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A temporary work of art

A small piece of art history from Jim of Jim’s Journal, commenting on this:

About twenty years ago – Binghamton University in upstate New York – a paved plaza between the main library building and the computer center building – an installation of assorted works of “modern art” sculpture is scattered about this plaza as part of some arts festival. There is an empty cement base near the entrance to the computer center, apparently the sculpture that is supposed to be there has not yet arrived. There is a construction project at another part of the campus, at least half a mile away.

During the night some unknown group of pranksters hijacked a huge section of concrete tube – perhaps six feet in diameter and eight feet in length – and somehow transported it to that empty base. Hundreds of people passed it every hour as students went from class to class. Most ignored it, just as they ignored the other sculptures, but many paused to glance at it, even to stop and study it, discuss it. Everyone assumed it was another example of modern art. (I must confess that I fell for the trick; to me it didn’t look any stranger than any of the other “works of art” on display.)

Several days passed before the organizers of the art exhibit realized what had happened. The temporary work of art was returned to its intended use at the construction site and campus security was ordered to investigate. The arts community was in an uproar. The perpetrator of this crime against society must be tracked down and punished!

I don’t know if campus security took this seriously or not. (I think that they probably just enjoyed a good laugh over the matter.) The culprits were never caught.


25 comments to A temporary work of art

  • kevin

    Sometime in the 60s, while in high school, a friend of mine and myself went to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. WE wandered around and pretty much didn’t “get” the whole point. We came to an area where there were art pieces on those short display columns and one of them was empty. My friend got a wicked gleam in his eyes and took the gum he was chewing out of his mouth and plonked it down square in the center. We then retired some distance and waited. Sure enough, people came by, stared at it, nodded approvingly. We even saw a couple of these idiots start sketching it.
    Yeah, modern art…you bet

  • Johan

    and the postmodernist mantra is: “anything goes”

  • George Peery

    Andy Warhol said (attrib.), “Art is whatever you can get away with.” Indeed.

  • HC

    “Anything goes, as long as it doesn’t make sense”

  • I have an entry on this very topic you all might laugh about (while I cry about it).

  • eric

    HeHeHe! Bully for the pranksters. So much of modern “art” is just sneering insult; it’s good to see the condescending ‘artistes’ getting what they dish out.

  • Great story. I’m as much an art lover as the next guy, but this about “modern” art is absolutely right. I had an art student friend in college a couple years ago. She knew she could get away with turning in almost anything for projects, just throwing something together at the last minute. The contrast between my midterms and finals and what she had to “do” was stark.

  • For an (highly) informed opinion on the nature and worth of what these days passes for art go to http://www.artrenewal.org. It is painting-centred but utterly refreshing and wonderful to the eye.

  • There’s at least one case I heard of where a big abstract canvas was hung upside down in a major museum, and no one noticed for a very long time. (I’m not even sure how anyone eventually figured it out.)

    For me, at least, “modern art” ends with Dali and Escher and Magritte. Everything after that is crap. I guess part of the reason I think that is that I demand that art involve a demonstration of craft, as well. (But I’m one’a them soul-dead engineers.)

  • Easily the most preposterous piece of “music” I’ve ever heard of is called something like “3’54″” and it’s a “piano” piece. The reason for the quotes is because the pianist sits down and does nothing at all for that duration. It consists entirely of silence. I’ve heard pretentious praise for it, but it’s all idiocy.

  • Really? I didn’t realize that had already been done.

    In Tad Williams’ Otherland series, each chapter begins with a short “slice-of-life” news piece from twenty or thirty years in the future. Brilliant stuff.

    Anyway, one of these future news blurbs was a critique of a new album which was nothing but silence (to the “lay-person”).

  • Guy Herbert

    Suspect Steven Den Beste means John Cage’s 4’33”, the greatest idiocy of which is its botched allusion to absolute zero (273 seconds, gedditt?).

    Given that length is part of the concept of the piece, which is nothing if not conceptual art, it is rather boggling (to this mind, at least) that Mike Batt recently had to pay a claim from Cage for publishing royalties after quoting him in his One Minute’s Silence. However, one could see it as Batt’s punishment for poking fun at one of the godlets of modernism. He had marked it Batt/Cage on the queue-sheet.

  • Whaq

    Duchamp must be smiling from his grave. . . .

  • Brian

    “Anything goes, as long as it’s not counter-revolutionary.”

  • eric

    Steven D.B.,
    I believe the artist saw his ‘art’ hanging in the gallery and noticed that it was upside-down.

    But hey, I’m just an AMPS-TDMA-GSM guy.

  • A_t

    horses for courses… i thought john cage was a smart, witty individual, who’s proved a personal inspiration, & 3’54 made a valid point. Certainly, once the point had been made, it didn’t need repeating by anyone else, but to react all annoyed & contemptuous just shows you up as lacking a sense of humour and not appreciating whimsy in my book. Read some of Brian Eno’s writings too… he did an interesting experiment, recording 3 1/2 minutes of ambient noise from hyde park (approx. length of a pop single), & listening to it for days, to see if he could ‘learn’ it in the same way as one might a normal single.

    But anyway, i guess you’re all not interested in that stuff, are you?

    I’m curious though… from all you people who’ve just been dissing away, is there anything of the modern world of art or music that you actually like?

  • I went to the First Annual Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue a couple years ago. It was a headphone concert. Robyn Hitchcock, Sebadoh, and Flaming Lips were all amazing.

