The Emperor’s Exhibit

Last week I went to the city art museum in Baden-Baden, Germany. The Staatliche Kunsthalle presented “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” (2012) by Jan De Cock, a young Belgian artist. Visually, I was confused. Most of the work was sculpture made out of particle board, wood paneling, and other material built into vertical, generally geometric pieces. Sometimes free-standing, sometimes leaning against walls. Other items included broken columns and a small, imitation Christmas tree with blinking lights. Texts on six walls in the building explained aspects of the exhibit in that respective room and provided biographical information about Jackie O. The museum was kind enough to provide me with a booklet of the texts in English. The titles of the wall texts were Saturation, Spectacle, Value, Imitation, Fanatism, and Overcome.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 2012, Jan De Cock

In each room was a small book of seemingly unrelated photographs to accompany the text and sculptures. One seemed to be filled with images from a school field trip, another of young people playing guitar.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 2012, Jan De Cock

The wall texts mention specifics about the installation and explained them: why a basket of sunglasses sat near a door, what the gold dust floating down meant, why there were photographs of Marilyn Monroe dressed as Jackie, why the floor was covered with photographs that you literally have to walk over, the walls spanned with silk, a black monolith flanked by two life-size wax figures, a horse saddle, and so on. None of which appear in the exhibit.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 2012, Jan De Cock

I don’t mind the installations. And I don’t mind the text. But together, they are absurd. This is the kind of artwork that people nod in agreement with as they go through the museum, yet no one can explain. This is the crowd all smiles as their haughty and nude emperor struts past them. If it came out later that the text belonged to one show and the physical show to another, I would not be at all surprised.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 2012, Jan De Cock

The work claims to be “a landscape of splintered units that seemingly has neither a point of departure, nor one of arrival.” At what point does it become so fragmented it is meaningless? We’ve already seen meaningless art. When does it become too much? This is not a complicated idea expressed here, but a childish one. Just as shock art has become soporific, this exhibit turned out to be boring.

“As a spectator, one is left to waver from one fragment to the next, in search of the narrative offered by an all encompassing interpretation. Lastly it might be exactly this quest itself, with which the artists [sic] manages to map our contemporary crisis-ridden society.”

Our lives are filled with chaos and piecing together fragments and commercialism. When I want to see a reflection of modern life, I can look in the mirror. I am ready for something that brings us up, warms our souls, and enlightens. It is time to reject our tradition of absurdity. When it comes, it will not be new for the sake of new, but a rejection of meaninglessness.

I’ve seen Soup Cans.

Campbell's Soup Cans

Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962, Andy Warhol

I’ve seen Film Stills.

Untitled Film Still, no. 21

Untitled Film Still, no. 21, 1978, Cindy Sherman

I’ve seen Elvis.


Elvis, Mr. Brainwash, 2008

The guest book at the museum contained mostly scoffing remarks. This may be the art of the elite, but the public knows when you are only wearing your own vanity. The time is ripening.

This entry was published on April 14, 2012 at 6:07 am. It’s filed under Art, Art History, Contemporary Art, Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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