Dada at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Scottsdale, Arizona (1994)



 The Scottsdale Center for the Arts is not an invigorating place to visit during the remainder of the year. The Dadaist sensibility in all its smart-aleck, anti-art nihilism dominates the current exhibitions.


 If one were allowed a single art movement to define and explain the destruction of art in our time, it would be Dada. It used, as an excuse for its goal of the destruction of genuine art and culture, an immense hatred and cynicism directed against the leaders and institutions of society they thought responsible for World War I. While outrage at corruption is understandable, this hatred spread like a plague to include all humanity and the world at large. This all-encompassing view of the essential worthlessness of art and life has had horrendous repercussions on posterity, as warping and destructive as war itself.


 If we humans were a different, more profound, less egotistically destructive species, we might have expected more constructive creativity from our artists, if not our politicians. But the artists caved in to cynicism, perversity and nihilism. When Pop Art surfaced in the late 1950's and early 60's, it was merely a reissue of the same deadly anti-art, anti-life virus.


 Entering the gallery at the Scottsdale Center is to be surrounded by the wreckage of the Dada movement in particular and modern art in general. There are two or three well-made assemblages, but the tenor of the show is so debilitating, it erodes everything.


 All the big names are here: Rauschenberg, Warhol, Oldenburg. Rauschenberg hangs a piece of rusted metal and a cola can; Warhol a flat, enlarged, badly-painted newspaper front page (as only Warhol can badly paint; no wonder he went to silk-screened photographs); Oldenburg paints plaster hamburger patties brown (yum).


  John Chamberlain welds his "sculpture" of twisted car metal and bumpers. Allan Kaprow, one of the originators of "happenings" in the 50's, offers a pile of crumpled newspapers (crumpled by the museum staff, we might add; how's that for the personal touch in art?).


 Jean Tinquely sums up the futility of it all with one of his "painting machines," a jerry-rigged contraption that scribbles "abstractions".


 In the New Directions Gallery, a two-pronged problem exists. The sickness of Dada continues...and the sad sight of two younger artists sucked into its milieu, believing they are creating important work. The first artist wraps, in porcelain clay, women's high-heeled shoes, sunflower heads, frying pans, etc. She then fires them in a kiln, reducing the original objects to ashes (except for the frying pan) which she leaves in the porcelain molds, exhibiting them mostly in rows, some in random arrangements.


 The second artist piles 27,000 burned paper matches; impregnates small loaves of bread with matches from which she hangs a garter belt; fills a pan with Pinesol disinfectant and places it on a large pillow. No doubt we have here a feminist statement of rebellion, anger and self-assertion through the destruction of objects associated with the "bondage" of women to kitchen and bedroom. As mentioned earlier, outrage is a legitimate emotion, especially in an outrageous and outraged society like ours. But when it results in the destruction of art through personal rancor, such work is not acceptable.


 More to blame than these young women who don't know any better, having been miseducated into ignorance, is the Scottsdale Center itself.


Copyright by Don Gray


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