The Art Guys visited from Houston earlier this week to talk about their work, currently on exhibit in the UTSA Art Gallery at the 1604 campus. This nationally recognized duo has their game down, and they got it down good-- a complex sense of humor, an admirable DIY attitude, ability to effortlessly talk the talk, and they admitted that socializing in the moneyed branch of the art scene comes easily to them. Their broad creative skill-set and refined sense of craft coupled with strong ability in the conceptual arena make this team an effective art force to be reckoned with.
But my question is: effective to what end?
The 20th century showed us two things, generally speaking, concerning art. First, anything can be art, beginning with Duchamp's urinal. And second, that and the individual, self-absorbed artist can be a godlike figure, beholden to nobody but himself. The Art Guys are a pinnacle of this lineage.
The Art Guys take pride in the public nature of much their work, a pride derived from the act of simply putting themselves on display in public space. During the Q&A, I asked what their hope was for the public audience-- for someone who didn't know who the Art Guys were, or who may not look at art at all. They answered that their aim is to challenge the sense of what is normal or allowed. Bravo, let's move on to the 21st century now.
This is the kind of work (and attitude) that has led to a public that is alienated from contemporary art. The last instance, that comes to my mind, of a kind of pride in citizenship amongst artists in the States is the WPA. Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, artists turned inward and focused on making art for other artists (in addition to that cultured elite with a growing sophistication in trophy-collecting). Is it any wonder that the National Endowment for the Arts went away? Why is everyone so surprised?
The Art Guys are old-fashioned not only because they don't have any sense of commitment to a public audience, but also because they say that the work is fundamentally about the relationship of the two of them. Multiplying the individual artist-as-god premise resonates with an attitude of gross conceit. It is my hope that this stance will die out as artists step up more and more to the challenge of actualizing a better world through a positive evolution of our physical, psychological, and social environments. Look to Beuys for the root of this ideology.