Writer, Editor, Somewhat Useless

The 3 Kinds of Modern Art

While strolling around the Guggenheim last week, I realized that all modern art can be classified under three definitive categories: stupid, impressive and crazy. This doesn’t include stuff like photography and traditional paintings, which fall somewhere on the continuum of cool to lame according to personal taste. No, these three categories are useful in dealing with the really weird shit.

Modern Art Category No. 1: Stupid

This is the kind of stuff that makes people scoff when they hear the words “modern art.” The problem isn’t that anyone could do it, but that anyone would have done it if they knew they could’ve made even $10 off it. The artist in this case just happened to be lucky enough to find an eccentric millionaire with money to throw away. I guess that in itself is worth something, but I don’t know if it’s art.

Like this. What the fuck is this? And don’t tell me it’s “abstract.” Someone literally painted this canvas black, then painted a slightly darker cross on top of that. Calling it abstract is just forcing the people looking at it to come up with a reason as to why someone paid any amount of money for this and why the Guggenheim decided to hang it up. (My guesses: 1. Rich people have more money than they know what to do with; 2. Curators get their rocks off by fucking with hapless museum-goers.)

Modern Art Category No. 2: Impressive

Stuff in this category is easy to conceptualize but practically impossible for a normal person to accomplish. For example: Any guy can imagine having sex with a different girl every day for a week, but good luck pulling it off.

The very literal title of this exhibit is “Punching the Time Clock on the Hour, One Year Performance, April 11, 1980-April 11, 1981,” so you can guess what it’s about. And just in case you don’t believe him, the artist went to every possible end to prove he did it: He photographed himself next to the time clock each time he punched in, then compiled all the shots into a film; he shaved off his hair at the project’s start and let it naturally grow back so you can actually see the passage of time; he had a witness sign an affidavit swearing it was all legit, as well as signing off on each time card. All the time cards, all the individual photos, the film, the witness’s and artist’s affidavits are all on exhibit — even the uniform, shoes and belt he wore every time are there. He did fuck up around 130 times because he overslept or was taking a shit or something, but that isn’t that bad considering he did this 8,760 times.

Modern Art Category No. 3: Crazy

Things that fall into this category are impossible to conceive and even harder to create. They are the kind of ideas that most people wouldn’t have and wouldn’t know how to pull off even if they did. Like who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “Today, I’m going to design a room that feels like an acid trip.” Even if you did have that idea, you probably wouldn’t know how to pull it off. You’d end up painting your bedroom tie-dye and filling it up with shit from the ’60s, like black lights and glow-in-the-dark Grateful Dead posters. Way to go, asshole.

I knew this was going to be good when I saw a sign that read, “Warning: This exhibit may alter your psychological state.” After removing your shoes (mandatory), you enter the “Dream House,” a carpeted room that’s pitch black except for three sets of red and blue lights shining on a few sculptures. Steady droning frequencies are constantly playing, and speaking is not allowed. The first sculpture (above) looks like one of those three-pronged optical illusions. The red and blue lights create shadows that jump out from the wall and really fuck with your eyes. It’s hard to describe, but it’s sort of like seeing reality in ultra 3-D. The other two sculptures are pairs of crescents hanging from the ceiling, and they slowly rotate around, the red and blue lights appearing to warp their shapes and shadows. I don’t know why, but taking in the lights, the sculptures and the noise altogether almost made me have an acid flashback.

Modern Art & Porn

In the end, modern art is gambling: Artists churn out useless shit in the hopes that some rich guy will be stimulated by it and, in exchange, cough up thousands of dollars. At that point, it officially becomes art and can be hung in a museum.

But none of that affects how normal people look at art. Scholars might try to dissect these things to death (“What does the use of bodily fluids signify?”), but laymen just go with their gut. You like a painting because you like it. You dislike a sculpture because it’s boring. It’s sort of like your favorite porno: Maybe you like it because the chick’s hot; maybe because of the A.T.M.; maybe you’re secretly gay and like the shape of dude’s cock. Who knows?

Originally published on Street Carnage.


  1. I remember sharing your same sentiment about what you categorize in this post as “Stupid,” but that was mostly because I didn’t have an understanding of the art/artists’ inspirations.

    It might be a good idea to walk through the Guggenheim with someone who is willing to walk you through the aesthetics surrounding this type of abstract expressionist painting. It might completely revolutionize your opinion on this art movement or at the very least give you a better understanding of its significance such that your discussions (in the form of blog posts) have better grounding (no offense).

    • I could do that, but what about offering up a layman’s perspective? I feel like that “felt from the gut” opinion is worth something as long as you’re acknowledging that that’s what you’re doing (that is, expressing your own ignorant opinion and not speaking from a pretend place of perfect understanding).

  2. Chemistry is our name

    02.15.12 at 7:24 PM

     Not everything was created with
    deeper meaning or subliminal messaging; much of the time there’s probably nothing
    more to it at all. Then the artist sits back and waits for the intellectuals to
    intellectualize non-meaningful drivel about their works.
    How can you understand something that the artist had no intent on? I’m perhaps
    not interested in what you think; I’ll go directly to the source for information
    should I want it. Upon hearing the source I’ll decide if smoke is being blown
    up me, as it happens because its business.

    The art world had gone mad, it’s now a faith that people are too scared to
    question! This thread is a classic example of intellectual bullying and then
    defending one’s position.
    If its crap to you, its crap! You don’t need some jumped up art critic or self-appointed
    expert to tell you otherwise.

    The Art world is in desperate need of some new distinctions to protect the
    seriously talented from the seriously questionable! Trouble is it will never
    happen because the art market is the stock market and the emperor is in full
    control and staying in his palace.

    Don’t be afraid to say its crap, don’t be ashamed into thinking your opinion is
    less valid.
    An artist.

  3. Antonio Benitez

    06.21.15 at 2:23 PM

    I can throw a shoe in the floor in one of this modern art expositions and stupid people might think this is art

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