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Monday, January 9, 2012

Foxtrot with MONA: Contemporary art & the Zeitgeist

Art is a sensitive barometer of shifts in the Zeitgeist.


Thanks to a recent visit to the Museum of Old and New Art ( http://mona.net.au/ ), I can now see clearly through the contemporary art scene’s

“...darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

David Walsh created MONA, not as a stuffy, or even classy, art museum, but rather as an adult Disneyland, a playground for the artistic mind.

We, the two adults and a teenage boy, were entranced and delighted by its wonders. Of course, there was some that wasn’t to my taste. This included the items like the CLOACA (See my earlier blog) which relied in part on shock or disgust (My post on art that shocks). But then, I don’t like horror movies, either.

And that was one clue to the insight.

Clue number two was the reaction of the teenage boy...like a kid in a games store. Leaping from exhibit to exhibit, “this is cool”, “wow, check this out”, ...and skipping past the boring ones.

Clue number three was my slower, more considered pace (I was always getting left behind) and the rhythm of that pace. Remember it’s the Museum of OLD and New Art. Most people focus only on the new art, but there are some wonderful antiquities and older pieces of art in the Museum. I fox-trotted through the museum. Quick, quick (past the bits that held no interest for me), slow (look at the interesting new art) hold (long contemplation at the old stuff).

Now, you could say that I’m just an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, not able to move with the times. (In my own defence, it’s not that I don’t want to move with the times, it’s that the times don’t want to move with me. ...I guess. I’ll need to explain that some time).However, my pace past the new art was about the same as everyone else’s.

Clue number 4 was why I took longer to look at the old compared to the new art. Looking at the new art was like solving a cryptic crossword puzzle. It required some understanding of the possible formation of the clues and a modest amount of intellectual effort to get to the Eureka moment of insight and appreciation of the elegance and cleverness of the solution. The old art drew me beyond a primarily intellectual and emotive response to something deeper. The mind stilled and I entered a wordless reverie.

So here is the conclusion (& forgive me, dear reader, for leaping to it and not taking you gently there):

The primary defining characteristic of successful contemporary art is that it is entertainment.