Art Appreciation 101
December 6, 2009

Have you heard the one about the 95 cent cucumber?

That’s not really what I was expecting from our Sunday Art Basel outing, but it was in one of the first galleries we happened upon.  It’s not possible to walk by the Richard Prince acrylic and silkscreen without a visual smack in the face of orange and the joke written in text.  And Alyson is right up in there, reading it.  She’s 12.

It goes like this: “A housewife selected three small tomatoes and was told by the grocer they were 75 cents. ‘What!’ she exclaimed, ‘75 cents for those small tomatoes? Well, you can just take them and you know what you can do with them!’  ‘I can’t lady,’ replied the unhappy grocer. ‘There’s a 95 cent cucumber there.’ “

Aly didn’t quite get it until I filled in the R-rated details.  And then she asked a question that she had no idea was as brilliant as it was: Why would a joke written on a square orange background qualify as art?

You don’t have to be an artist, collector, critic, investor or marketer to be moved by a painting or sculpture or photograph.  Like good novels or transcendent films, visual art elevates, evokes, provokes.  You see it and you feel it, sometimes without being able to verbalize why.  

But art is also a reflection and a tutorial about a culture and society.  When you study a country and an era, mining the artwork of the time reveals the values, interests, priorities, political, social order and general zeitgeist of a culture.  It’s a visual archeological dig, a narrative arc coded in creative expression.  Which means contemporary art, the subject of Art Basel, is, well, us.

So what does a frat house groaner of a joke say about our times?  That vegetables are getting pretty pricey? That we have so little respect for each other that we tell each other where to stick it? 

The galleries of Art Basel had us wondering more than a few times what the future archeologists will deduce about our global culture circa 2009.

We walked and looked and absorbed some breathtaking works.  For the last eight years, Art Basel has brought to the 305 an in-your-face tutorial on art’s place on our planet. 

Plus, it has become a Sunday-in-December tradition for the art-loving Milberg girls – and, bonus! no mall involved.

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