Art, especially contemporary art, can go very wrong very quickly. When Sean Combs puts a phone charger in a woman’s privates and calls it art, you know something’s gone horrifically wrong. The art world has become jaded, desensitized, and dare we say it: devoid of meaning.
But there are people in the art world who want to change that, to remind us that there is contemporary art made with passion, and even modesty. (un)SCENE, an art exhibition in Midtown Manhattan, is a collection of pieces that are made by digital masters, photographers with a mission, and even a psychologist. Curator and director of (un)SCENE Mikel Glass, was explained to me the underlying connection between every featured artist.
“The show is really about people who make art because they have to. If they don’t make art, they’ll die. It’s a really passionate way to live. I wanted to celebrate that passion with this show.” He told me this as we came to an alchemy of art you wouldn’t expect to work. On the left, a beautiful Crespi painting, Portrait of a Gentleman With Snuff, hangs on the wall in a gold frame. On the right, an interactive piece by psychologist turned artist Jerry Meyer, has installed an interactive room that explores the relationship between sexual energy and electricity, a piece titled My Great Grandfather’s Attempts to Turn Sexual Energy into Electricity to Power Small Machinery Based on the Principles of Sigmund Freud and Nikola Tesla. It’s different, but then again, the meaning of the art show is quite different from everything else going on in the art world today.
“You know, I feel like the art world is really in a state of flux, it’s becoming too much about something that it shouldn’t,” Glass says, or perhaps thinks out loud, as we pass by a piece of impressive maturity for such a young artist- an untitled sculpture combining wood and 3D printing by Eugin Kim. “I want to try and bring art back to what it was, and what it could be. We tried to combine older pieces like the Crespi, and newer pieces like this one, to showcase the artistry that went into both of them. I think when you look at a piece like Kim’s, and then you look at a hand painted piece, you really start to see the qualities and craftsmanship of both.”
Down the hallway of a perhaps too ostentatious sculpture of Jesus’ bust, constructed out of fornicating Barbie dolls, we walk towards a towering 17th century alterpiece of the Martyrdom of St Peter, painted by Giovanni Batista Beinaschi. It was an appropriate into the darker room, not only in light but in the material. This area included a photo of a pregnant woman, only covered by her hands, paint and words written on her skin. On both sides of the portrait were photographs by The Untitled Magazine’s Indira Cesarine, taken at a Khmer Rouge prison in Cambodia. It almost seems like a metaphor, a woman trapped not by something man made, but by the task of motherhood that nature has bestowed upon her. It’s reminiscent of one of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits, beautiful and full of life, but heartbreaking at the same time. While I can’t assume any authority over the artists’ intentions, it left an impact.
One of the other most impactful pieces was a piece by digital media artist Daniel Belquer. I’d heard it from across the room, thinking it was a video piece about violence. When I walked down the narrow pathway to his piece, I found that I wasn’t completely wrong. On the wall hung a frame with three medical masks, and latex gloves blown up to various levels of inflation. It was dark, and there was a heavy amount of desperate panting coming from the piece. In the midst of my sudden anxiety by just watching the piece come to life, I got the chance to talk with Belquer, who also has two other pieces on display.
“I wanted to create a piece that showed how we feel about space, and how the amount we have or don’t have affects how we live our lives. I’m originally from Rio [de Janeiro, Brazil], and there’s even less space there than there is her in New York. Some of the gloves are deflated to show how when we forget to breathe, it’s almost like a living death.” The idea of New York City having more space than some places was quite mind boggling, but it didn’t deter from the impressive but simple artistry that went into Belquer’s installation.
After leaving what felt like a long, dark crowded subway line, I was brought over to a piece by Richard Garet, a projection of a Cronenburgian elevator ride. A lot was left up to the imagination, perhaps a little too much. But one should never discredit the effort and merit of piece simply by not getting it.
We reached the end of the exhibit and came to what might be the most important piece – the exit. At the beginning of the show, participants become a part of the art in the show itself. They’re asked to check in their coats, any large bags, and their egos. At the end of the exhibit, their egos are returned to them, dormant from what’s likely a long needed period of rest. I thanked Mike Glass for showing me around so graciously, and stepped through the doors back into the streets of Manhattan. It was an awkward feeling of readjustment, one I hadn’t expected.
Perhaps that’s what the art world has forgotten, and what (un)SCENE is trying to encapsulate – the feeling that art forces us to step out of our normal, somewhat egotistical lives. We work so hard on ourselves, our careers, our relationships, we seldom step away from everything we’ve built around us to see something that truly resonates, makes us think of what is possible. We don’t need gimmicks or shock value to have our attention grabbed, just an idea that we’ve never experienced before.
So if you think a well-known artist sitting at a table silently is art, or a young woman sitting naked with a phone charger coming out of her is brilliance, this isn’t the show for you. This is an art show; it’s not a headline.