We got so much hate mail from the last Outrage that we were tempted to put on the gloves and ask our readers to step outside. But it's pretty cold here in Washington.
We decided instead we'd solace our battered egos by searching for some inspiration in art. Y'know, fuel for the soul sort of stuff.
In our search for a vision of the world, not as it is, but as it could be or should be, we naturally headed for the nation's art gallery, the National Gallery of Art. And none of that old fashioned stuff for us -- no Botticelli, Raphael, or Titian -- we want the latest and greatest, so naturally we headed to the exciting world of modern art in the National Gallery's East Wing.
Of course, with all those museums on the mall it gets pretty crowded. We finally found a parking spot, after the customary exchange of obscenities and death threats with other drivers. (For those of you planning a visit to our lovely city, we'd also like to warn you that, in reality, pedestrians NEVER have the right of way. As in the world of politics, it's strictly survival of the fittest and most heavily armed.)
At last, inside one of the world's most famous museums. How exciting! We wanted to see everything, so we started on the ground floor. The first thing to confront us was Robert Motherwell's "Reconciliation Elegy." We weren't sure what it was at first, but then we realized it was part of the collection - it is Great Art.
We know that we're not very enlightened, so we were determined to appreciate all this Great Art. We stepped back and took a good long look at Mr. Motherwell's painting. The thing was huge - 30 feet wide and 10 feet high. But despite all that space, it only contains very large and indistinct black splotches on a white background. Hmmm... we tried to open our minds to the message that this Great Art undoubtedly contained, but all we could see was the big black splotches, like someone had just thrown a lot of black paint on a huge white canvas, and left it to dry.
We decided to move on; maybe we'd understand the next one. The next room contained Burgoyne Diller's "#44 First Theme." This was a white square against a black background, but it also had a yellow rectangle and a blue rectangle; okay, now we're getting somewhere. (Don't use your imagination to add to these descriptions - we are, we're afraid, describing everything that actually appears in these pictures.)
Next was Joseph Alber's "Study for Homage to the Square." We had kind of been hoping that some of this Great Art might pay homage to something like human imagination, creativity, or craftsmanship, but all of the Great Modern Artists seem to be rather fascinated with squares. This piece was a yellow square on a grey background.
At this point, one of the Outraged crew wanted to contact all of the Great Artists and hire their marketing firms, but we still had lots of art to see.
If you think a picture like Robert Mangold's "Two Triangles within a Square #2" is simple, think again. Sure, the painting itself is very simple; about a half hour's work for a decent house painter. But financing the purchase of the picture so that the unwashed masses can enjoy it is anything but simple. Mr. Mangold's Great Art was the gift of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. However, the price was so high that the purchase also necessitated donations from the Alison Mellon Bruce Fund, and additional assistance from the Patron's Permanent Fund. A hostile takeover of Microsoft would probably require less financing.
We spent so much time analyzing this work that we missed the chance to see some of the other 54 works of Great Art in the National Gallery that were produced by Mr. Mangold. Thus, we can't tell you about "Distorted Red Square-Circle", "Green Distorted Square-Circle", "Orange Distorted Square-Circle", "A Square Not Totally Within A Triangle" or the many works of Great Art which are "Untitled"; Mr. Mangold presumably having more important things to do than titling his work.
Next we saw Andy Warhol's "A Boy For Meg", which is simply a painted reproduction of the cover of the November 31 edition of the New York Post. Much like Warhol's reproduction of the Cambell's Soup Cans, you might be tempted to think that this work was simply a blatant copyright violation. Silly you - it's obviously Great Art.
Wayne Thiebaud's "Cakes" is a painting of 12 cakes. They're ordinary cakes, and you could see the same things in any baker's shop, but these Cakes were the gift of the Collector's Committee, with additional financing from the Abrams family. (Now you know how rich people spend their money. As Marie Antoinette might have said, "If the masses don't have bread, let them look at paintings of cakes.")
Near "Cakes" we found Claes Oldenburg's "Glass Case with Pies". And that's exactly what it was - a glass case with replicas of about half a dozen ordinary pies. You and Betty Crocker could copy this art perfectly in about an hour in your kitchen, but since you're not a Great Artist, the results would not be Great Art. (Might taste good though.)
