Monthly Archives: July 2013

Visited the Mumok While In Vienna

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During my visit to Vienna this week, I went to the MUMOK (MUseum MOderner Kunst) museum in the Museum Quarter of the city.

As Austria’s largest museum covering the period since the advent of modernism, the Mumok promotes the integration of Austrian ideas within an international context. And, it’s in a very cool structure.

The Mumok considers itself to be a public institution that is committed to meeting the needs of the media, artists, art criticism, cooperating partners and its own employees. As a public institution, it’s committed to engaging with social and political issues and their importance with the advancement of art and culture.

Since its founding, the Mumok has set out to preserve, expand and exhibit its collection of 20th and 21st century art. One of the most important objectives has been, and continues to be, to convey the historical and theoretical framework of art to the public.

With its emphasis on Pop Art and Photorealism from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, and Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme from the Hahn Collection, with Viennese Actionism, performance art, conceptual art and minimal art along with numerous other movements following in the wake of these traditions ranging from the 1980s to the present, the museum relates directly to the contemporary situation with a unique mixture of critical, analytical and realist artistic perspectives on society and the art institution with special emphasis on works since the 1960s.

One of the exhibitions on display that I found particularly intriguing was: Simon Denny -The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom.

The exhibition revolves around the legal issues of Kim Dotcom’s (who’s real name is Kim Schmitz) file-sharing site Megaupload, once one of the most popular platforms for data exchange on the Internet. Following investigations by the FBI and a suit by a US court, Megaupload and Megavideo were closed down in January 2012, according to the indictment “to stop a globally operating criminal organization, whose members were perpetrating large-scale copyright infringements and laundering vast sums of money, with a total damage of more than $500 million.”

When the New Zealand police raided German-born Dotcom’s Coatsville mansion, arresting him and closing down his file-sharing website, they seized a number of objects in his possession. These included $175 million dollars in cash, 60 Dell servers, 22 luxury cars, and works of art.

For this exhibtion, Simon Denny assembled a series of objects from the list. Images, files and company data, from a life-sized Pedator statue to 3 cubic meters of cash, from a luxury “work-bed“ to examples of artwork collected by Dotcom. The result is a large-scale  installation that Denny describes as a “collection of copies, rip-offs and imitations of the ‘real’ contraband.”

Art Versus Pornography

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When the topic of fine art nudes comes up, the subject of pornography often comes up as well. Different people have different views on things, and I have always respected the right of each person to have his or her own view. What I resist is when someone tries to impose their views on others, or tries to classify one thing as bad simply because they don’t appreciate or understand it.

I have always been at a loss as to why so many people blend nudity into pornography, de facto. Many people believe that any nude depiction is pornographic. What pornography “is” is largely a subjective matter. It all depends on the intent of the artist, the mind of the viewer, and how the picture is used. If it’s intended and used for sexual arousal and gratification only, it is often classified as pornography. If it expands your vision and insight, lets you see or feel things that you wouldn’t have seen or felt on your own, it’s Art in my opinion. On the other hand, someone once wrote: “If it’s in focus, it’s pornography; if it’s out of focus, it’s art.” Although a funny thought, it’s probably as good a distinction as any since it’s virtually impossible to accurately define pornography.

Actually, I think it’s a matter of having respect for the subject. All fine art images are sensually stimulating, whether they include a nude form or not; they represent an individual artist’s ideal. To say that something like Botticelli’s Venus is devoid of sensual or sexual content is ridiculous. What matters, however, is how the artist portrays the subject and how the viewer responds to that sensual message. Fine art or erotic nudes may have a sensual or sexual tone, but not in the casual or disposable way that pornographic images do. But there is something about a successful fine art nude image that humbles the viewer; the sheer beauty of the subject commands respect. Pornographic images do not have this effect. There is something about them that is inherently cheap and disposable.

Defining pornography is about control…it is just another censorship issue. Throughout history the works of many fine artists and writers have been “banned” or prohibited. We all know the names. Lawrence, Joyce, Mapelthorpe, Sturges, Hamilton, etc. As with art, pornography is also in the eye of the beholder, if you want to see an image as pornographic, then it is pornographic. I have found that, “pornography” is a word most often used by those who have an irrational fear of sexuality, and how to express it. A fear that also extends to excluding works from association with another misunderstood word: “art.” I believe that if it is something that offends you…don’t look at it (or don’t read it).

The distinction between images that exploit and ones that don’t, is a good one. But using such an ill-defined word as “pornography” to label the work, is not.

On the other hand, it could be argued that pornography is fine. It is, what it is. The term has been awarded a critical, negative meaning by some. But it is honest at least. There is nothing wrong with pornography because it is not pretentious. It’s very honesty is what justifies it, unlike most of those who criticize it.

Fine art on the other hand is always in danger of being pretentious, and there are a lot of awful nudes out there. Pornography should never pretend to be something it isn’t in order to justify itself. I abhor tacky nudes that claim to be fine art. Unfortunately a lot of attempts at fine art nudes are just tacky, and reveal the narrowness of the creator’s vision.

But I find the notion that nudity is synonymous with pornography to be very amusing. Especially since (by the common definition) the image of a naked person doesn’t need to be involved in order to create a pornographic image. Think about it. A person can be fully clothed and still be engaging in pornography. Pornography is an act, an intent, not a state of dress. It is a mindset, and weather the subject is nude or not, does not make it pornography nor does it eliminate it from being pornography.

What truly worries me is that many people who have not been exposed to different levels of art (which employ the nude as a subject in it’s storytelling) often have difficulty separating art from pornography, in their mind and in their spirit. And society, religion, the courts and politicians have helped to keep the lines blurred. What results is the naïve categorization that all nudity as immoral, indelicate and exploitative. After all, it’s far easier to lump everything into one box, than to attend to the intent of individual artistic expression.

If we were to do away with nude images in art, we will have to throw out many of our Monet’s, Renoir’s, Sisley’s, Degas’, Cezanne’s and Van Gogh’s just to mention a few.