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Connections: Questioning Art

Today’s post comes from Taylor Shoolery, class of 2012 and Art Center student docent.

“Ever since Marcel Duchamp had the courageous effrontery to take a urinal, bicycle wheel and a bird cage into a museum and proclaim them works of art, some artists have been arrogating to themselves the right to proclaim this, that and everything as art…History, however, has taught us, despite the proclamations and humanitarianism, that artistic experiences are few” – David Shirey, The New York Times, “Downtown Scene: A Display of Bones,” January 19, 1971

With this bold passage David Shirey begins his review of Nancy Graves’s Taxidermy Form, a statue of a taxidermy camel at the Reese Palley Gallery in Downtown Manhattan. Shirey concedes that Graves’s fabrication was inventive, but argues that what she has accomplished hardly qualifies as art. He claims that all she has done is make factual statements about a camel. The question of what constitutes art has been asked many times and remains open to debate. Defining and assigning artistic value is, in my opinion, a highly personal activity, one that is always changing, and that is unique to each person. There may, indeed, be a general consensus on certain renowned artworks, and perhaps it is this consensus to which Shirey thinks we should defer. But accepting the claims of history without questioning or re-thinking our assumptions is a notion that this kind of art challenges. Perhaps we ought to consciously participate in the inevitable re-imagining of the limitations and definitions we assign to the word “art”.  It is Graves’s inventive and open spirit that has affected the minds of so many since she graduated from Vassar fifty years ago.

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