Always one eager to appreciate the critique of institutions and establishments (from the comfort of my standardized, institutional living space), I like it when artists poke at the bloated walking carcass of the fat-cat, ultra-business ideology. There is a temporary exhibition, by German-American conceptual artist Hans Haacke, at the Museo Reina Sofia that seems to attempt such a poke. As expected, it was nice to walk around the quiet shelter of a city museum (the eternal Dalí, Picasso and Miró chillin’ downstairs), but I think that conceptual art like Haacke’s is a bit out of my scope of reality and, well, interest.
Half of the exhibition is a reflection of Haacke’s trip out to the Madrid suburbs of Ensanche de Vallecas; there is a room of marginally interesting photographs hanging from wooden pins, like clothes on a line, which may or may not truly reflect the dire predicament and lifelessness of the Madrid outskirts and by extension the burst of the world housing bubble. The neighborhood itself is certainly the epitome of the failed business venture, at least in the sector of construction. There are buildings half-made, as if all the workers collectively decided one day to stay home and continue their Wii games, and winding, yet carefully structured roads and driveways leading to blank plots of land and potential. And to add salt to the wound, someone thought it appropriate, in the buzz of economic mania, to name many of the streets after 20th century artists and art movements. What a legacy.
At least, this exhibition made me think a little, which is the point I guess. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious urbanite, I welcome the death, eventual or sudden, self-inflicted or murderous, of soul-less suburbia anywhere. But I wonder where all those construction workers are now, not working on that project, and I contrast their probable lifestyle to my own (I feel that familiar ambivalence of fortuitousness and guilt). I wonder how the people who invested money in these housing developments have fared, and what happened to all the work of the urban planners and architects (in piles of papers lying on a table in another suburban office?). And I wonder, who are the business class intellectuals who escaped the impending financial catastrophe with a heaving bankroll, consistent with the contemporary capitalist model.
I was on my way out there to see this desolated urban landscape for myself, possibly to take a few self-interested Instagram pics, and grab a reflective caña and a skimpy, long-since-burst-economic-bubble tapa at a bleak side street bar, but I was lassoed, on the Calle de las Huertas, by a pretty girl with dark hair and big eyes and too-easily persuaded to have a glass of wine in her bar (when I say lassoed, I mean strictly in the business sense, of course, since after I turned and made my way into the door of her bar, the conversation ended abruptly, as if I it was 1 o’clock in the morning and I had already left the money on the dresser).
This kind of exhibit, for me, requires just too much to contrive in order to make sense of anything. In other words, the art itself seems to rely too heavily on the artist himself and his reputation, rather than the installations themselves. In one room, I stood and looked at a round mound of dirt and grass centered perfectly between the four walls (it was named Grass Grows), and my mind soon drifted to my grocery list, and the fact that I need to wash my socks and underwear, and the breasts of the girl working in the post-modernism room next door. There is one great work, though, of an oversized pack of Marlboro cigarettes on the floor, a great jab at the pathetic political ramblings of the equally pathetic and dead, ultra-conservative American congressman Jesse Helms, who found it a worthy fight to criminalize homosexuals, the National Endowment for the Arts, color, butterflies, happiness, and art that he just couldn’t understand through his mint julep-soaked myopia. And it’s about corporations giving huge sums of money to the arts while simultaneously criticizing it and throwing more bags of money at lobbyists and officials who have considered much of contemporary art a threat to the pure American way of life. I now usually shy away from political debates and arguments, but I find it interesting the love-hate relationship between art and the rich. From my distant point of view, most of the icons of the wealthy don’t really seem to understand or care about much of the art in the world, but are strangely compelled to donate profusely to it, and often thereby facilitate much of that art’s survival. It is a fascinating dichotomy that happens today on various social strata.
In the end, I suppose Mr. Haacke might be content that I left his exhibition thinking about these things, and I never want to be one to make light of something I don’t understand, and I am once again humbled by my fortunate situation in which I live in a city where I can stroll down the block and even have the opportunity to critique, in my own limited way, world-famous art or art of any kind.