You Just Don’t Get It

Ever find yourself walking into a gallery or art space and wondering, “What the hell is this? Are those scribbles on the wall and that pair of headphones hanging from the ceiling really art? Isn’t that something my 90 year old grandmother could put together?” We’ve certainly had these WTF moments visiting art exhibitions in Berlin, but at the same time, Berlin seems to be more immune to this trend than other arty cities around the world. From the major art hubs around the city – Berlin to London and NYC – Kirsten Hall examines this question of ever-growing obscurity in contemporary art.

Rotting Animals… Art?


A few months ago, I went to an exhibition of works by Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern Museum in London. The exhibit included all of the usual iconic bizarre Hirst pieces – the pickled shark, medicine cabinets, and a real rotting cow’s head complete with a swarm of black flies. While there, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation with a young boy and his mother as she pointed out the digestive tract of a severed goat floating in formaldehyde. “Yes Mum, but why is that art?” he asked quizzically. Some of the other museum goers chuckled at this and I heard one even murmur, “That is the question, isn’t it?”

In today’s art world, it seems that the art which gets the most recognition is always the most shocking or most difficult for your “average joe” to understand. So as entertaining as the Hirst exhibit was, I had to partly agree with the words of wisdom from the young boy. Why do we place such high value on certain art/artists even though other work is often more socially relevant, aesthetically pleasing, or thought provoking? It is because we have been led astray by the artist elite who attempt the impossible task of deeming which art should be classified as “profound.” 

Berlin: The Beacon of Hope

To it’s undying credit, Berlin remains mostly immune to the influence of the artistic elite, which explains the constant influx of young artists seeking a place where their work can be assessed unbiasedly. Berlin is a city where any work of art is given a fair chance, even illegal art forms such as street art are welcomed. Art is judged based on popular following in Berlin but in other cities oftentimes value is determined by the wealthy, big business, and contemporary trends.

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Taking Minimalism to a new extreme! Film still from “Untitled” 2009

A really poignant movie which came out in 2009 titled, “Untitled” uses satire to criticize the art elite in New York City. An über chic gallery owner (Marley Shelton) refuses to show “conventional” art in her gallery preferring to display the bizarre and the obscure, ultimately to her own demise. This unintelligibly obscure art ranges from taxidermy, to extreme minimalism, to an avant garde musician whose performance involves kicking a metal can.

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