AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH FREE EXPRESSION, ABUSIVE ART, AND UNDERSTANDING?

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What follows is a guest post by John Rapko about the recent Guggenheim Museum controversy.

The controversy

On Friday, September 22, a friend sent me an e-mail alerting me to an on-line petition. This time the issue was that the Guggenheim Museum in New York City had released a list of the names of the artists and their works to be included in the upcoming show “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” Among the 150 works were three involving live animals, including a video of an installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu wherein dogs were strapped into opposing treadmills, where they ran in place, tugged, and snarled at each other to exhaustion. The two other pieces are by artists better-known outside China: a notorious piece by Huang Yong Ping, “Theater of the World”, which shows a large structure wherein many reptiles and insects have been placed, with the animals left to willy-nilly eat each other, fight for space, or make some kind of mutual accommodation; and a video by Xu Bing that shows a boar and a sow, each densely painted with nonsense–Chinese and –Roman characters, mating in a gallery. Thousands of people, including myself after a scanning, were signing the petition. The Guggenheim quickly released a statement urging people to consider the works as a document of their times, and to reflect upon the situation of the artists who were driven to make such works. The signing of the petition only quickened, and by Tuesday, September 26, when the Guggenheim announced that the works would not be shown, supposedly because of the threatening tone of many of the complaints about the show, the petition had garnered over half a million signatories. What had happened? Was it simply a matter of an internet mob hurling electronic threats of violence towards the museum’s employees that forced the otherwise unjustified withdrawal of the works, as the Guggenheim stated? Was the withdrawal further a cowardly capitulation to thugs with an impoverished understanding of animal rights and human rights, indeed “tragic for a modern society”, as the artist Ai Weiwei said? Is this an act of “censorship” violating the artists’ “right to free expression”, as Huang Yong Ping, the artist behind one of the allegedly objectionable works has urged? Or had an inexplicable category mistake been corrected, as implied by the countless objections that “animal torture is not art“?  Continue reading


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100 PHILOSOPHERS 100 ARTWORKS 100 WORDS #67

Philosopher: C. Thi Nguyen, Utah Valley University

Artwork: Monument Against Fascism, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz, 1986. As Neo-Fascism was on the rise in the city, the Municipal Council of Hamburg-Harburg commissioned this monument: a 12 meter tall steel column, clad in lead. The monument invited visitors to sign it by engraving, hammering, and pounding into its sides. The column was slowly lowered into the ground over eight years, until, in October 1993, it disappeared entirely. It gathered over 70,000 signatures. Now only the top surface of the column is visible, flush with the ground.

The column was accompanied by this text: “We invite the citizens of Harburg, and visitors to the town, to add their names here next to ours. In doing so we commit ourselves to remain vigilant. As more and more names cover this 12-metre tall lead column, it will gradually be lowered into the ground. One day it will have disappeared completely, and the site of the Harburg Monument against Fascism will be empty. In the end it is only we ourselves who can stand up against injustice.”

Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochen Gerz, Monument Against Fascism, 1986

Monument against Fascism 1986-1993 text panelEsther Shalev-Gerz and Jochen Gerz, Monument Against Fascism, 1986 c

(photos courtesy of Esther Shalev-Gerz)

Words: What more is there to say? Every time I see these pictures and read that text, I almost cry. It is unbearably potent. Why is it so important that the monument disappear? Why is it so important that it start so bold and tall? The text says it is a call to action. The Gerzes said it was a counter-monument, against the fascistic tendencies inherent in all monuments. It refuses to honor. James Young says by vanishing, it remembers a vanished people. But there’s something more. To stand there, with that great column and all those signatures buried beneath you…

(More information and more.)


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ARTIST INTERVIEW: JÖRG RECKHENRICH

Chalk board drawing, series Film Stills, “Appropriation” (2016)

Artist Jörg Reckhenrich interviewed by Alex King for AFB

Jörg is a Berlin-based artist. With an understanding of art – shaping the social space – he takes the creative principles to the world of organizations. Art, he believes, can open our eyes to understand that we are not moving forward to a goal, we are at the goal and changed with it.

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