Andy Warhol’s famous “Brillo” box, made out of exquisitely crafted prints, makes the essential point. Credit to Paul Drozdowski (btw, happy birthday!) for talking me through it. Here’s an everyday piece of design that we all take for granted. But add a famous artist’s name and technique to it, and it’s in a museum.
The DMA is featuring a bunch of works that are “museum jokes.” I saw a bunch of them in one of the current exhibitions, Form/Unformed: Design from 1960 to the Present. Shiro Kuramata’s “Miss Blanche” armchair, inspired by a corsage of Vivien Leigh’s and presented to a woman named Rose, makes me think of being shot in a mob movie, falling back and spilling roses everywhere.
I laughed out loud and said “well played” at what might be a Robert Venturi Chippendale chair. I didn’t think anyone was paying attention, but someone asked me why I was laughing. I explained what I thought was the joke, that Chippendale chairs depend on slender proportions for their beauty. Here, the width of the chair distorts that beauty, and the result is that you get a chair that is probably way more stable (for bigger rears?) but looks like a cello has been splayed apart. I suspect the woman and her mother who listened to me walked away with the impression that I was some kind of Neanderthal incapable of serious critique. I did point at another work entitled “Chair” and said it was a file cabinet that had a hatchet taken to it, that the artist was like “woah man, I can rip the lid off a file cabinet and get a chair out of it.”
Honestly, I do like museum jokes. I don’t think they’re a waste of time. You can’t just go from Monet to Rembrandt to Michelangelo and do “higher” art all the time, for this reason: what we consider ridiculous now is what another age might find the most serious part of our culture. What ends up in a museum is in large part a matter of chance, a matter of arbitrariness. It isn’t wholly that, of course, but the reminder that we’re in a dialogue about art over which we don’t need to seriously obsess is very helpful. Sometimes, we don’t need to analyze as much as respond. And maybe we should be more attentive to work outside a museum. – Well, that’s if we’re actually there for the art. -