Why toilets= art

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Ryan Stucky, Untitled

Are you a member of the “general public” (as my hoity-toity art textbook calls it) who just doesn’t understand modern art? What ever happened to the carefully composed and impeccably painted masterpieces of centuries past? In modern art, it seems like just about anyone who can turn a urinal upside-down can be an artist.
Based on my studies, it turns out this is true- as long as you have a good explanation for why you’ve upended that porcelain.
Sometime around the Post-Impressionist/Cubist/Fauvist periods, cutting edge art became less about skill and more about ideas. It didn’t matter whether you could flawlessly mirror reality with your paintings as long as you could mess with your viewers’ emotions and thought processes. That means anything goes: lurid, unrealistic colors, unconventional mediums etc etc etc! It’s all part of the idea of the “conceptual” artist.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I ducked into the Laverne Krause Gallery‘s most recent exhibit. It includes photographs by undergrad Spencer Stucky. My favorite was the one above, which was probably tricky to capture due to the dim lighting conditions. Not so for some of the other shots:

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One photo, placed on the floor, was of wooden floorboards with a square of tape and a small pile of white powder in the center. Another was of a bundle of sticks sitting in the corner of a white room. The latter pic was stacked on top of two partially concealed photos, which can be seen in the Polaroid above. Are these strange scenes hard to set up? Not if you know how to use a roll of tape or unfurl a ball of twine.
But then Stucky strolled in and I got to ask him about the ideas behind these works. Suddenly the pieces were ambitious and compelling. The piece on the floor was meant to “point out the physicality of the photograph. Once it’s on the floor, you’re forced to see it as a real object.”

The stacked photographs were meant to cause frustration. It’s hard to stare at small slivers of photos and not reach out to try to move the frame that covers them- especially in our modern world where virtual objects can be moved with the swipe of your finger on a touchscreen.
So there ya go: art that involves fewer skills but trumpets big ideas. The only catch that I see is that fine art of old involved lots of skill AND big ideas. Hmmmm.

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1 comment
  1. Rachael said:

    This is really interesting! I consider myself someone who enjoys modern art, but does not fully understand it. =)

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