On Kawara – Sham

KawaraShamThe latest exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum here in New York City is unbelievable, and not in the good way. It’s hard to believe that someone could pass off such half-ass shit as art, let alone earn good money and critical acclaim in the process.

The exhibit, On Kawara – Silence, takes up the museum’s entire rotunda. Though that’s way more space than it frankly needs – let alone merits. It is overwhelmingly underwhelming. And even though The New York Times called it “enthralling,” I call it “absolutely ridiculous.”

On Kawara was a “conceptual artist” (meaning, if the artist says it is art, than it is art…no matter how ridiculous the claim may be) and this is supposedly his first comprehensive exhibit, representing every category of his work since 1964. However, I couldn’t help wondering how his early rubbish paved the way for his later rubbish? Didn’t anyone catch on? Didn’t anyone notice the man had no talent? That his art was but a ruse?

I have complained about sham art – scam art – before (Modern Art, Or Not), but this exhibit really takes the cake. Sure, the curators offer up all sorts of vagaries to try to justify it. They say the “work engages the personal and historical consciousness of place and time” and transforms the rotunda into “a site within which audiences can reflect on an artistic practice of cumulative power and depth.”

I think it fucking sucks.

Dissecting the Disappointment
What exactly is in this exhibit, you ask? The biggest waste of space are Kawara’s “Date Paintings.” These are dates painted onto squares and hung on the wall. Yes, the painting of text specifying a date. Sometimes that’s all that there is. Other times the date will be accompanied by a corresponding shallow cardboard box, usually in a nearby glass-enclosed horizontal display case, with nothing more than a newspaper clipping from that date – as if to say: I have scissors and a calendar, therefore I am an artist. Or, to be really artistic and convey a cumulative power and depth, sometimes he would forgo those burdensome scissors so the shallow cardboard box would contain – get this – nothing at all. Brilliant, huh?

There’s also 108 telegrams (yes, I was so bored I actually counted them) that the artist sent with the same simple message: “I am still alive.” I’d like to think that the recipient, around the time of the 100th telegram, was really hoping the artist would die (which he did, last year…in case you didn’t get that telegram).

Beyond lacking any real artistic merit, this repetitive telegram ploy isn’t even original. I recall a recent exhibit at one of New York’s modern art museums (it might have even been the Guggenheim) in which another artist, obviously attempting to engage the personal and historical consciousness of place and time, repeatedly sent the same telegram to the same recipient. Even Kawara’s stupidity is banal.

And speaking of repetition and a shameless lack of originality, there was an exhibit at MoMA PS1 last year that showcased the postcards of an artist, sent repeatedly to the same person over the years (another unfortunate soul). Well, it seems Kawara did that too. I couldn’t bring myself to count them all, but this Guggenheim exhibit features glass displays of all the postcards the artist sent over an 11-year span informing the recipient of the exact time he awoke that morning. Such a clever boy, ain’t he?

Now before you start to wonder if the exhibit is sponsored by Western Union or the US Postal Service, there was one last treasure on display. Kawara made volumes, literal volumes, of pages that are filled with either dates or numbers. No particular meaning, but just dates and numbers packed on page after page after page. Yeah.

Overall, the Guggenheim’s On Kawara – Silence was sickening. Such a half-ass effort. Creation without meaning. Repetition for the sake of repetition for the sake of repetition for the sake of repetition. Annoying, isn’t it?

Fortunately I’m a member of the Guggenheim, so I didn’t feel like as much of a chump as the people who shelled out $25 to see that shameless charade. I did learn two things, though. First, that artists are nowhere near as clever as they think they are. Second, that curators are nowhere near as intelligent as they think they are.

And in case you are wondering, no, I am not going to see the universally panned Bjork exhibit at MoMA. I’m a member there, too, but I ain’t stupid!