Artists have always been starving—it’s part of their romantic appeal. We like to think of them shivering in their garrets beneath tattered clothing, fueled only by a passion to create. If they have consumption or a touch of syphilis, perhaps a crippling addiction to absinthe or opium, so much the better. Anything to add to that tragic bohemian glamour.
In reality, these days artists are more likely to be crippled by student loan debt or bound by financial necessity to other, more stable jobs. They face soaring costs on studio space as low-rent areas are overrun by retailers and developers hoping to cash in on the neighborhood’s artistic appeal. And there is the very real issue of materials: Art is made of stuff. Stuff costs money.
Then, of course, the work must sell. That’s another discussion entirely.
This brings us to “The Tyranny of Good Taste,” a group show featuring the work of 15 artists from across the country. The dizzying spectrum of styles the show incorporates is enough to leave you feeling a little overwhelmed—and, if you forget its stated purpose, maybe a little turned off. So remind yourself upon entering: according to the accompanying literature, this is an exhibition of “experimental artwork” created “during a time of extreme economic turmoil” and meant to “challenge established fine art hierarchies of value and status-quo conventions of good taste.”
Got it? Good. Now you’re ready for the glitter. And the found objects. And the “urban detritus,” which is an upmarket term for shit people throw in the street. This is artwork made mostly from materials that have been cast off, either by society or the artists themselves, some of whom have repurposed failed works for a second go-round. It is, with a few exceptions, ugly—an affront to the good taste by which we’ve all apparently been tyrannized. Works by Bobbi Meier look like they could’ve been pulled from a drag queen’s dressing room after a fire—garishly colored fabric, lace, and faux gems melded together in waxy, amorphous blobs. Other pieces incorporate empty cigarette packages, asphalt, potato sacks, and fake ferns. Sometimes you feel like you’re being asked to smile politely at a child’s craft project. And sometimes—standing, perhaps, in front of Julia Anne Goodman’s delicate work with pulp made from old fabric—you’re reminded of the power of the artist as poet, finding beauty in all the ugliness of the world.
“The Tyranny of Good Taste” is a high-concept show, an experiment tinged with rebellion. It is designed to be confrontational. So if you find yourself muttering beneath your breath that no one in their right mind would ever buy this crap, remember that that may be precisely the point.