Monday, October 16, 2017

What Happens When You Don’t Like A Show Everyone Loves?


Susan Cianciolo at Bridget Donahue


Yesterday I had to do some work for a project and before setting off to that I wanted to see some art. Looking at art is something I really enjoy, it’s a reboot and many times a relaxing activity that I usually do by myself and on occasion with someone else.

I was in the Lower East Side/Chinatown area so I went to some shows I have been meaning to see but somehow kept missing. Some were okay, nothing really stood outit’s hit or miss when you gallery-hopand I wasn’t expecting much but something funny happened.

At one of the shows, the Susan Cianciolo show at Bridget Donahue, I had a very strange feeling.

I walked in and I looked around and I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t. And for some reason this made me feel bad. Or some sort of emotion of, ‘not getting it’ or a feeling of self-evaluation of aesthetic taste. I’m not here to dog on the show. It’s not about that. It’s totally par for the course that somethings resonate while other things don’t, but what I am curious about is what happens when there is a show that everyone else in the art world seems to love but you don’t.

There is every merit to why Cianciolo is having the applause that she is of late. Her work has bended and blended the lines between fashion and art for years now and should certainly be recognized. Her exhibiting at Donahue, which I have said a loud to many people, is the future and model for new galleries to strive for, and they make perfect sense together.

These things are right and just in the world and I’m not diminishing any of that, but there is an undoubted presence of the ‘cool’, of the ‘it’ in both artist and gallery that makes it hard to vocalize anything but admiration.

I guess it is only fair to say why/what I didn’t like about the show:

The show’s conceptual conceit, at its core, is the concept of the body. Cianciolo created three tent like rooms in Donahue’s space and there are three others, working in parallel, at Modern Art in London. The tents are open structures and are ‘room’ like in that they are populated with a domesticity that harkens to Bedouin tent meets afterschool program, meets quilting circle, meets ayahuasca safe zone. They are open, just beam structures, and you can see what’s inside, even though you are invited to remove shoes and go inside. The tents seem to have been ‘activated.’ There is debris and traces of participation. They are colorful, friendly, and have warmth but for me, something just felt off.

The inclusivity of it all made me a bit wary. The structures made me feel unconvinced. A tent is a place of hiding, a nest of safety, the way these were on view felt like displays and sets for some type of utopian living and interaction that I would only be able to participate in if socially forced and with audience. That felt strange, off, unsettling and it felt counter to the show’s premise. I didn’t feel my body and a relational desire to interact but the opposite. I was all cerebral. Wondering, what’s the point, what am I missing, why do I feel so distant and unconvinced?

This might be the point of the show, to ask these questions, and that in itself is a success but back to my main point. While I was looking and when I left the space I felt a type of guilt. So many people have mentioned this show to me. They don’t talk about it in big idea ways but there is definitely this overriding sense that it is ‘cool’ and that it is a must see because it is.

This happens a lot in art, there is a current of something that makes someone or someplace feel like it is epicenter, hitting a mark, is unquestionably good regardless of what is on view. The art world really loves this. It wants to feel like it is on pulse, on the cutting edge and this is at many times exciting to see and be a part of. What has me a bit flummoxed is that because of this, there is a blanket pass for work and shows and that seems reductive/bad for art.

If I say I don’t like a popular show it becomes not so much about the show but about my confirming a sort of status. It makes one feel like they are off the mark and somehow not attuned to what is ‘in’ and what is again the word, ‘cool.’

I’m not cool. Never been, never will be but I don’t say that or use that as a contrarian badge. I like to think and react to art for myself and I want to feel free to not feel this strange form of guilt because I happen to dislike one of the most endeared shows in one of the most endeared spaces in the city. I want to feel like we are all able to critique and be honest about what we are seeing and have a conversation about it versus feeling like taking photos, going to the opening, having degrees of association with it in terms of its in-crowd spectral is enough.

Not liking something is just as hard to understand and articulate as liking something. I know the word ‘like’ is the least expectable term when talking about art but let’s be honest. That’s what it comes down to and it’s the job of the viewer to understand why or why not and it is through conversations that one can be convinced otherwise or not.

Let’s evaluate how we view and feel about art, without the auras and obligations, and talk about how it can serve this big conversation of ideas and aesthetics without guilt, remorse or social status preservation.