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Trying to understand modern art

Someone will have to teach me about modern art. I was invited to an exhibition at an art center in Detroit, and I would like to describe it to you as best I can: The "artists" (the quotation marks are not to be snide, but are there because I am not sure if I've been had) are all Norwegian, and I will not name the institute sponsoring them, but it is an "important" one, as they say.

The event took place in something resembling a university frat house, in which two rooms were accessible to the public, one for milling and sipping beer, and the other containing the exhibit itself. My friend and I made our way through the parlor to the installation and were the only ones in there. What we found was a pallet, such as I have seen carried by forklifts in any of the textile mills I worked in as a youth.

On the pallet were six spaced stacks of copy paper of various heights, one representing each of the six "artists." The first stack was a "monument" to .yu, a now defunct web domain for Yugoslavia. Another stack was a 209-page Excel document. The pages had black squares on them of varying heights. I presume that if you took your thumb and flipped through the leafs quickly (like we used to do with cartoon drawings as kids), it would have produced a neat effect. I don't know.

Four more stacks to go, but honestly, they looked the same to me.

I do not wish to dismiss this art, and I do not at all believe that "what my net can't catch ain't fish." Moreover, I can well imagine that the true artist is a person who is constantly pushing out boundaries and breaking old rules, and that by the time you have painted that still life of daisies and pewter mugs for the hundredth time you are ready to try something weird. I'll bet Judy Garland wanted to croak when they made her sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at age 35.

All I can tell you is that although the sponsors and the other dozen or so visitors seemed hep and culturally in the know, everybody sat in the parlor and I never saw anyone go near the exhibition room. People would come into the house and pay their respects to the paper-on-pallet, like you would to an open casket in a funeral parlor. And then they would join us in the parlor and drink beer. I keep wondering what Francis Schaeffer would say.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.


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