

When we fast forward again, we can still find artists breaking these boundaries or asking these same questions. Jeff Koons comes to mind with his works: Rabbit 1986, Puppy, Balloon Dog, Michael Jackson and Monkey 1988, Seated Ballerina 2017 and Play-Doh 1994, to list a few. Many of these objects were inflatable which amplified the fact that they were temporary, not permanent, and would not last the test of time.

There are many artists today who still repeat the cultural themes that these artists put into place, such as: breaking the rules, the new, conceptual work that is critical of values of current times. Recently, the MET had a featured exhibition in 2019 titled “Camp.” It was the Costume Institute's spring 2019 exhibition that, according to Max Hollein, Director of the Met, “explored the origins of camp’s exuberant aesthetic influence in mainstream culture.”

“Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized” according to Hollein, “ but this exhibition reveals that it has had a profound influence on both high art and popular culture. … The show embodies the ironic sensibilities of the audacious style, challenges and conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establishes the critical role that this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion.”

It is the marketing aspect of a cultural object that grabs my attention. Marketing art through “established” cultural norms, which today appear to be trendy, or kitsch and are being called “art” because they are “breaking the rules,” and conceptually pointing out ,which in many cases, artists believe are the wrong values for our times.

To understand what art is today and the value it has, one needs to think about the art object. Should the object be called art ? Where is it art ? Or is it merely a cultural object and the subjectivity within the art object? If so, it indeed is an art object, itself.

So what give an object its power to be called art and not kitsch or a cultural object of art that is a critique of the present?

Simple. It's the creativity, the self/soul or the artist, its independence, uniqueness, originality and one-of-a-kindness. Looking at the METs exhibition “Camp,” it is easy to see the progression from creativity, to kitsch. An object needs to have its own power, not the power of another to be “art.” And that power comes from its creator and its creativity.

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