Art I Don’t Understand

13 Feb

The installation below is titled: To the Memory of H.P. Lovecraft, 1999, 2008, by Michael Nelson. Nelson is a contemporary British installation artist who was born in Loughborough in 1967, lives and works in London and was nominated twice for the Turner Prize. There is a reason why this installation is being highlighted. You will find out why soon enough.

I appreciate art, but sometimes I just don’t ‘get’ a piece of artwork or an art installation.

On a recent visit to the Miami Art Musuem for the first time, I enjoyed an interesting hour plunged into contemporary art works, when I came across one installation which was quite puzzling. It was Carlos Bunga: Metamorphosis which featured two large-scale, site-specific structures created from perishable materials (cardboard), and explores the continuous mutation of architecture and urban space.

To me and my fellow viewers (two friends) beside me it was simply painted cardboard. My friend walked into the room and said out loud “Oh there’s nothing here” and proceeded to walk out when I called out after her  ”No, this is one of the exhibits”. She thought they were working on the room, as if it were under construction. Obviously she did not ‘get’ this piece of art work either.

As hard as I tried to appreciate the work, it evoked nothing from me. I was staring at purple, green, and orange painted cardboard. The thing I did appreciate was the fact that an artist would even think of putting together pieces of cardboard as Carlos Bunga had. The plate on the wall explaining the installation went into such grand detail about structure and space and urban shifts and so on and forth. However it made no difference…I understood none of that vision.

Here is a shot of the ‘cardboard’ exhibit which I speak of:

The installation by Mike Nelson ‘Memory of H.P. Lovecraft’, like Carlos Bunga’s ‘Metamorphosis’, is a grand example of art I do not understand. All I see is destroyed walls in Mike Nelson’s work and all that confronts me with Bunga’s piece is a large scale piece of painted cardboard. I could say my artistic intelligence isn’t as grand as those who would understand it, but I get Dadaism. I can understand and interpret Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountaine’.

To some it’s merely a porcelain artifact from a bathroom. On the other hand, from my perspective, he took a mundane utility and elevated it to mean something else entirely. An object you’d originally wouldn’t dare have your face near, was transformed into an object that requires such a thing. Just think of that twisted scenario. Duchamp was a genius.

With absolutely no disrespect to Bunga, I sadly do not see this type of genius in his installation.  Coincidentally enough, Duchamp’s ‘Fountaine’ is a brilliant example of metamorphosis. I am but one person and obviously this is solely based on my own opinion.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and how we perceive things is largely shaped by our conditioning. If we found everything easy to understand, and all art beautiful, life would be boring. Carlos Bunga’s installation is not easy to understand but it caused thought, introspection and conversation and for that it’s a great piece of art.

What artworks have you come across that have left you scratching your head?

4 Responses to Art I Don’t Understand



February 14th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

While enjoying the free art walk earlier this month in my city, I was thinking about “understanding” art and how people feel they just might not be smart enough or “deep” enough to understand what the artist was trying to convey, when in fact, sometimes it’s impossible to do so, which is what makes art so interesting. What looks like a complete disaster to one person, is beautiful and poetic to another.

I’m sure you’ve heard enough tattoo stories where people will explain their wonderful and meaningful story behind their hideous tribal/bouquet of roses that they decided to get on their rib cage to display the progress of women and their ever blossoming beauty. To me, it just looks like a terrible drunken idea. I feel like their is an emergence of art galleries getting more 3 dimensional with things or including paintings with some sort of physical structure in front to enhance the painting. I’m not sure how I feel about it, I feel like structures should function and not just be something to look at for four weeks at a gallery. But i think art’s purpose is for us to have this conversation. The journey in figuring it out is much more fulfilling than ever reaching an end!



February 14th, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Well said and true. The funny thing is…art that is ‘hard to get’ is often times more spoken about than art that is easier to understand. Relating this to people, the greatest example is: Lady Gaga.

As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am sure a demolition man would find the broken walls installation a thing of beauty.

Thank you for your comment.



April 6th, 2010 at 5:33 am

Hello Gilbert

I found your post after doing a web search for Carlos Bunga who had an exhibition at our local gallery in Milton Keynes a few years ago. To some extent I’m with you on some modern art installations and often don’t ‘get’ it. This exhibition was different because I took my sons with me who were aged five and eight at the time.

I walked into the gallery and my immediate reaction was that I had a garage full of cardboard boxes and could have created something similar myself. They walked into the main exhibition room and just went Wow. They spent the next hour going in and out of the structure, working out how big it was – almost as big as our house but not quite, why were some of the walls painted and others not, could they make one at home (did I mention the garage full of boxes), how was it put together, could you live in it etc etc. All those somewhat abstract ideas about space and structure which you mentioned in your post were real and tangible to them. It helped that they were able to go inside the ‘house’. They still talk about it and that time we went to the gallery and it was amazing.

Sometimes you just have to look through the eyes of a child.



April 6th, 2010 at 9:29 am

True, as children our imaginations allow us to see things in different ways. Thank you for opening my eyes with your comment and sharing your story. Great advice.

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