The Artwork of Michael Divine

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The Emperor's New Clothes (or: My Visit to Art Basel Miami)

December 6th, 2009

“What really got me,” said Myra, “was how that one woman was passing along those black canvases and, whatever she was seeing in them, I don’t know. But she was really trying.”

Yes, whatever she was seeing in them. She was trying to see into them, really. But what could that have been? She was seeing if these three long rectangular canvases, painted a thick matte and slightly chunky black, standing on the wall at six by two feet, really were worth the quarter million dollars or whatever was being asked for them.

Walking through the Art Basel Convention Center in Miami I got the feeling that there is no soul left in art. I had a hard time finding the love, life, energy, exuberance, exploration, joy of discovery and creation. It seemed there was only the academic and monetary commoditization of art as it is defined by whomever deems themselves to be the spokes people of the Art World. And between the two, all that is left is a lot of mental masturbation.

Blank canvases, framed and anointed. Small pieces of felt tacked to the wall. Little fluorescent bits and pieces of wire and scrap glued together to form a hoop or something garish. A giant word in neon. A cube. A square. A conflagration of paint. NOTHING. NOTHING. And more NOTHING.

Amongst all of this artistic drivel I found maybe ten really interesting pieces. Out of thousands. I found them interesting because these few pieces I saw had some sense of discovery, fine use of color, a unique view point and some actual skill and stood out like sore thumbs, or a welcome respite.

Yet, amongst all these people and all this “art”, I got the feeling that someone is tricking someone else. Someone is being convinced of the substance or lack thereof in all of this. Is it the artists, somewhere along the way, who tricked the gullible world into believing there is something to what they are doing when in fact, it’s just a naked and shameless attempt to make money out of nothing?

Or maybe it’s the art dealers who, not wanting to have to look any deeper, have decided to settle on something that is meaningless and, in doing so, have created both a market as well as the producers.

Quite possibly it really might be the public themselves who are at fault. Is this artwork, that which is presented and lauded as the creme de la creme of the art world, really just a reflection of the empty lifeless and superficial world we are living in? A vapid reflection of where we are as a people?

I watched a young girl, dressed elegantly enough but reminding me of the naive light hearted girl in the movie “Brothers Bloom” that I just recently saw, go walking through the crowd, holding a handful of roses, saying “If I had a billion dollars, I would buy all of this!”

I thought to myself that If I had a billion dollars, I would buy it all and burn it, although that might be terrible for the environment. Instead, maybe I’d just put it in a large museum. The Not-Art Museum.

But then, maybe in this who-is-tricking-whom game, maybe all of the players – the artists who have run out of ideas and regurgitate the past in weak attempts at the avant garde, the art dealers who then hawk it as the next big thing, the art collectors who salivate over another expensive object to acquire, the media who hovers around gawking at and applauding the spectacle, and the general public who just wants to feel like they are a part of something. They are all just agreeing to the same uncomfortable truth: let’s not dig any deeper, it gets hard to understand. Let’s not push any further, lest we find something meaningful and, should we find something meaningful, at which point we’ll have to confront the meaninglessness of so much that we do. And that would be a disaster.

The truth is, what is going on in the art world is very much akin to what is on TV, or is playing at the movie theater, or lining the aisles of the grocery store, etc. That is to say: it’s an empty sort of substance, seemingly lacking anything truly nourishing.

In the end, we left there, back into the slighly muggy Miami evening rather hungry. I  found the Cuban restaurant we ended up at, along with the company and the mojitos, to be infinitely more satisfying.

The Artwork of Michael Divine

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