Contemporary Art. And My First Internet Meme.

Sitting in Millennium Park in Chicago recently, a place that is an overwhelming example of the city's intense push toward public art, I kept listening to families coming through on their cultural outings, many encountering art for the first time with their children. As I listened to them verbalize what they thought about the grand artistic works on display, I figured it out. I figured contemporary art out. I got down to the reasons I am so frustrated by it and even the reasons I sometimes like it.

Art is so vague and empty now because people want vague and empty. People want to project themselves onto whatever is in front of them. What is facebook but a highly curated mirror? Or maybe art has been taking a page from Hollywood lately as seats of theaters are filled with our fragile egos identifying with the onscreen protagonists? By leaving art open to interpretation and self identification audiences can put themselves in it, it becomes theirs and they are something they can relate to more than anything else. The amount of digital pictures taken in front of public sculptures I saw on this morning in Chicago was point in fact that the facebook generation isn't there to contemplate or experience much else than their own existence, even if it happens to be standing in front of exquisite pieces of art... and speaking of facebook, have you heard of this thing floating around called the "New Aesthetic?"

The New Aesthetic seems to take into account the look of technology in art, of how we as an audience of tech/media consumers take in images, process them through our human processor and use the digital tools around us to create something new, immediate, pixeled, personalized and, hopefully, informative. The exact definition of this term seems to be a bit scattered in its infancy, it might even disappear as a concept for all I know, but it does show a recognition of a new way of seeing that could lead to a more accessible artistic image language that focuses on the flattened technological landscape, of pixels as important conveyors of meaning and users as (potentially active) processors. Will the New Aesthetic make us think and act differently or reflectively? Will it provoke or instigate a positive cultural shift? Humanize us? Probably not. But the fact that people are recognizing that the facebook generation is communicating on a different visual plane leads me to think that maybe this style can lead to a better exchange of information and ideas, and not just end up the ad room buzzword it is aching to become...

Then there is the other confusing part of contemporary art that is inherent in this so-called New Aesthetic and that I have a love/hate relationship with: distance. I often get so mad at alienating art, art that is a slew of abstract shapes and colors (plenty of which is on view in Millennium Park and in the contemporary art mecca of Chelsea too) that makes you stand at an indifferent distance, that you can't interpret for lack of wanting to. But then, I was thinking about contemporary art I respond to and realized it is also distancing? The DIY movement that has been hanging around lately is all about revealing the process in order to distance the viewer to critically address the issues and politics behind the work. Distancing in non-DIY contemporary art though, of the austere shapes and colors persuasion, could create a thought provoking space but the lack of actual meaning in a lot of this type of work often falls short leaving the viewer cold, alone and thoughtless in a gallery...or behind a computer screen.

Most tech art is probably experienced in isolation too but the recent trend towards a kind of call and response in the digital art sphere is encouraging! The (this week's?) rash of those (damn) "What people think I do" internet memes, the constant linking (guilty) and liking of images, an immediate curation/organization of pictures through tumblr, all of these things are a weird kind of secluded conversation- we share in a digital exchange of ideas across a global technological gallery. But, then again, is the long distance "liking" and mimicry and collage another form of a spooky digital mirror? The making of a digi-scrapbook of what we, personally, like to look at alone in our rooms? Or could we possibly use the New Aesthetic for long distance cultural forward thinking and actual global conversation? Looking at ourselves critically through the distance of the internet?

I guess what I am getting at is: the art world right now is totally hung up on itself in a new wave of alienating self expression. Everyone wants a mirror (a good thing for the film-art/tech-art medium I bet!) and, to me, the successful artwork wants you to see in that mirror what caused those scars on your face and wonder if the war that caused them was worth it, while the unsuccessful artwork is just another ego stroking manifestation of our digital idea of self...and it also thinks you are hottt. Now, more importantly, how do we get out of this (terrible) mirror phase in art....?? Is the labeling of the New Aesthetic a potential way out? Or are we heading deeper into a virtual reality of self obsession without reflection on a global or communal scale? Or can we harness this concept for good somehow? Only time will tell I guess...! Or maybe this virtual magic 8 ball can tell us the future of contemporary art?????????? Or this magic virtual mirror? O alienating computer creativity! How I love thee!

OK. End rant. Here are a few images of some enormous public art pieces I encountered just walking around the city of Chicago, an old aesthetic in an ever changing contemporary art landscape: from the top Four Seasons, Marc Chagall mosaic 1974; Crown Fountain, Jaume Plensa, 2004 (image of worker repairing the sculpture!); A self made Jeff Koons meme...consider it a warning as to the possible future of contemporary art!; Cloud Gate, Anish Kappor, 2004; Nuclear Energy, Henry Moore, 1967, marks the location of the first controlled nuclear reaction (!); Louis Comfort Tiffany glass dome, 1897,  the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world, housed inside the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the city's public library.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.