Saturday, November 6th, 2010

image of Weiwei's

I should give my impulses a rest. After reading an article in today’s The New York Times about a Chinese artist under house arrest whose name, Ai Weiwei, reminded me of a playground taunt or the chorus of an African tribal dance, I felt an irresistible urge to share it with My Darling B.

B wasn’t as interested in the sound of his name as it came tripping off the tongue as she was puzzled and then, gradually, agitated by the photograph of Weiwei standing in the middle of one of his works installed at the Tate Modern in London.

Titled Sunflower Seeds, it consisted of one hundred million tiny nibs of porcelain shaped and hand-painted to look like sunflower seeds and dumped on the floor where visitors were, for a while, encouraged to walk on them, handle them, lay down and roll in them and otherwise frolic in them until somebody noticed that the weight of thousands of visitors every day was grinding the seeds to dust. Museum officials, worried that the dust was rising into the air and being inhaled by the visitors, shut the vast room in which the exhibit was installed so visitors could only look at it from a roped-off gallery, changing the piece from an artistically highbrow ball pit to a scattered mess of porcelain chips. Before, visitors could step into them and play. After, all that was really left for visitors to do was make a mental game of figuring out how long it would have taken any number of people it took to hand-paint that many fake sunflower seeds.

My Darling B was not pleased that the Tate was once again exhibiting a work of art that was not actually art, probably recalling all the fuss that was made over Tracy Emin’s “works of art” at the Tate, her most famous being her unmade bed. Littered with books, newspapers, cast-off clothes and, almost inevitably, a condom, she lugged it up to the Tate and not only convinced the gallery’s managers that it was art, she had every newspaper and quite a lot of the public buzzing over it, too. She made bales of money from it and other similarly silly exhibitions.

“That’s literally art that I could do,” B said, the implication being that she could as easily hire a thousand people to make a million sunflower seeds, then dump them on the floor and call it art. I have no doubt that she could, although I had to dispute her follow-up observation that “Anything I can do is not art.” If hand-made quilts are still as popular a hundred years from now as they are today, and all the forecasts of a zombie apocalypse are wrong, then her quilts will no doubt be found hanging in antique malls across the nation, their tiny little four-figure price tags fluttering in the air-conditioned breeze coming from the ceiling vents. I would also swear before a court that her cooking is truly artistic.

“That Cristo guy who’s always wrapping stuff up in brightly-colored fabric – not an artist,” B went on, warming to her subject, “My kids could do that.” I had to wonder at this point if her observation of Cristo’s artistic abilities wasn’t tinged by perhaps just an eentsy-weentsy bit of jealousy. There isn’t anyone who can pack a box as full as she can, but she’s always expressed the frustration when wrapping packages that it never comes out the way she wants it to. Not that I think Cristo’s any great shakes when it comes to wrapping things, although I would have to admit he’s clever enough to have figured out it’s more impressive to wrap the biggest things in eyeshot.

I had no idea Sunflower Seeds would set her off as badly as it did. If I had, I would have never brought it up. “But I only thought his name sounded interesting,” I pointed out, eventually calming her down by having her breathe into a brown paper bag I held over her mouth for a couple minutes. Later, we’re going down to the grocery store to buy up all the sunflower seeds. Then we’ll dump them in a pile on the living room floor and dance in them, singing “Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei.” Should be fun.

Art My Kid Could Make | 3:04 pm CDT
Category: current events | Tags: ,
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One Comment

  1. 1 The Seanster said at 3:00 pm on November 7th, 2010:

    Yeah, I’m not such a huge fan of that Christo dude either–he wants to hang a giant sheet along the Arkansas River, up in the mountains…:/