There seems to be a near universal consensus, concerning modern art, of a slight disappointment with the pieces before our eyes, the oft muttered phrase flitting between the canvasses: “I could have done that.”
Worse still, it can be mistaken as not being a carefully crafted art piece, but just a mess needing to be disposed of; Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari’s installation Where Shall We Go Dancing Tonight was recently mistaken by gallery cleaners as the aftermath of a party, and disposed of – quite forgivably, one may maintain.
Underwhelmed by a number of the exhibits on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kevin Nguyen and TJ Khayatan, 16 and 17 respectively, placed Nguyen’s glasses on the gallery floor, underneath a printout apparently describing the ‘piece’. Patrons of the museum flocked around the glasses, believing them to have been put on display by the museum, crouching down to take clearer photographs.
As the spectators took pictures of the spectacles, Khayatan and Nguyen in turn took pictures of their work being admired, and shared them on Twitter, where they went viral.
One headline maintained that the gallery-goers taken in by the prank made a “complete spectacle of themselves” – how embarrassing, to mistake not-art as art.
In placing the glasses on the floor, Khayatan and Nguyen attempted to critique the nature of modern art, the eternal “I could have done that.” The glasses discarded on the floor now said, “I not only could have done that, but I have done that, and it is still not art – you all are not the artists you claim to be.”
They appeared to comment on the supposedly hollow, superficial nature of modern art. They maintained the position that a prank scraped together by two teenagers can gain just as much of a response, just as much applause, as an artwork which had gone through the museum’s vetting process, been approved for public display – if not more so, considering the number of articles reporting upon this event, while other exhibitions at the gallery seem to have fallen by the wayside in the media.
There is something to be said in the approval of the chairmen of a gallery dictating the value of a particular work. Why exactly is it that a piece is only worthwhile when supposed experts present it to us as being so? In what way would the endorsement of a board of directors elevate the status of the glasses on the ground from an everyday, inanimate object, to a legitimate art piece? Why does a collective of individuals whose names and faces the observer will most likely never know get to dictate what is valuable, what is worthy of observation?
In truth, the approval of the critics, or lack thereof, does nothing to transform a work from not-art to art – an art piece is merely that which is endowed with intentional expression of opinion and/or emotion, which proceeds to provoke a reaction.
So, in critiquing the shallow nature of modern art, its supposed insincerity, the apparent ease with which it can be created, the teenagers inadvertently produced a performative modern art piece. In being not-art, the glasses then became art. They made a statement, provided a commentary on the world around them, projected an opinion, sent a message. In attempting to criticise the artistic canon, they instead find themselves absorbed by it. For when people still view modern art as inferior, pretentious, the creators putting in minimal effort in order to make some vague and ostentatious statement, it is still provocative.
As an ideology, modern art consumes its critics. The art piece exists independently of the creators, who did not intend for it to be one at all. The glasses were not approved for display by the museum, but what does it matter – the statement they made carried just as much weight as anything else confined within the gallery’s walls.