In the past few months I have been focusing my energy into finding the humor within Fine Art, striving to understand it, and incorporating it into my own work. I have read, watched various performances and documentaries, and viewed many objects. My personal focus was, for the first time in my life one without much paint, delving straight into the use of objects and the world itself as a medium.
In the book Concrete Comedy by David Robbins, many ideas are presented. One being that humor, as in a sense of humor, varies from person to person and culture to culture. This leaves one’s ability to find universal themes a challenge. As an example, consider Andy Warhol’s thoughts on Coca-Cola. People drink it regardless of class or culture, and every Coke tastes the same for every person. This belief, along with the international acceptance of Coca-Cola, has driven this liquid and its label to become universal. The interesting part about objects is in the definitive of what an object is. In the case of Coca-Cola it is: the bottle, the label, the liquid and ultimately the promise. The promise that this Coke is no different than the Coke Queen Elizabeth drinks. This is a comical concept. Not that the queen drinks Coke, but that her Coke is the same as mine. Her bottle should be bedazzled; maybe she drinks it from a goblet. I drink mine from a goblet, I thought everyone did.
David Robbins made a piece called, “Nike Ghost Costume (1994).” The work is made of white fabric, hung in the fashion of a ghost, with holes cut for eyes and the Nike “swoosh” placed on the left side of the would-be ghosts’ chest. The only way to own the costume is in the form of a giclee print. Editions of three were made with one artist proof. The logo of Nike became a sensation when it attached itself to Michael Jordan in the early 1990’s. Will the same happen in the afterlife? Nike is a brand that you wear. Take the fact that he made a costume you cannot wear and is only available in limited prints, you have a laugh-out-loud piece that is quite the opposite of what Nike’s actual brand intention is. Robbins also made, “The Wereling (1986),” which is a book written by an author who happens to have the same name as the artist, which Robbins encased in Lucite. Both of these works are quite funny, with the first not requiring much thought, and the second, unless the artists name is listed, leaving the viewer unsure of what they are seeing and why. Even though it may seem like a simple joke others may not get it at all.
This is not dissimilar to the recent work by Paul McCarthy, “Tree (2014),” now on display at Place Vendome in Paris. The piece alludes to the same issue of how previous knowledge drives a joke. “Tree” is a gigantic green butt-plug whose shape mocks that of a contemporary, streamlined Christmas tree (or vice-versa). Some may think it is a decoration, while others know right away it is a gigantic butt plug, named “Tree,” to signify the joke. In other words, the smarter you are and the more culturally involved, the more likely it is that you will get the joke. This is why art is the best place for these types of scenarios: the initial joke starts with Art. It is like a sneaky trick. The hierarchy, the discourses, the intellectual nature of art drives people’s perceptions to believe what they are seeing is art. The fact they even go to the museum shows they are of a higher culture, perceptibly so. The art world creates a type of theatre that acts as a launch pad for a piece. Sometimes additional information makes the joke funnier, as one cannot always rely on the tacit knowledge of others to connect the artists’ comedic intention. The famous cliché “the jokes on you” really plays-out well with these types of objects in art. I do believe it is Art. However, the primary drive is the joke and this is secondary to art. The ability to flow through something so canonical and historical under the umbrella of Art is quite entertaining. Nevertheless, “Tree,” has been vandalized—it was popped as a result of what it is, not what it represents and the joke is out or should I say the joke is over? “Tree,” is similar to my piece, “Stool Sample,” which is not as invasive as the actual scale of it. Though Paul McCarthy used the butt plug as a reference and I used the actual butt plug as a medium. The fact that it presents as a lamp and is made to look and function as one will hopefully assist in protecting it from vandalism. “Stool Sample,” is hypoallergenic (not many lamps are), so even though this lamp may make some people sick, it actually won’t make them sick. My work tends to contradict itself; it has an overt subtly to it regardless of medium.
I recently realized a piece I conceived called, “The Service Dog Project.” This project was framed around the perceptions of others within public spaces and how manipulating their ideals based on set social norms convinced me I could bring a dog into an art museum undetected—as long as this dog appeared to be a service dog. Tony Matelli created, “Stray Dog (2000),” a scale size dog rendered to look like a yellow lab with a service harness on it. The dog appears approachable and is without an owner. This creates an interesting dynamic. A service dog is not allowed to be approached or petted by others while it is working. This worked in my favor when touring the Museum of Fine Arts with my friend’s very real dog, Rosemary. A couple approached gesturing to pet Rosemary and I reminded them they could not as she was working. This is an actual rule; however, she was only dressed as a service dog, effectively creating an illusion of authenticity to the strangers. Other factors needed to be considered, and this rule made it easier to deal with the question of what would happen if she bit someone. She is a dog with a great temperament, but at the end of the day she is a dog—not a trained and certified service dog. If I had taken “Stray Dog,” attached a leash and some wheels and dragged it around behind me, it would not have the same impact it does as a singular stationary object placed within a public space. By utilizing an actual dog I am able to accomplish a similar response by employing similar ideologies relative to social norms that drive perceptions about service dogs. The difference is in the variable of medium: “Stray Dog,” being so realistic, is abandoned and approachable; this creates a dynamic where the viewer wants to help the dog or quite possibly, more importantly, help the owner they left behind. In other cases, observers may not even pay attention and ignore the dog. In the case of the installation of this work in 2014 at Wellesley College, the owner could be the “Sleep Walker.” According to critics he needs help finding his clothes… maybe that is what the dog is looking for. Either way both works instigate the viewer’s curiosity.
In a gag study I generated entitled “Touch Me,” I created a painting with a turquoise background vibrating with orange typeset text reading Touch Me. The piece is wrapped entirely with bubble wrap, prompting the viewer into breaking the convention of not touching the art. First, by telling the viewer explicitly to touch the piece and second, further exacerbating their quandary by presenting the bubble wrap, which everyone knows the vast majority of people enjoy popping. What is the viewer to do?
Though humor has woven itself into art history, it has never really held as high a regard as it should. There is a kind of irony within this, wanting something so funny to be taken so seriously. This further illustrates how important the evolution of humor within Art is, and that traditional formats, processes and mediums are not the only ways to generate art. This is where tangibility meets the intangible, where everything and everyone becomes medium, even the artist themselves.