Contemporary Fine Art

Contemporary Fine Art

In a review of Angus Kennedy’s Being Cultured: in defense of discrimination (2013), which appeared in The Art Newspaper for July/August 2014, Donald Lee reported his diagnosis of the flaws of contemporary British culture:

—‘These include an unreflecting horror of any notion of excellence; a refusal to make aesthetic and moral judgements; an insistence on blind, multicultural “inclusion” that, by its very rejection of evaluation, renders works of art meaningless and, ultimately, exclusive; the instrumentalisation of the arts as tools for social and political change; cultural institutions’ loss of faith in their primary purposes; a wholesale rejection of history; and an undiscriminating valorisation of mere opinion and individual experience.’

Needless to say, The Truth about Art does not share any of these assumptions, as its subtitle makes clear. But nor does it exclude contemporary fine art from its remit, though there will be fine artists who share some of the views listed above. TTAA’s project has been to test Robert M. Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality against the evidence of art history, and Pirsig made it clear that the MoQ includes everything.

The task that contemporary fine artists must undertake, if they are to be recognised as fine artists, was set out in the aesthetics of the Romantic philosophers. Their models are legion, but many derive from the canonical works produced by Marcel Duchamp after 1912, when his Nude descending a Staircase was rejected by fellow painters at the Salon des Indépendants. The Truth about Art explores Duchamp’s work and influence in Chapter 10, Anti-Art, where it discovers that Duchamp’s original purpose with his readymades and seminal Fountain of 1917, was entirely reframed in the 1950s and 60s to accord with the tenets of Romantic aesthetics.

Marcel Duchamp, left, Bicycle Wheel (1913); right, Bottle Rack (1914); both reproductions of lost originals

Fig. 1, Marcel Duchamp, left, Bicycle Wheel (1913); right, Bottle Rack (1914); both reproductions of lost originals

—‘Given the importance that Duchamp normally attached to his titles, it is significant that he conferred none on the Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Bottle Rack (1914) [fig. 1]. One interesting suggestion is that the former began as a phonetic collage of roue (wheel) and sellette (stand, as for a flower pot or sculpture), making it a ‘little’ sign for [Raymond] Roussel. Three possible French terms refer to the rack: porte-bouteille (bottle-rack), sèche-bouteille (bottle drier), and égouttoir (drainer). In 1993 the veteran Swedish museum curator Pontus Hultén pointed out that goutter, ‘to drip’, is a homophone of goûter, ‘to taste’. In rural France a bottle cost more than the wine it contained. An égouttoir allowed families to drain their washed wine bottles, which they would return to the wine merchant for refilling. To Duchamp, however, the word could have meant ‘remover of taste’, the goût which three philosophes had struggled to expound in Diderot’s Encyclopédie… and which Duchamp now wanted to expunge from Art. The 1912 catalogue of the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, where he bought the rack, illustrates a large bottle rack over the label ÉGOUTTOIRS, a seductive label for the man set on draining taste from Art. Duchamp gave these two objects no title, because each already had one.’

—The Truth about Art, pp. 172–73


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