Thursday, February 12, 2009

...but is it art?

More on Belgian artist Wim Delvoye.

(The highlighted article "An Inedible Meal on Ottawa's Tab" clipped from the National Post will give you the background on the current installation at la Galerie de l'UQAM in Montreal. There has been a fair amount in print and on the web about this exhibition over the past month, most of which has been sensational and misses the point. If you are not familiar with the work, take a look at the National Post article first.)

Cloaca No. 5 is Wim Delvoye's latest in a series of machines which duplicate the digestive system. This new iteration of Cloaca is more elegant, and anthropomorphic, than the earlier versions. It is beautifully crafted and imposing, displayed solo in the serene and windowless lower space of the gallery. Delvoye has also refined the science, in as much as the machine's "artistic output" was solid and well-formed, and hardly stank at all. When I was there, a group of children was attending as well. We had fun watching the art student top up the glass vats containing digestive juices, and we all giggled at the "potty humour". The cafeteria scraps which were fed to the machine had been modeled into sculptures by Montreal artists. So, the machine was fed art, but the "value" was in the turds.

In our society, we consume a lot, and we place high monetary and social value on things that aren't really worth very much... Delvoye's message is quite transparent and not at all deep or complex. Very easy to grasp, and from what I saw and heard, the kids pretty much "got it". Just in case it was not clear enough, Delvoye hedged his bets by appropriating familiar corporate logos and fonts: Coca Cola's for Cloaca, Walt Disney's for Wim Delvoye and so on.

It was an enjoyable gallery-going experience, and it was gratifying to see children engaged, having fun and thinking through some "big issues" all at the same time.

Kurt Schwitters said, "I am an artist. If I spit, it is art". Change the letter "p", and you have Wim Delvoye. However, in my opinion this work falls more comfortably in the area of design/marketing/semiotics. No doubt, Delvoye is brilliant at marketing.

The exhibition closes on Valentine's Day. It would be a great outing for you and your honey, if this year your gift is a Hershey Bar instead of Godiva. Worthwhile family outing, too. I do not really think this is "Capital A" Art, but I also do not think it is nonsense, or insulting to taxpayers. Cloaca No. 5 is an interesting, beautifully engineered object and the gallery-going experience was fun. It provoked conversation, got kids engaged and thinking, and may even have saved a few relationships. Art or not, I think this small, publicly funded, university gallery delivered good value with this exhibition.

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