Popular Posts

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Have You Done?

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a fairly insignificant institution, smaller than France or Germany, is in dispute with one of its intended exhibitors, Christoph Büchel, a Swiss artist whose installation is the bone of contention. Büchel began assembling his work last year for a show, The Training Ground of Democracy, that was due to open in December. To date he has assembled in its football pitch-sized hall, an oil tanker, a smashed police car, and a two-story house that was cut into four and reassembled indoors. Obviously, Büchel has no intention of stopping there, and does not wish the visitors to view it in its present unfinished state. The Mass Mus, on the other hand, maintain that a lot of people have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the show, and the people are entitled to walk past and view the growing pile of materials being assembled.

My interest in all this lies in the fact that it has resurrected another of those conundrums that once exercised the best brains of my art school (see blog 18 Jan : It's How He Sees It): When exactly, is a work of art finished?

With some works the answer is clear enough. A statue, once the final casting has been made, would not normally cry out for more to be done to it - although even here there might be some room for disagreement. A fresco, on the other hand, is finished (I guess) when the last bit of plaster has dried. All things are a matter of degree, of course, for the problem becomes critical in the case of some art forms. A watercolour, treated to one brush stroke too many, can go from a sparkling clarity that is the joy of the medium, to a muddy patch, fit only for the growing of vegetables.

In the case of poetry, the situation changes again. Here you may change and develop to your heart's content, knowing that you will always have the original, or the previous, version to fall back on if you overdo things. It is well said (for many poets, at least) that a poem is never finished, only abandoned.

The case of poetry raises another question: at what point does a new version become a new poem? It sounds like a false conundrum, does it not? Analogous to: at what point is a twisted belt, twisted. But it highlights a deeper dilemma: should we always accept the creator's view of these matters? Is there an alternative? Maybe there is no way in which the poser could be answered in terms both absolute and aesthetic, but what about in moral terms? And if there is a moral answer, could it be important, or is it only the aesthetic that matters where art is concerned? Again, if there is a moral aspect, will that always be on the side of the artist? Let me put a hypothetical question: I have entered a poem for a major competition and it has been placed first by the judges. However, the rules of the competition state that it must not have been previously published. Unfortunately, in the opinion of the sponsors, it has. Or has it? They point to an earlier version that was published in a magazine, but I claim (and genuinely believe) that to have been a different poem: some lines were the same (How many does it take?), but it is shorter, has a different title, the structure has changed, the lineation is different, etc, etc - How much does it take? Whose judgment should prevail, and on what basis? The art world in America is finding it very difficult to adjudicate between Büchel and the MMoCA - which is why the latter is taking Büchel to court for a judicial ruling. Shame it should go that far.

No comments: