My name is Truman, and I am an artoholic. I live with art and in its world every day, even though much of what I encounter says nothing to me about my life (thank you, Morrissey). You see, most art is toothless crap. More specifically, most art has either no teeth or baby teeth. I know this because for the past 20 years I’ve worked with creative types such as writers, graphic designers, and fine artists. I’ve also been an avid consumer of art, visiting art galleries, museums, biennials, triennials, quadrennials, and so on across Europe, Africa, and North America. There are few artists with a set of gnashers akin to those sported by the giant James Bond villain Jaws, whose steel dentures make him the Jasper Johns of the Bond franchise, or vice versa. I’ve flogged that metaphor to within an inch of its life, so let’s move on.
My most common formal encounter with art and its followers is The Opening. This is the big night when a gallery or museum throws open its doors to carefully selected members of the public, though this is also where the problems begin. I mean, you’ll see members of the public, but you have zero chance of coming across a representative sample of the population of Fort Worth. I have never spotted a big ol’ F250 with a 6-inch lift, weeks-old mud speckling its wheel arches, parked outside of an Opening, for example. Upon entering the festivities, you will be greeted by an overwhelmingly white crowd in various states of dress ranging from the all-black art uniform to “look at me” weird to the crisp fine cotton of the moneyed who are there, in the main, hoping to find a painting that will match the new drapes in whatever room they most recently revivified.
Once you’re inside and have weighed up the crowd of attendees, the next phase of The Opening is to go take a look at the gallery’s written description of the show. Or at least what it purports to be but is instead ball-achingly obtuse gallery prose. Such is its detachment from regular English, this form of verbiage has its own name (I shit you not) — International Art English (IAE). This is a form of pompous, willfully opaque pleonasm crafted with a minimum of 70 percent adverbs and adjectives stuffed in compound sentences that form an entirely too-long paragraph. The result is a word behemoth that casts nothing but shade on the reader’s understanding of what the white cube holds. Rather than crib examples of IAE from local shows (even I recognize the point at which one should stop pissing on one’s own chips), I bring the delights of this foreign language to you from a Chicago Magazine article:
IAE version: “With his keen knowledge of paint’s spatial effects, the artist exploits the transformative qualities of color applied directly to the architectural frame.”
Real–world English: “The artist painted a mural.”
Art bollocks: “The exhibition features a selection of works that exercise the boundaries of the pictorial plane and straddle the line between image and object.”
Real: “The artist mixes photographs with sculptures.”
I mean, who writes this shit? And more importantly, who do they think they are talking to? The answer to the first question is art professionals trained and experienced to widely varying degrees. In my experience, the more the IAE stinks of bullshit, the least qualified and experienced the art professional. In terms of who they are speaking to, I have no clue. You could say that on this matter, I celebrate my intersectional cerebral vacuum as a representation of the desire to throw off the constraints of the prevailing art hegemony. I prefer to say that I haven’t the foggiest idea. Before exiting, let me point you to the you-too-can-do-this glory of the art statement generator. You can thank me later.
A critical function of The Opening is to provide free drinks to its attendees. I often wonder how lightly populated these galleries would be on these nights if they eschewed alcohol. Many people seem to be there for the bar alone. Look, I loves me a drink, and most people agree that the best-tasting booze is free booze. That, however, is no excuse for the vaguely art-related booze cruises that are on display whenever there are two or more openings on a given night in the Fort. Come in, decipher the IAE, grab a free drink or four. Do not attack the gallery doors like they are the gates of the Bastille and you are revolting peasants. Revolting you may be, but entitled you most certainly are. Don’t pillage the buffet (always a range of cheese chunks, crackers, fruit, brownies, and more recently, to my dismay, a hollowed-out cabbage into which has been vomited what may be hummus) like you’re ravenous, even though it is probably a full six hours since you lunched at Heim or Brewed or some such.
Eat, drink, be artsy. Yes, I am insisting that you take a look at the artwork on display in the gallery that is giving you free domestic beer, art wine (a universal but unidentifiable white and a similarly masked red), and snackage. Have the decency to spend a little time looking at each work. I know that most people don’t quite know how to stand in front of art. After 20 years, I still feel self-conscious standing in front of the toothless crap: How do I look interested? Have I been staring long enough? Too long? Am I blocking the views of others?
I’d like to interject a quick-ish word on the fetish for displaying the price of artwork beside the piece. Oscar Wilde nailed it, as usual, in Lady Windermere’s Fan when he described a cynic as someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Indeed. Moreover, to know the price of every artwork one views is reductive, causing the viewer to, consciously or otherwise, consider the relative merits of artworks according to the price being asked for their purchase.
You know what absolutely rocks, though? When you encounter a piece that has teeth. You are freed from the awkwardness of the viewer and suddenly have no need to regard yourself in the space. The work draws you in and opens your mind, as your breathing quickens yet lightens. You are probably smiling, eyes glistening, without knowing or needing to care. This, in spite of all the bullshit, the booze cruisers, the toothless art, is why I persist with art and The Opening. It is the thrill of the chase and the utter joy of being bitten.
Fort Worth does have some fine galleries and museums run by some talented, dedicated, and experienced people. Artspace 111 and The Art Galleries at TCU stand out in my experience for dynamically showcasing the work of local artists and those from all corners of the globe, respectively. There are others. Fort Worth has some talented and dedicated artists populating those galleries, among them Raul Rodriguez, whose photography tells urban tales through visual poetry; the portrait photography of William Greiner, which is deservedly garnering praise from Fort Worth to London and points in between; and recent transplant Rachel Livedalen, who’s gaining credit and collectors in Fort Worth and beyond for her playful yet thoughtful take on contemporary femininity in her prints.
Go. Get bitten.