Vol 1, No 7, 9 August 1999
K A L E I D O S C O P E:|
Once upon a time a large block of granite was placed in the entrance hall of the Tate Gallery.
There was always a group of people around the thing, and every so often one of them would throw his head back, laugh and walk off.
Next to it was a small notice: "This sculpture revolves once every 24 hours."
Huh? Think about it for 15 seconds. Now subtract the time it took you from fifteen and multiply by a hundred. That could be your AQ, or Aha Quotient.
It was big and heavy but worth its weight in Aha! Less heavy and bulky was the framed, near-blank piece of paper in the same gallery, showing at some particular scale some particular number of square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
But is it Art?
By my own definition, "Art is the Pursuit of Significance." I have tested this definition on all manifestations of Art, as I know it, and the hat fits.
Note, "Pursuit of," not achievement. The quest, the yearning to prove that Being is better than Not Being, or even, that it is distinguishable, with hindsight.
The difference between Art and mere pretentiousness is whether you are in pursuit of Significance or Wealth.
If you don't find the given Article appealing, it could still be Significant. You might hate it. But if you don't notice it, it isn't Art.
Modern architecture tries hard to be noticed. It's ugly, for the most part. But, by my generous definition, it is often Art.
I like the Fred and Ginger Dancing Building in Prague, which is not to everyone's taste. But I hate the Manes opposite which is a listed building of a style I never found appealing. That too is Art. Indeed, it is an Art Gallery.
I am not a great fan of the Myslbek complex, mostly because it obscures who Josef Vaclav Myslbek was. Myslbek's prime legacy is the equestrian statue of St Wenceslas, my namesake and the Czech patron saint, poised on its plinth at the top of the boulevard which bears his name. (Poised on how many feet?)
The building I really hate is the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty headquarters - the former Federal Assembly building just off Wenceslas Square. Its monstrous steel superstructure parasitising on what was once the Prague Stock Exchange seems to me to embody everything ruthless and brutal about the old regime - a totalitarian hegemony.
Squatting meekly next to it is the ornate Prague Opera House, and along a little the other way is the top of Wenceslas Square. One Czech joke defined the Federal Assembly as something between a Theatre and a Museum.
In the dilapidated though dignified Museum is a large whale skeleton.
It also revolves once every 24 hours.
That is not Art, because the fact goes entirely unnoticed.
Its designer left us no signature here, so it only gets noticed in other grand buildings - those with points on the roof.
S/He probably doesn't find that a problem of any Significance.
The Pursuit of Significance is a defining characteristic for Humans.
The ultimate Pursuit of Significance is the Art of Politics, but every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Some are born insignificant, some achieve insignificance, and some have insignificance thrust upon them.
And the Federal Assembly is an ugly building in the heart of a beautiful city.
I notice it every 24 hours.
Vaclav Pinkava, 9 August 1999
Copyright (c) 1999 - Central Europe Review and Internet servis, a.s.
All Rights Reserved