I was figuring that since everybody and their brother was in Central Park last weekend for the unveiling of The Gates, one of my esteemed FMU colleagues would've already posted about it here. We are an arty bunch, after all... Here's a rather gigantic photo of the exhibit as seen from space, courtesy of the very cool and very addictive Space Imaging website.
I've been reaping a lot of joy from the predictably cartoonish response the exhibit has earned from people who thought it was a complete waste of time. I got into one such argument with my brother, who loudly declared via email from his suburban tract-mansion that The Gates were "stupid", "a waste of money", and "not real art". Having known my brother long enough to realize when he's baiting me with editorial nonsense picked up from some easy cultural whipping post like Fox News, I sweetly pointed out that the project was self-financed, wasn't costing the city anything, and was in fact creating jobs as well as generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in business for local bars and restaurants that all the visitors were promptly descending on all weekend. (My companion and I had to beat it all the way down to 23rd and 9th to find a restaurant that wasn't totally packed.)
As for the idea that the Gates were not "real" art -- a popular opinion also espoused in a few of the raggier city dailies, by dorks in golf pants, and by a bunch of artists who paint tourist portraits in the park for a living, well, that's an opinion too stupid for even me to bother arguing. "I don't like it" is a perfectly valid artistic opinion, but apparently not enough for the modern and sophisticated naysayer. It's more important to declare yourself the absolute authority and expect the rest of the world to live or die by your expert judgment. Eh? EH???
Truth be told, I wasn't particularly bowled over by The Gates myself. I only found it visually stimulating once I got up near 80th Street and was able to look back towards Columbus Circle with a bit of elevated perspective. The more enjoyable parts were being out on a beautiful afternoon, appreciating all the work and planning that went into pulling off such a monster project, watching little kids try to climb up the posts, seeing the celebrity couples strolling around holding hands, watching teenagers send text messages and walk their robot dogs, and generally making mental notes of all that other faux-pastoral small town horseshit people always carry on about when they write about New York City.
As for the Gates not being "real art" idea, I found myself once again fighting the creeping urge I always get in these instances to pinpoint a really upsetting or challenging work of creativity, and proudly display it as an object of appreciation for people who share my brother's artistic outlook. Musically, this is a common and easy practice for many of us who spent our teens living out the under-achieving, negative asshole stereotype like I did. Arriving at WFMU later on in life with some kind of profound agenda at hand, these issues are routinely worked out of our systems on a weekly basis and reflected in the music we choose to play. For me, an earlier example harkens back to when I first started doing radio in 1992, which was just about the same time that the Spin Doctors were becoming popular. At my old radio station, whenever I would get a request for said band, I would instead play music by quasi-legendary Trenton noiseniks the Scornflakes, (click to hear RealAudio archive) who had a record out that I was able to scientifically prove would make all fans of the Spin Doctors feel like shit about themselves (forever.) I admit, doing this was immature but was (and still is) very satisfying. There's still some part of me that appreciates the heedless joy of being stared at blankly by Joe and Mary Suburbanite for expressing an appreciation of something edgier than The Little Mermaid.
Of course, achieving that kind of satisfaction on the visual arts front can be loosely approximated any number of ways. One favorite that recently snapped back to my immediate focus would be Ron Mueck's "Mask", which I was able to view in all its terrifying splendor last November at the Saatchi Gallery in London. This photo doesn't do it proper justice, but when you walk into the gallery and are directly confronted by it, your bowels will definitely do that same rumbling bass thing you hear at the beginning of the Scornflakes track. (It's gotta be close to 15 feet tall.)
And make no mistake: Any number of the exhibits at the Saatchi would utterly terrify the lightweights and pansies who were frightened by the big, mean orange shower curtains in Central Park. I definitely recommend shelling out the money to visit the gallery if you're ever in England, no matter how bad the exchange rate gets.
While it's a no-brainer that Mask would upset my brother (I think he liked the Spin Doctors after all), London is inconveniently far away. There's no way I could get him into a museum like that or have him sit through even the first minute of a Scornflakes record. So clearly, an easier way for me to have some fun with this familial argument and flesh out my responsibilities as the creepy little brother is to rough up his email box with a link to this mind-bending commercial for Afri-Cola, created by Charles Wilp in 1968. That'll give him nightmares. (You can view many more decidedly un-commercial commercials for the fizzy beverage on the Afri-Cola website, most of which will handily relegate all that overhyped hooey seen during the Superbowl to the trash.)
If that doesn't work, I'll invite him to have a seat and enjoy a good long stare at Ivan Witenstein's fantastically jaw-dropping hot dog sculpture. Yes, my friends... that is indeed a six-foot hot dog squirting ketchup and mustard all over itself with a stillborn black infant emerging from the lower quarters. It's called:
Watch her younger year by year
Stare her back in time,
Teach her the four food groups
Hotdogs, pussy, beer, and crime.
Try rationalizing that one for someone who as a teenager didn't have any better records for me to steal than ELO, Linda Rondstadt, and the Beach Boys' "Endless Summer".