Although the wonderblog is supposed to be “musings about art and the meaning of life,” I’ve been a little short on the art portion of that. At least, I have never really done a critique of a piece of art yet.
Today, that will change. And I invite comment, please. Isn’t good art supposed to evoke a response?
That’s what they say.
Art should challenge you. Art should change your perspective. Art should make you uncomfortable sometimes.
But the major patrons of art in the 21st century are corporations. Art for the foyer. Decorative sculpture for the drive up to the main office. Ah yes.
Should lobby art make you uncomfortable? Perhaps the “challenge” of corporate art should have it’s base in challenging the workers (dare I say proletariat?) to do their best work for the company.
My company has been going through some renovations, which included my floor. It was several weeks before the renovation process got around to the part where they hang up pictures. There is a poster by Georgia O’Keefe in the mailroom now. Not her best work—I can say this, since I’ve been to her gallery in Santa Fe—but it is an interesting perspective of the trunk of a tree and some of its branches. I appreciate it. There is another work by the elevator; I call it the crayon tree. It’s a sort of white abstract tree trunk on a black background, with brightly colored marks or dabs along the sides. It looks like it’s raining crayons, as I wait for my elevator to arrive. Not sure about that one’s merit, but whatever. It’s cheery.
The one by my buddy’s cube is a sort of college-dorm poster. It’s a poster of a stretch of road going off into the distance, and an enormous moon hangs over it in the twilight blue sky. I think that a college freshman with a desire to travel and/or own a motorcycle would really dig it.
My buddy hates it.
These pictures are all of a bland nature. They are there, they give your eyes a place to rest on, but they are mostly non-intrusive.
The piece that really stopped me was on a different floor. It is a piece called “Candy” by Mel Ramos.
Let me see if I can describe it accurately. It is mostly made out of cardboard, and it looks like a Baby Ruth wrapper. There is an edge of the cardboard with what seems to be instructions posted in the upper left corner. I don’t remember what it says exactly, but it starts out saying, “Cut along the lines.” The candy bar wrapper looks partly opened, and the cardboard cutout of a young blonde 70′s-style knockout is inserted into the wrapper. The edges of the wrapper come right to the right spot on her chest, all you see is a bit of cleavage. But the whole thing is mounted on a mirror, so when you come up to get a closer look, or to read the instructions, you can see that her entire backside is naked. You can even see her tan line, a pale stripe running across her back and another blunt triangle across her naked bottom.
This one is hanging up across from a popular video room, so I get to pass by it a lot. The first time I saw it, I was flabbergasted and I had to take a better look. The idea of a woman being in a candy wrapper was so obviously sexist that it seemed to be almost anti-sexist. And when I got closer, I saw that it was mounted on a mirror, and I saw her little tan lines.
The whole thing is only about a foot tall. Probably not even that. She’s not much bigger than a Barbie.
An apt comparison.
But since I have to pass by this candy bar frequently, I am becoming more and more disturbed. Yes, it is a blatant portrayal of women as consumables for male palates. Or even female. It broadly states the objectification of women, and the role women are expected to play in society. How much the artist is aware of this is unknown. Maybe he is portraying his own attitudes, and they coincidentally are widespread.
It’s witty. It is an exaggerated perspective of an often unspoken reality. In the right mood, it might be profound.
I’m trying to be objective and open about it.
But I don’t think it is the sort of thing that belongs in a company hallway. Yes, women are commonly objectified. But they should not be experiencing that kind of treatment at work! So why should this piece of art (and I think it is more artistic than the crayon tree or the dorm poster) be displayed here?
I don’t think that Japanese Americans would like to have artistic photographs of War scenes from WWII posted in the hallways.
I don’t think African Americans would appreciate having scenes of slavery posted in public rooms.
Corporate art has to be more subtle. More bland, maybe.
Art is not art is not art. That is to say, there is a time and a place for different kinds of art. And some of the most profound and life-changing or life-enriching art must be handled carefully. Like a volatile substance.
I have in the past, a long time ago, made snide comments about the meaninglessness of corporate art. Those strange abstract geometric shapes made out of steel or concrete and rise up tall in the parking lot—”What does that MEAN?” I would say. “That’s not art. It’s just a way to fulfill the government’s requirement to spend x percentage of new construction on ‘art’.”
That was before I started going to work in those buildings.
But here is my dilemma now:
Do I swallow it? Do I just ignore Ms. Candy Bar?
Or do I try to get it removed?