90 years ago, Marcel Duchamp did something kind of funny by presenting a urinal as if it were legitimate art.
The art world responded by repeating the same joke, with slight variations, over and over, while pretending to take itself seriously in the process. Much money was made by selling random objects to rich suckers. Now the whole joke may finally be starting to fall a bit flat.
Dennis Dutton writes in the New York Times:
The appreciation of contemporary conceptual art, on the other hand, depends not on immediately recognizable skill, but on how the work is situated in today’s intellectual zeitgeist. That’s why looking through the history of conceptual art after Duchamp reminds me of paging through old New Yorker cartoons. Jokes about Cadillac tailfins and early fax machines were once amusing, and the same can be said of conceptual works like Piero Manzoni’s 1962 declaration that Earth was his art work, Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 “One and Three Chairs” (a chair, a photo of the chair and a definition of “chair”) or Mr. Hirst’s medicine cabinets. Future generations, no longer engaged by our art “concepts” and unable to divine any special skill or emotional expression in the work, may lose interest in it as a medium for financial speculation and relegate it to the realm of historical curiosity.
In this respect, I can’t help regarding medicine cabinets, vacuum cleaners and dead sharks as reckless investments. Somewhere out there in collectorland is the unlucky guy who will be the last one holding the vacuum cleaner, and wondering why.But that doesn’t mean we need to worry about the future of art. There are plenty of prodigious artists at work in every medium, ready to wow us with surprising skills. And yes, now and again I walk past a jewelry shop window and stop, transfixed by a sparkling, teardrop-shaped precious stone. Our distant ancestors loved that shape, and found beauty in the skill needed to make it —even before they could put their love into words.