If dung can be art, does that mean art is dung?
Being a connoisseur of modern art, I immediately realized what was going on. “Hi, Nisha. This is an actual piece of Live Performance Art, right?” I said.
“No,” she replied. “This is me having a cup of coffee.”
That’s the tricky thing about art today. You can’t actually tell the difference between art and non-art.
There’s a controversy in the art world at the moment, because the latest art installation at a top gallery in Israel is a group of Europeans with lice in their hair. Incredibly, we had exactly the same thing at my kids’ school. Instead of grumbling, I now realize that I should have phoned the school principal to thank him profusely for providing the very latest modern art gratis to my offspring.
The first principle of modern art is that the item must not look nice. “It must appear to fail on aesthetic grounds,” explained Nisha. She pointed out that in 1995, the world’s top art prize went to a dead cow, and in 1998, to elephant dung sculptures.
She told me that Sotheby’s last year auctioned an art object called Merda d’artisa for 124,000 euros. This is a good example of how things always sound better in continental European languages. In English it would have been called “Poop of an Artist” and I for one would have paid good money to have it kept away from me.
Last year, artist Anish Kapoor received 350,000 pounds in compensation after a storage company mistook his work for rubbish and threw it away. A piece of art was also thrown away in 2004, at the Tate gallery in London. I felt really sorry for the cleaner in that incident – the art object she mistook for a bag of rubbish was Gustav Metzger’s bag of rubbish. I mean, how does one know the difference when there isn’t one?
At this very moment, New York artist Justin Vignac is selling art objects labeled New York City Rubbish, which he has cunningly made out of—yes—New York City rubbish. When is rubbish rubbish and when is it art?
“I used to answer that question by saying art is something that has been manipulated by an artist,” Nisha replied. “But since I have been studying Duchamps, I’m not so sure.”
Marcel Duchamps, she explained, simply signed ordinary objects (one was a urinal). Art critics loved his work, describing it as “the least amount of interaction between artist and art” and “the most extreme form of minimalism”.
My suspicion that the modern art movement is a massive joke being played by artists on the rest of us intensified why I heard that a man named Martin Creed won the Turner Prize for an installation which was actually an empty room.
“Could a column making fun of modern art be classified as an item of modern art?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “Yes,” she replied. “But only if an artist wrote it.”
If this column is replaced by rubbish or elephant dung tomorrow, you will know that I have handed it over to an artist. On the other hand, you may not be able to spot the difference.