Recently, I was reading an article in “The Art Newspaper” online entitled “European definition of art is absurd.” (click on title to read entire article) Of course, any article with that kind of title catches my attention since we’ve spent so much time on this blog discussing what IS and ISN’T “art.”
The catalysts for this European controversy are two video works installed at the Haunch of Venison contemporary art gallery: Hall of Whispers, 1995, by Bill Viola (image) and Six Alternating Cool White/Warm White Fluorescent Lights Vertical and Centred, 1973, by Dan Flavi. Last August, the European Commission determined that these works of art are merely equipment. That is, they are “DVD players and projectors” as well as “light fittings” and not “art” at all. Naturally, this meant that the works were subject to higher taxes and customs duty rather than a greatly reduced rate that would normally be applied to art when it’s imported for exhibition. But, the money really isn't the issue.
The real issue is what makes something a work of “art”? Defenders of the “this is art argument” state that “it is the content recorded on the DVD which, together with the components of the installation, provides for the modern art”. Personally, I agree because I believe that the artist’s intent is critical to making something a work of art.
However, the Commission “rejected the classification as sculpture because it is not the installation that constitutes a ‘work of art’ but the result of the operations (the light effect) carried out by it.” The author of the article asks: “Does this mean that if a Flavin is switched on, it is a work of art, but if switched off, it is not?” Good question!
You may read the rest of the article yourself to get all the details. I’m just getting to the heart of the controversy and speculating about what this decision means for artist and art in general. Do artists who use electronics as a medium fail to make art? I mean, does the medium really matter? I just use paper, canvas and paint. Louise Nevelson used scraps of wood she found on the street – parts of old chairs, desks, tables, and crates. Isn’t that art? What’s the difference here?
P.S. Sorry for the long absence. Hubby had operation, house is up for sale since he just retired and we're moving to Maine, and lots of other stuff going on!