Charles Johnson on ART

Horses

Posted by Charles Johnson on April 17, 2011 at 11:03 PM

 

“There is no exquisite beauty that has not some strangeness in the proportion.” -- Edgar Allan Poe

 

 Strangeness or even unpleasantness seems necessary or at least important for a work of art to be worthy of interest and longevity.

 

 Don Reich used that line of Poe’s as a title for one of the pictures in his retrospective last year. And Reich’s work, his best work, certainly struck people as strange. A local art academic, looking at one of Don’s pieces, told Don it was weird. I’ve always admired Don’s instant if crude retort: “You’re weird.”

 

 Weird, strange, unpleasant. It is hard to think of a significant work that doesn’t have some of that. When art becomes too easy, it makes me queasy. After awhile -- minutes or centuries -- offensive art becomes familiar, even classical. The shock wears off, replaced by academic parsing. Material for imitations or shower curtain design.

 

 Not that strangeness is any guarantee of quality. Strange art just disappears if it has nothing else to offer. Or it ought to.

 

 Which brings us to horses. There are four sculptural horses in Sacramento that offer a chance to consider the difference between right and wrong, to separate out the good, bad, and god-awful.

 

 I hope that Buzz Oates and the others who gave Luis Jimenez’s “Progress II” to the Crocker slipped a big fat check into the horse’s mouth. I can’t understand any other reason why this embarrassment is taking up valuable space in the museum’s new wing. This cartoonishly cantilevered monstrosity, with its red light bulb eye in case you don’t get it, used to affront passersby when it was in the patio of an office building at 16th and K. The building is being slowly re-done, and the Crocker kindly helped the developers get “Progress II” out of the way.

 

 Then there is Sean Guerrero’s giant chrome-plated horse in front of the Safeway at 19th and S. This isn’t quite as awful. It’s just stupendous kitsch (see last week’s blog about the effect of scale). If it were small -- very small -- it wouldn’t be so bad. At least it lends an air of dash to a building that sports a fake water tank that was intended to be reminiscent of the neighborhood’s former industrial character. Reminds me of the anti-Bee campaign whose slogan was “Bring back the Buffalo Brewery on the original site.”

 

 The Safeway horse is less strange than Guerrero’s, and Numan Huseinbegovic’s bronze horse in the median on Del Paso Boulevard is less strange still. It’s a pretty, prancing little horse. Innocuous. Like other public art pieces on the boulevard, it makes a nice visual touch, glimpsed briefly as you speed past. It’s nice. No strangeness here. It moves like a horse, as proven by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies that began in that very neighborhood. Did you know the motion picture was invented in North Sacramento?

 

 Finally, there is Deborah Butterfield’s horse at 5th and J. Only a horse, but what a horse. When Don Reich met her at the University of Wisconsin 30 years ago, she was being criticized for doing nothing but horses, at the height of fashionable minimalism. He told her to ignore those critics, and if he had any influence on her, we should be grateful.

 

 She continued with horses assembled from all sorts of strange, unlikely materials, materials that lost none of their strangeness for being rendered into bronze. In this case, it looks like Kraft paper and baling wire. Every drop of sentiment and anthropomorphism has been wrung out, leaving nothing but an alarming yet strangely equine essence.

 

 Compare her horse with the others and discover what distinguishes true art. This is rewarding strangeness.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Art in Sacramento

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8 Comments

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Reply Richard Hurley
11:37 PM on April 18, 2011 
Whoa! Your blog eats apostrophes and hyphens! Put it on a steady diet of glyphs, and maybe it will leave the regular punctuation marks alone.
Reply Richard Hurley
11:35 PM on April 18, 2011 
"I?ve always admired Don?s instant if crude retort: 'You?re weird.'"

I'd score that one: artists 1 ? critics, 0. For a sweet guy, Don could sure demolish when he needed to.

Love to see the horses in question, Charlie.