Beaton column: Is the Aspen Art Museum a parody or just a joke?
At the imposing new $48 million Aspen Art Museum that looks vaguely like a big square bird’s nest, a new exhibit has hatched. You have to see it to believe it.
I did and still don’t. Here’s my story.
The first thing I saw upon entering the museum was a nice sign. It listed all the wealthy people who have donated big bucks to the museum.
In the old days, donating big bucks to the right recipients could make you semi-royalty, like a “count” or maybe a “baron.” Really big bucks could even buy you eternal salvation.
Today, big bucks buys you the title “Patron of the Arts.”
It’s disappointing. In a better world, patrons of the arts wouldn’t need their names on a list. They would just buy art. Then artists would flourish and culture would thrive.
But museum donators don’t do that because they lack confidence that their taste in art is good. So they instead utilize the tool in which they do have confidence — their money — to buy a certification of their good taste (and financial status). Their name on the list demonstrates that they’re genuine tunas with good taste, as the television commercial put it back in my time, and big ones at that.
Personally, I’m not sure if they’re big tunas with good taste or just big suckers — sort of like the people in the old days who thought they’d purchased eternal salvation.
Meanwhile, real artists can’t make a living because the so-called patrons of the arts spend their money to buy a spot on a list rather than a piece of art. A good chunk of this money is in effect taxpayer money, because it’s tax-deductible.
You might ask how this money is used. Less than two-thirds of the museum’s expenditures are for actual art programs and services, according to the watchdog Charity Navigator. Nearly a million dollars a year is now spent on the director’s ever-escalating salary.
And 26 percent of what they spend is used to raise more money to spend.
Back to my story. All the tuna and suckers — and bottom feeders like me — are greeted at the museum by a friendly and earnest staffer who lectures them. The gist of the lecture was that I’m not supposed to touch the art. Not even a little. Not even with a 10-foot barge pole with a condom on the end. Because if everyone did that, then the art would get dirty.
Well, I did. I remarked to the staffer that I’ve been to art museums before, and that I already know that I’m not supposed to touch the art. In fact, everyone knows that.
“Yes,” the staffer said, “but you’d be surprised how many people do anyway.” Then she relectured me.
I kept silent through the second lecture in order to avoid a third. Then I walked away wondering how the art in the Louvre has managed to survive hundreds of years without visitors hearing that lecture. Maybe the art in the Louvre just isn’t as important.
As it turns out, that’s not the case.
I went into an exhibition room, but it was still under construction. It was littered with cigarette butts, drywall and other pieces of construction material and equipment.
I asked for directions to the exhibit. I was told that I was looking at it.
“No, really,” I replied.
“Yes, really,” the staffer insisted.
I looked closer, and saw that the cigarette butts, drywall and other stuff littering the room were actually fake. And so it was “art.”
I was accompanied by an out-of-town friend and my daughter (an art minor). All six eyes rolled in unison.
That reaction, of course, is exactly what is sought by the peddlers of this junk. Our failure to “get” this “art” proves, to the peddlers, that we lack their depth and profundity. If we can’t see the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes, they like to believe, then the failure is not in his clothes but in our eyes.
They might have a point there. Our eyes probably would indeed see better if only we could stop rolling them.
Afterwards it occurred to me that maybe this little spectacle actually was art, of a sort. Maybe it was a parody.
Maybe the sign listing the tuna/suckers is a parody of people seeking to buy certification of their artistic taste and financial status with tax-deductible money. Maybe the gross building is a parody of an art museum and the fake “art” is a parody of art. Maybe the lecture warning us not to touch the art parody in the museum parody funded by the patron parody is a parody of an art museum lecture.
Maybe. Or maybe the whole thing is just a bad joke.
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