    But then there was this other guy (E.A.R. I think his act was called) who used ten Speak & Spells to form ambient noise for thirty minutes straight. It was cool for about a minute and a half. Then you desperately wanted to hear a note or a beat or a word.

    Modern music? There’s lots of modern music that’s great. The “modern world of music”? Ahh, does that mean sounds that aren’t recognizably music at all? No, not really interested.

    Although, going back to the video game thread, such sounds *could* have their place in the right game. When Doom for the PSX came out (1995), it had a totally ambient “soundtrack” that fit amazingly well. No music or notes or beats, just sustained sounds syncopated by the occassional scream or clinking noise. Good stuff.

    But I’m reminded of Zappa’s Baby Snakes (or it might have been Uncle Meat). He tries to convince the viewer that “anything can be music”. Of course, it’s incredibly profound, when you’re 16 years old and extremely high on weed, whiskey, and Carisprodol.

  • Merlin

    Does anyone recall a story about a New York art critic who passed off the work of a chimpanzee as that of a “new young talent” in the art world? It happened back in the late Fifties I believe.

  • A_t

    🙂 flaming lips… possibly the finest live band i’ve seen.

    E.A.R., weirdly is sonic boom out of spacemen 3 (for those who remember them), & yeah, that sounds pretty tedious.

    In a way tho’, with anything experimental like that, you’re taking a risk… On a similar “it’s unbelievably tedious, & whatsmore it hurts your ears” tip, avoid jamie lidell live at all costs; saw him supporting the (most excellent) Mathhew Herbert Big Band (proper tunes! proper instruments! modern experimentation)… but i can’t say it’s put me off conceptual/minimal modern music… some is good, some not.

    When you’re experimenting at the outer limits, inevitably some of the stuff you come up with is going to be utter guff (or if you’re feeling charitable, not to most people’s taste), but it doesn’t mean you should write off the entire avant-guarde.

    & yeah, i think i’m on zappa’s side… all sorts of unlikely things *can* be music, but you’ve just got to bear in mind that not everything will work, & you have every right to reject whatever doesn’t. I often find Zappa utterly unlistenable… or just plain boring.

  • Evidently, the university’s art faculty had not read Foucault’s “This is Not a Pipe.”

  • David


    Yes, I do like some modern art, mostly aviation or space art. The Air Force Academy has some excellent paintings as well as the tourist area of the Space Center in Orlando.

    Other than that, my enjoyment of painting ends with Matisse. No, I’ll take that back, I do like some of Kandinsky’s paintings. After that people merely looked for a way to make a name for themselves. One guy would paint only black squares. After that, nobody else was allowed to paint black squares, as if he had cornered the art market on that theme. Jackson Pollack owned splatter art. Rothko got to do large vaguely square colors. Franz Kline got black on white and Reinhardt got the best, monocolor (look, it’s all black, it’s art).

    The problem with this approach is that it fails to appeal to the mass market because people realize they could, with no training, produce similar art. Furthermore, the art no longer touches our soul. In fact, artists almost seem to go out of their way to ensure that their products are inaccesible. I think it gives them a sense of self-importance and soothes their feelings of inadaquacy, but that’s just an opinion.

    As someone who loves painting and has invested considerable time and expense to visit every major art museum in Asia, Europe and the U.S., with the exception of Russia, it hurts to see the wasteland which so called modern art has made of the great artistic traditions.

    Painting, regardless of the culture or style, has the potential of moving us and that has been tossed aside in the last fifty years.

    Which is why I only really enjoy modern aviation and space art. The people who paint those pictures do so with a love and dedication missing from the “serious” art community. And that love can move me to tears, something de Kooning and Dubuffet never will.

  • CPatterson

    I enjoy the work of Keith Haring and a few others, but I find most of what passes as modern art to be flat, cynical and highly overrated.

  • After a quick search, I found this

    “Some of the hall’s displays are innocuous looking in the extreme. In one corner stands an overturned trash can. Resting atop it is a lunch tray holding a single place setting minus a knife.

    In 1985, hackers managed to get these goods installed in a legitimate exhibition of contemporary art at the List Gallery on campus.

    A gallery label read, in part, “The sterile lateralism of the grouped utensils (sans knife) conveys a sense of eternal ennui, framed within the subtle ambience of discrete putrefaction.” No critic of the exhibit ever realised that “No Knife” was a hack.”
    here, a story about the MIT Museum’s “Hall of Hacks”.

  • A_t

    David, I appreciate that you personally don’t like much of modern art, but i wish you wouldn’t make these generalisations:

    ” the art no longer touches our soul. ”
    and “Painting […] has the potential of moving us and that has been tossed aside in the last fifty years.”

    I disagree with both statements. I’ve been moved by works by Rothko & other villains stated above, & I doubt I’m alone. If you don’t get it, don’t like it, fair enough. I suspect I might not be moved by your space art; doesn’t sound much like my cup of tea. Doesn’t mean I’m going to make generalisations about how it’s inherently meaningless & empty though.

    I know what you mean however, about lack of subject; much as I love abstraction, on the whole modern art could do with being *about* something again, in perhaps a directly figurative way, or have some social meaning that could be understood by numbers of people without degrees in critical theory.

  • All the visual art I need is found right HERE.

    Something like EIGHTY-THOUSAND images for your perusal. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried at the better pieces there. It’s the most accessible art I’ve ever seen.