Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Not everyone buys abstract art

My relationship with football is far from intimate (probably a result of conditioning--my high school mascot was a unicorn), but the FX sitcom The League has been transformative. Starring a dysfunctional group of friends consumed by their fantasy football league, their self-absorption and lack of moral compass is in the same vein as It's Always Sunny and Arrested Development. Andre, a successful plastic surgeon who is tolerated for his resources, has an offensive taste for fashion and all other things material. In a typical feat of distaste he purchases a $25,000 painting by an artist he calls Kluneberg, no first name (Season 2, Episode 4, The Kluneberg). Upon proudly unveiling it to his friends, Andre explains that the painting spoke to him when he was in a gallery in Telluride. His friends retreat in confusion at Andre's decision to buy this ugly painting. Taco, the tactless airhead, proclaims "It's a penis bird attacking ass mountain!" The friends reach a consensus about this dead-on observation, and Andre gets defensive: "There's no penis here, it's abstract.... It's art, there doesn't need to be a reason. Use your imagination, except for the part that makes you think it's a penis bird." To add insult to injury, Taco cannot reconcile with the painting's astronomical cost: "You can get pictures like that for free on the internet," to which Andre retorts, "No it's art, it's colonialism and you'll never get it."

The Kluneberg exchange satirizes the naiveté of contemporary art consumers. Andre obviously had no idea how to justify his expensive purchase ("colonialism"?) save for the fact that it spoke to him and that it was legitimately "art" by virtue of being in a gallery. I'm not suggesting that anyone need justify a purchase, but rather that Andre's decision speaks to the frivolity of consumers which the art market exploits. It also comments on the hotly debated boundaries of art: according to Andre, if it is art it can do or say or look like anything. This is a point of contention for many traditionalists, as I discussed in an earlier post about the art market.

On the flip side of the coin, one can interpret this exchange as a satire of "bourgeois" folk who don't see the value in owning a physical work of art nor are sophisticated enough to relate to abstract art in a profound way.

So, who is this elusive Kluneberg, anyway? I have no idea. He must be someone important--the episode is named for him, after all.