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Modern art - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Modern art
Bar of Soap Sells for $18,000

First, may I take this opportunity to go, "EWWWWW!"?

Second, whether it's made of human fat from the prime minister of Italy or not, it's a bar of soap. Sitting on a piece of velvet, I'll grant, but a bar of frakking soap. If it had sold on Ebay as a curiosity, I'd roll my eyes and move on, but it sold at a high class art fair.

I do believe the quote attributed to P.T. Barnum is appropriate here--except that it appears with the growing population that more than one sucker is born every minute.

Soap-making is a lost art, I'll give you that. I wouldn't know how to take fat and make it into a bar of soap (at least not without checking The Forgotten Crafts, available at most major libraries). But it's also something people once did as a routine activity, not something that required any special talent. Using human fat isn't artistic, it's just tasteless (not to mention resembling people who I wouldn't think artists would want to resemble). And the bar of soap is just a slab. It's not carved, which would be tacky but at least require some artistic talent. It's not molded (again). It's just there.

I see lovely art every day on my f-list from people who could probably find uses for $18,000. Granted, it's not drawn with human byproducts (as far as I know), but it exhibits some discipline and talent. Of course, discipline and talent are apparently self-evidently unimportant next to the ability to be gross. I mean, I could draw a stick figure with a pencil, and it would rightly be thrown away. But if I went down to the sewers, dipped a stick in excrement, and drew exactly the same stick figure, it would suddenly be hugely creative? (I have other thoughts of what I could use for a medium, but I don't want to put the ideas out there, for fear of someone using them.)

Not.

People, you're getting hornswaggled.

Art world, get back to art, and leave the gross curiosities on Ebay, where they belong.
22 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
calixa From: calixa Date: June 19th, 2005 06:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Right then, that's just disgusting.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: June 19th, 2005 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
do believe the quote attributed to P.T. Barnum is appropriate here--except that it appears with the growing population that more than one sucker is born every minute.

Actually, it seems to illustrate that saying from Heinlein-

The amount of intelligence in the universe is a constant, the population however keeps expanding.
murasaki99 From: murasaki99 Date: June 19th, 2005 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Was it really made with what you said???? I'll join you in a heartfelt EWWWwwwww.

Hey whoever buys that needs to get the toast that Elvis bit into, and the toast that has an image of the Virgin on it.

Pretty soon it'll be used dental floss, toenail clippings, and bellybutton lint of the famous being flogged on Ebay. Bleah!
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mincot From: mincot Date: June 19th, 2005 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
EWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

And my mind boggles. Why make soap with human fat ... WWII much? And how did the person get his paws on Berlusconi's fat? Who got paid off, and why? And Who in their right mind would pay that much money just to say they owned a piece of the PM, when there are other much more effective ways?

Yeah. There's art, and then there's art that is disgusting that really DOES make a statement that needs to be made, and then there's this. Yuk.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 20th, 2005 02:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm trying to turn it over and make it into some kind of bitterly ironic statement about the Axis powers... or something... but come on... Berlusconi isn't Mussolini, and even during WWII, that wasn't what Italy was known for. I can't even suss out what sort of statement it might be trying to make, which means that if it has a message, it's not communicating it very well. Which is as big a crime as being gross and tacky.
mincot From: mincot Date: June 20th, 2005 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I couldn't suss out a statement, either. If I were really up on Italian politics there might be SOMETHING in getting lots of well-heeled people to pay for a pound of the PM's flesh, but I don't know enough about it to see if there really is a subtle statement there or if, as I suspect, this is just disgusting and a Gross Violation of Good Taste. Bleargh.
heatherhobbit From: heatherhobbit Date: June 19th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
It seems that anything that is "different" or "stange" is considered art.

Art world, get back to art, and leave the gross curiosities on Ebay, where they belong.

I agree.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 19th, 2005 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
What makes this really funny is that the people who buy $18,000 bars of soap probably laugh their heads off at people who pay for relics of saints. And with the saint, at least you get a good story!
queenrikki_hp From: queenrikki_hp Date: June 19th, 2005 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
The fact is that this is not only tacky but, well, disgusting, wrong and unbelievably stupid. $18000 dollars for a...curiosity (the other words I wish to use were highly inappropriate) is the act of someone with an obvious mental defect.
h311ybean From: h311ybean Date: June 19th, 2005 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

EWWWWWWW.

Sorry about the basically useless reply, but I just had to react to the news. Gross.
sep12 From: sep12 Date: June 20th, 2005 01:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Just, ick.

That's all really.
Oh, I loved the Marauders fic!
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: June 20th, 2005 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
What makes me particularly doubtful of the buyer's intelligence is that the article implies it was an investment buy. What the crap? Does anyone really believe the value of a bar of human soap is going to appreciate?

