De Gustibus

There has been a Dale Chihuly exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx since last October. Chihuly is a sculptor from Tacoma, Washington who has achieved worldwide renown for his colorful sculptures of blown glass. His works range in size from coffee table pieces to large outdoor exhibits, one of which, “The Sun,” is pictured below.

I like Chihuly’s work, especially the colors, which are what attract most people. His shapes, I’m not so sure about. They consist mainly of flowing labia, jellyfish, and thrusting penises. The pond near the entrance of the botanical garden contains long, red rods whose tops have been cut off at sharp angles. If I were a Freudian, I would have a field day, but I am not. Neither am I an art critic, having once walked out of Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, because I found Antoni Gaudí’s work embarrassing. However, I did find a love of sorts there, which I was not embarrassed by at all, Philistine though I may be (see A Special Day in Barcelona).

It’s not the art or artist I object to–how could I when Chihuly wears a black eye patch? I object to people’s reactions to art. I should qualify that by saying their pretentious reactions to art, including the usual hyperbole found in descriptions of the art.

Earlier this week, I went to the botanical garden for inspiration in writing the latest Bobby Bronco set (I’m not making this up) and sat down on a bench adjacent to Chihuly’s sun. As people passed by on their way to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, they stopped to marvel at the yellow orb. To accuse them of worshiping it would be an exaggeration, but they certainly fawned over it. There was a lot of oohing and aahing that, again, I found embarrassing.  At one point, a group stopped to oogle and drool not two feet from where I sat.

“Luminous,” “transcendent,” “spiritual,” they said.

“A large, yellow ball of intestinal parasites,” I countered.

I couldn’t resist. I have been doing that sort of thing all my life, not that I am proud of it, but by then I had been listening to scores of visitors for more than an hour. They ignored me and shuffled off to the conservatory. One of them, an older man, turned back to wink. So, I had at least one sympathizer in the group. Probably a retired gastroenterologist.

Admittedly, it is unfair to single out Chihuly for the absurdities of postmodern art. He doesn’t deserve it, especially when there is a more obvious example in the garden. To wit, boulders of blue plastic floating in the Lillian Goldman “Fountain of Life” (1905) at the garden’s museum (below).

The original, bronze statue in the background depicts a cherub riding a dolphin and two sea horses as a merman and mermaid rush to get out of the way. You have to know something about Classical mythology and Darwin to understand that the statue honors a spirit of conquest and logos, both of which are politically incorrect at the moment. I’m not sure what the boulders honor. Melting polar ice caps? Blue Man Group? Either one would be politically correct.

Back in 1995, Carl Sagan warned of the “dumbing down” of America and that, with our “critical faculties in decline,” we will soon become “unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true.” In 1919, immediately following the Great War, W.B. Yeats wrote that “anarchy is loosed upon the world.” It is tempting to think that both men were right.

Then again, it’s possible that postmodern art and the larger movement it represents could be more “realistic” than traditional art, because they recognize what Yeats did not: that anarchy has always existed. If true, then this could all just be a matter of taste, de gustibus non disputandum, as in there’s no accounting for it.

Luminous or otherwise.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. See “Chihuly Nights” at Goldstar; Carl Sagan, Introduction to The Demon-Haunted World; Yeats, “The Second Coming.” Note of pride: I argued with Verizon today and got $15 taken off my bill. They acted as if they were giving me a kidney.

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