02 AUG 2018:  A lifetime of world travelling has afforded me the incredible opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest art. But for every Mona Lisa at the Louvre or The Persistence of Memory at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., there has been a Voice of Fire at the National Gallery in Ottawa, the wrapped Reichstag in Berlin, or pretty much anything at the Tate Modern in London.

Don’t get me wrong, I love art. My home is filled with Dalis, Morrisseaus (my favourite), and various Group of Sevens (prints, of course – let’s be serious!)

But there is much “art” that I hate – specifically anything resembling my kids’ dabblings in kindergarten, or hardened drywall plaster (yes, in a Distillery District gallery in Toronto). As for the latter, I had just finished my basement and thrown away tons of similar “pieces” – who knew?

The only thing that irked me more than the two-tone, three-striped Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman hanging in the National Gallery in Hull, Que., is that it was bought with taxpayer money – if you recall it caused a national furor in 1990 – to the tune of $1.8 million.

When I visited, I admit my fury over Fire quickly dissipated, but only because it was adjacent to another “work” – a room full of randomly strewn rocks – although one would hope that cost less than almost two million bucks. (Alas, Toronto’s Gardiner Museum recently had a rock stolen from its exhibit, The Riverbed – another room full of pebbles, this one conceived by Yoko Ono).

In the same vein, I’m irritated by minimalist art – a white dot on a black background, black dot on a white background, etc. Don’t misunderstand: I couldn’t give a Rembrandt’s ass if somebody wants to hang that in their living room or pay a million dollars for it (though perhaps a charitable donation would be of more use), but please don’t tell me it’s art and charge me to see it (at least British galleries like the Tate are free).

I acknowledge that no one is compelling me to visit such establishments, or try to understand the artists’ motives or meanings, but I find the pretension galling all the same.

Let me also say that I have nothing against abstract art – I love colour and creative concepts that may have purposely, or even randomly, taken shape – which is to say that I’m not saying that an apple has to look exactly like an apple (which would essentially be a photograph). But I can’t help but be annoyed if a couple of spilled cans of paint is said to symbolize, to use the cliché, man’s inhumanity against man.

And please don’t get me started about “art” made out of garbage, unless maybe it looks like a rabbit, which is clearly clever!

The Simpsons TV show, so successful for its sharp and witty social commentary, nailed the modern art phenomenon, I believe, in its 1999 episode, “Mom and Pop Art,” in which hapless Homer, while dragging his mangled attempt at assembling a barbecue (and having pounded it in frustration with a metal pipe) to the dump, was inadvertently “discovered” en route by an art dealer who declared his work to be genius, thus elevating the failed handyman to artist extraordinaire.

Sadly, I’ve seen such pieces in real museums, proving that so-called art emulates, um, art.

Some years ago, I had occasion to have lunch with the art curator of the famed Essex House Hotel in New York. I was compelled to tell her that I hated modern art and wondered, who decides what art is anyways?

“Artists,” she admitted, which I guess makes more sense than plumbers, or me perhaps.

Yet, I pursued my argument and recounted a visit to the Tate Modern during which I had observed a particularly infuriating display: two TVs had been placed in opposite corners of an otherwise empty room, both running looped black and white videos. One featured a man continuously barking like a dog, the other an elderly woman continuously proclaiming, “This is boring. This is so boring. This is really, really boring!” and so forth.

My lunch companion admitted she knew the perpetrator of that exhibit, and conceded, “I see your point. I hate that guy!”

Finally, I defer to another purveyor of animated wisdom, the inestimable Barney Rubble, on the subject, who once observed of a painting he didn’t like: “I don’t know what the artist got for that, but it should have been life!”


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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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