It makes me worry about other art collecters. Honest people who really just want make an investment for future generations. Art seems like the most unreliable market, especially "contemporary art" by "artists" who are still alive. Hornswaggled indeed.
austenrowling From: austenrowling Date: June 20th, 2005 04:17 am (UTC) (Link)
EWWWW That is nasty...I did not make it past the first paragraph of that article.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: June 20th, 2005 04:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I shan't comment much on the bar of soap other than to say "I wouldn't buy it". I'm not going to argue its artistic value or lack thereof; I lived for two years with housemates who are art majors and love all kinds of contemporary work and, not being a fan of a lot of modern art myself, it was an ongoing debate. That said, I don't think they'd be too interested in the soap, either.

The way the article talks about art pieces as a hot investment, though, reminds me of nothing more than the stories of tulip mania in 17th-century Holland - a lot of people sinking a lot of money into something that, in hindsight (or not in hindsight, but to someone not caught up in the frenzy), seems totally stupid. And really, reading about an astronomically-priced, highly unconventional bar of soap doesn't make me feel anything other than glad I'm not involved, you know? Let them have their human soap - art, not art, not important to me. I'll read about it with a kind of detached bemusement and shake my head and wonder why.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 20th, 2005 04:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, title aside, I don't mind actual modern art. Some of it is neat and puzzling in a good way. I just think that things like this stupid bar of soap really contribute to the idea that modern art isn't art, because... honestly... it's soap. It takes no talent and very little thought.

I've developed some appreciation for abstract expressionism (though I still don't "get" it, exactly), and--while I'll never enjoy Jackson Pollack--I have a certain appreciation of art that's just pure color-play. I adore surrealism; it's like a dream sequence on the wall. And some modern sculpture is striking. But all of that takes effort and education, and shows some understanding of the topic. The stuff like putting up a toilet seat (Duchamp) or making a bar of soap out of human fat... that just detracts from what actual artists do. It's mocking art, and mocking people who love art.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: June 20th, 2005 05:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I know what you're saying, because I personally pretty much agree. The interesting - and problematic - thing, though, is that the guy who made the soap... doesn't agree. If he honestly sees his bar of Italian Politico Specialty Soap as art, that's his prerogative, so no one can really tell him it's not... even though to most of us it makes no sense. I don't know if I actually believe what I'm saying - this is just how the debates with my housemates generally went. People are so weird.

The modern art I take issue with are, as I think you were saying, the pieces where you can't really tell if the artist is actually making a statement about something, or if their statement is just that modern art is stupid. I was on a trip to NYC last winter and, as it was organised by the Fine Arts Network at my university, the only thing resembling an itinerary about the trip was that we stopped at a modern art gallery on the way home. All the art students were excited and those of us who were just in it for the bus ride and the group rate on the hostel were thoroughly unimpressed. There were some good ones, where my "good" I actually mean "by the time I left the gallery I was treading a very fine balance between outrage and hysteria". I think my favourite pieces were the three rooms that were full of coloured yarn - stapled to the floor, stretched across to the walls and ceilings and stapled there, too, up and down and across until the rooms were full or there were discernable shapes in the middle. It was kind of cool to look at. The artist was, presumably, trying to make some sort of statement about the human condition or whatever but, unfortunately, no one in my group had the slightest clue what that statement might have been, because the yarn-filled rooms were oh-so-profoundly labelled "Untitled #1", "Untitled #2", and "Untitled #3". I mean, come on - at least spend some time on naming your pieces! I could staple yarn to my floor and walls and ceiling, but nobody in their right mind would put it into a gallery... partially because I'm not an already-established artist (that's another issue right there, but I'll leave it for now), and partially because that guy did it first (how dare he).

Um... I'm rambling and can't remember what point I'm trying to make. I'm sorry.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 20th, 2005 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
The interesting - and problematic - thing, though, is that the guy who made the soap... doesn't agree. If he honestly sees his bar of Italian Politico Specialty Soap as art, that's his prerogative, so no one can really tell him it's not... even though to most of us it makes no sense.

I'm not really inclined to give it that broad an interpretation. I'm a word person, and when you dilute a word so far that "art" can include "square block of soap on velvet," then the word ceases to mean anything, and when words cease to have meaning, then communication breaks down entirely. So no, I'm not into, "I say it means this, therefore it does!" Definitions may not be absolutely firm--there's always a fuzzy area at the edges--but there are things that fall outside of them.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: June 20th, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fair enough. (And since I agree with you at least 90% anyway on the Gross Soap Issue... yeah. :))
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 21st, 2005 07:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd far rather have a tulip than a bar of human soap. Ewww.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: June 21st, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haha, touché! ;p
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