A few years back I visited several art galleries in a very prestigious area of town. Most of the works were predictable and uninspiring, however, I was able to find a few chuckles along the way and it got me to thinking, ‘can art be both funny and serious’? You be the judge.
The first gallery I visited that day had a seven foot tall plush polar bear pushing a shopping cart brimmed to the top with canned sardines. Large, fluffy and funny but could it be considered serious art? Perhaps the artist was attempting some form of social commentary on the plight of the polar bear. Regardless of the intent, who, I wondered, would see this piece as a welcome addition to their living space, especially as it was priced well into the thousands of dollars. How long would it take before the looming furry beast became nothing but a gigantic dust magnet and the sardines reached their best before date?
The second gallery had a large landscape style painting in which a man in a business suit and trench coat was exposing himself to a giant sized, black Darth Vader helmet plunked in the middle of the road. We see only the man’s back with open trench coat and the massive helmet directly in front of him. To finish it off add a sprinkling of trees and buildings in the background. What was the artist getting at? I didn’t bother to question it too deeply as I value my sanity. Despite the ridiculousness of the piece my overall reaction was positive because I laughed out loud which was good (or not). Still uncertain as to whether it was supposed to be a serious work, I asked the gallerista if they knew the intended meaning. I was told, in frank undertones, that it was the artist’s personal vision. In other words, the mere public is not supposed to understand it. Funny or not, the price tag bespoke some serious money.
Lastly, I was assaulted by a large, full sized portrait of a horrifying clown in a dark and threatening pose. In creating the eyes the artist had applied two thick rounds of black acrylic paint then scooped a hole into the middle of each. The effect was that the clown was without sight, his eyeballs unmercifully gouged out. Okay, so perhaps this was intended to be the antithesis of happy, funny and humorous and on that level the portrait was a success; it was ugly, scary, and unpleasant. Beyond a doubt it would send anyone with ‘coulphobia’ (a fear of clowns) screaming into the street. As to the meaning or intent of this piece, I haven’t been able to dig any deeper than seeing it as a portrayal of the opposite of what a clown should be. Does that make it art or is there some hidden meaning that I’m just not getting? I left the gallery totally unimpressed. A year later I was quite surprised to see this same inane piece in a major museum as part of their contemporary collection. Now that’s funny! (or not).