(untitled): Modern Art Gets a Kick in the Bucket
Every time I go to the MoMA in New York City, there are many exhibits that I’m enormously impressed with. There are also an equal amount of exhibits that I think are absolute thoughtless garbage. Examples: a canvas painted black… and that’s all. Or a pink light in a corner, entitled “Pink Light in the Corner.” It’s supposed to make you think about what art means, or what colors mean in corners… or something else that to me, in my quasi-professional opinion, seems stupid and one-note. Jonathan Parker’s satire on contemporary art, called “(untitled),” tackles the issue of the fine line between art and crap.
Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg) is a classically trained pianist. He has legitimate musical talent. He has aspirations of becoming a professional musician, one that will stand the test of time and inspire others to make meaningful and important art. There’s only one difference between him and the rest of the wannabe musicians in the world– he believes in expressing himself through exclusively non-melodic music. As he puts it, “Harmony was a capitalist plot to sell pianos!” This film, by Jonathan Parker, examines the world of contemporary art and all of its non-conformity, interpretations, and the fine, fine line between art and crap. The characters are more complex and the relationships more interesting than the subject of modern art satire would have you believe– the dialogue is crisp and funny, and the art seems totally legitimate. Vinnie Jones plays a modern artist who takes taxidermy and gives them human features like having them in clothes looking in mirrors. It’s bizarre, it’s totally meaningless, and yet I thoroughly believe it took craft and precision to make this image look that way. Parker doesn’t let the art become a stereotype, letting it be strange and potentially pointless without disrespecting the concept of contemporary self-aware art.
The performances keep the satire blissfully from becoming too mean-spirited or too stereotypical. Adam Goldberg keeps Adrian self-centered and pretentious enough that we get the joke, but we sympathize with his plight. He is utterly convinced that the way his art will survive is by doing something different, something bold, something revolutionary… but no one agrees with him. When his time in the spotlight arrives, he sees the modern art he’s paired with as crap, and enters a time of clarity, which doesn’t change his mind about the type of art he makes, but gives him perspective. Eion Bailey makes modern art that clearly takes talent to produce (canvases of color with geometric circles painted in, but the combination of colors is aesthetically pleasing), but the fact that his work is pleasing keeps him out of galleries– after all, pleasing art is out of fashion. Marley Shelton does a good job toeing the line between sincere fanatic and egoist, and no matter how bizarre her clothes are (before a bout of lovemaking, one character spends several minutes trying to unstrap a particularly complex piece of fashion), she wears them proudly.
There is also an artist, played beautifully by Ptolemy Slocum, whose idea of art is to put a push pin into the wall, and put a label by it that says “Push Pin.” Seems easy, you might say… but not when Slocum does it, desperately hunting for the slot on the wall that makes the push pin more than just a push pin. Is the effort what makes it art? Is it all just an elaborate act? Thankfully, Parker leaves the judgment to the audience… though the precision of his comic timing with cuts and long gazes at bizarre art certainly makes one think he’s siding with us. Zak Orth plays a young rich man whose hobby is to collect art. When he invites a friend over, there is all sorts of peculair art adorning his flat walls. However, she goes into the back and sees a virtual warehouse of art that used to be hanging in his room. He’s saving it because he likes it… but also acknowledges that he hopes it collects value someday. There’s a truth that (untitled) captures regarding staying with the times, and how swiftly the tides can shift and warehouse art can be put back on the main wall, not because the art is better, just because it’s time for something different. (untitled)’s short-lived existence in the cineplex provided something different for audiences: a smart, relevant satire with something real to say about the subjectivity of art. Audiences ignored it, preferring New Moon and other brainless Hollywood fare. But is something like New Moon really that far beneath (untitled), or is it a type of art that makes you aware that it isn’t art? Perhaps teeny-bopper moviegoers and modern art fanatics aren’t so different after all.