A phrase I hear all too often is “It’s interesting, but I wouldn’t want to live with it.” The idea has been on my mind lately, so when I was digging through my dad’s library looking for Robert Motherwell’s Print catalogue the title Living with Contemporary Art caught my eye. The catalogue was from a show organized by the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in 1996. The museum asked eleven somewhat unusual artists to install their work both in the museum and in private homes around Ridgefield, Connecticut. (Umm, I would really love to do this in Sun Valley!) The catalogue follows the residents experiences from installation to revelation, or not. Read an excerpt from the curator, Harry Philbrick’s, intro below and order the catalogue here.
Living with Contemporary Art was inspired by comments from visitors to the several museum of modern and contemporary art in which I have worked over the last nine years. During this time, I have learned to have a great deal of respect for most of the viewers of art I have met. By and large intelligent and inquisitive people, they are looking for the very things most artists, myself included, want to give them: insight, beauty, mystery, metaphor, formal rigor, poetry. Yet today there is an often impassible chasm between artist and viewer, which museums rarely bridge. Most museum professionals forget how deeply involved they are with an esoteric language, how intimidating or effete their buildings and publication can look to outsiders, how refined their arguments are. I have learned, both as a museum educator and as an artist, to respect the basic questions visitors ask: “Who decides this is art?” “How can people live with this stuff?”
“What makes this a work of art?” is among the most fundamental questions one can ask. Marcel Duchamp’s wonderfully subversive gesture of making a found object into a work of art simply by declaring it so has evolved into an institutionalized dictum. A paradoxical situation exists whereby the institution certifies to its public that Duchamp’s stool and bicycle wheel, or or a pile of bubble gum, is art. While the artist, often quite rightly, declares such assemblages to be art, for the public they are only recognizable as art in the context of the museum, because the museum tells them it is art.
What if the museum were removed from the role of certifying the object as art? What if you found Charles Long’s BULOOP BULOOP without a wall label? What if you ran into it in your neighbor’s house? Living with Contemporary Art is, in part, an attempt to put these questions to the test. The exhibition, particuarily for viewers who participated in the house tours, minimized the impact of the institutional role of The Aldich Museum as mediator between art and viewer. The viewer confronted the work of art in a familiar context–a home–without the intercession of the Museum, its explanatory texts and pure white walls…
I love this idea. Living with art, particularly contemporary art, is a special experience. I didn’t fully understand or love all of the art in our home when I was growing up (I will still have stress nightmares that include Jonathan Borofsky’s Dancing Clown) but I know that it made me more open-minded, observant and, though it may sound cheesy, enriched. The experience also gave me a sense of what I want to live with as I start my own collection.
I understand that when purchasing a piece most people think they should want to live with it immediately and forever, but sometimes contemporary art isn’t instant and easy. It’s kind of like avocados. Forever I thought I hated avocados; fruit or vegetable? weird texture, weird color, weird name. But at some point, in a moment of feeling adventurous I tried one. I had to admit that I in fact love avocados! Maybe living with contemporary art is like that…maybe sometimes we don’t know what we want or like until we fully embrace the experience of it…