Digging Below the Surface

We don’t intend to be trite here but our weekly round-up of art gallery choices skews heavily towards appearance first, meaningful impact second. It wasn’t meant (how many times have we heard that sorry excuse?) but it does bring up an important point about looking at art, things that don’t really seem to qualify as art, and things that aren’t art, but a lot of people want to label as art. Still with us?

The short answer to this dilemma is that art can and should be a broad classification. There’s no need to be difficult about it: lots of objects, if presented and explained well, qualify as art. Many people feel uncertain about this. After all, why call it art if it really looks like junk? Is it some kind of weird insiders’ joke? Sadly, we can’t answer that (but believe us, there are definitely days when it feels like a bad joke), we can only say keep going to galleries and museums, look at everything you can, learn what your own interests and tastes are, then expand on that.

And if that seems a little too difficult, you can always begin by using our incredibly useful and interesting recommendations.

We start with that master of sly commentary, Andy Warhol, a man who was so comfortable with lowbrow tastes and highbrow concepts that art students everywhere are still struggling to match him. His most famous visual style has been stolen so many times that when you see a genuine Warhol, it looks a bit fake. But just when you think there’s nothing to consider, he can turn on a dime: work that seems facile or even tasteless can seem, on closer examination, to have complexity and emotional bite below the surface.

Philip Guston engages in a similar bait and switch, only his method is to use cartoonish images to startle and shock, mentally shaking you until your teeth fall out. You think these canvases are ugly, brutal? he says. Look at the real world, with all the hate, oppression, and violence humans do to each other. This happened before, it’s happening now, it will happen again. Guston challenges himself and the viewer to face the acceptance of complicity in these deeds, then to change their thinking and push back against these acts however they can.

Finally, in the ‘Gallery Shows’ section, we feature Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion at the Museum at FIT. This flower is the living embodiment of going beyond surfaces, renowned throughout history for physical beauty as well as its symbolism in various cultures. Roses are ideal for the multiple intentions and meanings that fashion adores, the idea of borrowing a magnificent splendor to cover an ordinary figure, the painful thorns that lurk below the flower and leaves, protecting itself against the harsh world…we could go on but our internal editor thinks we’re getting a little too florid here. Just take it from us: this exhibition is beautiful, provocative, and a fantastic tribute to this perennial favorite.

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