In 1874 the art critic Louis Leroy mocked the nascent Impressionist movement by commenting on the "ease of workmanship". Leroy, all we can say is that we're very sorry that you didn't live long enough to visit the National Gallery's East Wing. Impressionist painters were virtuoso craftsmen compared to the work we found here.
You see, understanding Great Art is not so much a question of the art itself, but of your enlightened perception of the "art." If you're educated, insightful, and sophisticated, you'll see that Ellsworth Kelly's "White Curve No. 8" is a work of sublime intelligence. To a businessman from Idaho it might look like just a simple canvas, with the upper half painted black and the lower half painted white. But to the knowing, to the perceptive, ahhh... it's... well...Great Art.
But the real test of perception is Ad Reinhardt's "Black Painting no. 34". At first glance it appears to be simply a canvas, painted black. Just black. No unusual texture, no design work, no unique brushwork. Nothing. Just a black canvas. Black frame. Now if you're the sort of person who thinks that 1+1=2, or that your eyes are a useful tool of cognition, you're just not going to get this. But if you live in a higher realm of consciousness, if you see a greater reality, if you think the Emperor was really quite well-dressed, then this painting is for you.
We've spent a considerable amount of time studying the kind of people that are able to appreciate "Black Painting no. 34" and similar Great Art. For some reason, they all seem to share certain characteristics. All of the cognoscenti despise money, but always seem to be demanding it. Like Rousseau, they all talk about the beauty of nature, but they tend to live in places like Manhattan, Washington, or Berlin. They enjoy pontificating on the virtues of the poor as they sip their $2.75 cappuccinos. They say they admire individuality and self-expression, but they all dress, talk, and think alike. They oppose capital punishment, but they're willing to overlook wholesale massacres if the objective is one based on sound social policy.
We'd like to thank the rest of American taxpayers for providing those of us who live in the nation's capitol with all this Great Art and other fine amenities. Despite the fact that our city is vastly inaccessible to the great majority of tax-paying Americans, we've managed to take huge amounts of your money for our local entertainment.
Not only have you provided us with the National Gallery of Art, and the Kennedy Center, but also with the vast Smithsonian complex, the great majority of which is conveniently located within a 10 minute drive of Outrage HQ. Of course, it may not be so convenient for those of you living in Kansas or New Orleans, but then, again, who cares? All the politicians, lawyers, and consultants who thrive in this great city have easy access to a plethora of federally funded entertainment.
The Freer and Sackler Galleries, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Zoo, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African Art, National Museum of American Art, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, and the Renwick Gallery are just a few of our neighborhood hang-outs, courtesy of you. But don't think the government's not spreading the wealth; why, they put two of the Smithsonian's museums in New York City, just to be fair. (Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.)
Who actually pays for all this Great Art? The initial funding for the construction of the National Gallery came from financier and art collector Andrew Mellon, and the Mellon family later paid for the construction of the East Building. All of the Great Art in the National Gallery has been donated by private individuals, or various consortiums. You, gentle taxpayer, pay for the daily operation of the National Gallery, and believe me, that's a big ticket item.
The National Gallery's Great Art is guarded by more security than the Pope. It's pretty hard to imagine someone slipping Motherwell's "Elegy" in their pocket and taking it home to put on the dining room wall. Or why anyone would want to try. But that doesn't deter the government from spending over $11 million dollars a year guarding all this Great Art (just at the National Gallery). You also help us locals out by spending over $20 million a year for the "care and utilization of art collections" at the National Gallery. Another $12 million for building maintenance and pretty soon you're near the total annual federal subsidy of about $60 million. Thank you!
The National Gallery is of course separate from the Smithsonian Institution facilities described above, for which you help us out with over $383 million each year, of which over $328 million is for salaries and "expenses". And then there's the National Endowment for the Arts, for which President Clinton is currently requesting that you donate $136 million in 1998. Thanks again!
Gotta run now - there's a lot to see and do in this city, and we don't want to fritter too much of our time away working.
READ MORE ABOUT IT
Read more about Great Art at the National Gallery's site