Untitled (Twenty-four Switches) – Rachel Whiteread
Are you underwhelmed yet?
Our ancestors were swept away by feelings of beauty and awe in museums, but the modern museum-goer often feels a less thrilling emotion: confusion.
Some contemporary art just doesn’t look like art, and artwork descriptions may not help. This is Tate Modern’s explanation of Untitled (Twenty-four Switches):
“The switch box thus presents an ordered grid in which there are random variables, disrupting the predictable with the unpredictable … The sculpture may be read as an abstract composition in which the binary combination of the switches’ on/off positioning is echoed in the combination of positive and negative casting. “
Meaning in plain English:
“Someone spent some time laying out random switches that don’t mean anything.”
It was apparently attractive enough to an art thief who stole a piece from the series in 2012. (And as we all know, any art piece that gets stolen or otherwise hits the limelight gets evaluated up – the tastes of thieves are taken very seriously.)
Or if you prefer something a little more invisible, there are works from James Franco’s (yes, the Green Goblin) Museum of Non-visible Art (MONA). Invisible, because they are just ideas in the artists’ heads, but they still fetch big bucks. The most expensive piece, “Fresh Air”, sold in 2011 for US$10,000. Here is a hi-res image,
And here is its description:
“This is a unique piece, only this one is for sale. The air you are purchasing is like buying an endless tank of oxygen. No matter where you are, you always have the ability to take a breath of the most delicious, clean-smelling air that the earth can produce. Every breath you take gives you endless peace and health. This artwork is something to carry with you if you own it. Because wherever you are, you can imagine yourself getting the most beautiful taste of air that is from the mountain tops or fields or from the ocean side; it is an endless supply.”
The buyer, Aimee Davison, at least got a museum wing named after her, and an after party invitation, but we’re really not sure what else she bought. The above description was provided for her to hang on her wall to explain the artwork to her friends.
If modern creativity leaves you dumbfounded, don’t despair. Us viewers can invent our own meanings to make the museum trip more interactive. For instance, Untitled (Twenty-four Switches) is not a bank of light switches, but a futuristic music box which plays version 2.0 of a holiday song: “24 Days of Christmas”. And what would farting in a museum mean, now that the whole space is one big piece of art?
If artists can be wild, why can’t you? Open your mind and have some fun.