THE EUROZONE. When it comes to evaluating art in the modern world, how is the average person supposed to know that he or she isn’t being duped purely because a particular painting or sculpture is famous? How can we separate truly great art from the kind of dubious art that’s still considered great by the art world’s cognoscenti? Does the general public know something that the experts don’t?
Art is, and always will be, subjective for the viewer at best. Down through the ages, artistic movements have chronicled man’s evolution from simple cave drawings to religious art that influenced illiterate masses. The same thing holds true ranging from ancient humanistic representations to Impressionism, Expressionism. And today, the list includes contemporary works where virtually anything goes. But is great art really great? Or do we think it’s great because experts tell us so?
The case of Jackson Pollack
As always, our list proves the point that art is still in the eye of the beholder. And that includes dubious art as well.
Take the works of American artist Jackson Pollack, for example. He became famous for his odd technique of splashing liquid household paint onto a horizontal surface. His technique was called “action painting” because he used the force of his entire body to paint. But critics were divided by Pollack’s abstract style. Some applauded the immediacy and fluidity of his work. Others criticized its randomness.
Regardless of whether the bright splashes of color on Pollock’s canvasses were appealing to viewers or not, perhaps the bigger, and more subtle, question would be “Is it really art?”
Cynical observers might simply view a Pollack piece and ask “where was the talent, skill or creativity to “paint” such a work?”
That’s a fair question. Most people believe that anyone could throw paint on a white surface and achieve the same result: dubious art.
Thus, in 2016, when Pollock’s painting titled Number 17A reportedly fetched $200 million in a private purchase, one had to wonder about the true validity of art and how to interpret its value. Consider that the work was so abstract in nature that Pollack had to give it a number rather than a name.
They paint what they feel
As a curator at an exhibition in Switzerland once pointed out, “the artist doesn’t really care whether you like his work or not, or even understand it. What he desires most is that patrons respond to it in one way or another. That is the key.”
And it can also prove the key to spotting examples of dubious art. Art more famous than it deserves to be.
Keeping that in mind, which famous works of art today are really worth the trouble for travelers to Europe? Are some of these well-known, frequently lauded artistic endeavors really worth the time and effort. Can they reward standing in long lines or battling hordes of other tourists to glimpse them for a brief moment before moving on?
Our Eurozone “Skip List” of dubious artworks
Here is our list of art and architectural works you might want to skip on your next trip. Not necessarily because of their alleged merit. More importantly, do they live up to expectations and “hype” enough to relinquish valuable time to see them? For most travelers, time is of the essence. When you travel to Europe, consider that the following popular examples of art may not really merit the time and effort expended to see them.
Regarding these examples, please note that “size” often surfaces as a primary source of disappointment for tourists. Even the quality of the work can sometimes get obscured by a size that doesn’t live up to expectations. Dubious art, too, may be in the eyes of the beholder.
Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid:
Perched on a waterside rock in Copenhagen Harbor is the city’s tribute to native son Hans Christian Andersen. The bronze sculpture of The Little Mermaid attracts visitors from around the world each year despite being rated “the world’s worst attraction.”
As mentioned above, the operative word is “small.” The “Little” Mermaid clearly lives up to its title with its Lilliputian size, The effort to view this attractive bit of dubious art becomes a major tourist disappointment almost as quickly as it comes into view.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:
This one is tough to label dubious art, given the genius of its creator. But again, the problem has to do with its scale more than the artistic accomplishment embodied therein. Imagine placing a single postage stamp on a white 8″ x 11″ mailer and you begin to get the sense of frustration many visitors experience when they first witness da Vinci’s diminutive masterpiece.
With its protective, anti-theft barrier and the hordes of people pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of this painting, you have to wonder if the effort is really worth it. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to claim you actually saw it.
Jerôme Duquesnoy’s Manneken Pis:
In the Belgian hamlet of Brussels, the question is “To pee or not to pee.”
The city symbol of a small boy urinating into a pool of water is an amusing attention-getter. Tourists most certainly regard this one as a photo op provided they accidentally stumble upon the fountain. Whether or not one finds it worth the effort to find becomes another matter entirely.
As with the two works mentioned above, this diminutive sculpture shares a similar label with its cousin in Copenhagen as Europe’s “most disappointing sight.” Worse, you can often buy cast-concrete variations on this theme at many a garden store right here in America. Which adds a “been there, done that” element to the story. I.e., dubious art.
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica:
Another toughy, thanks to its creator — one of the most prolific artists in history. Size in this case is not a factor. Picasso’s Guernica spans nearly 12 feet by 26 feet. Adding to the debate is that Picasso himself regarded this as one of his true masterpieces, particularly because he became so personally affected by the Spanish Civil War.
This is one case where artistic subjectivity comes into play. Many critics believe Picasso created numerous other pieces that they find vastly more outstanding and worthy of attention. If your standard tracks with theirs, you may agree that you can find plenty of other places in the world to see Picassos.
Certainly one of the best known architectural structures in the world, the 12th century Leaning Tower of Pisa began its famous tilt during construction. The problem is due to soft ground on one side of the structure. This patch of ground proved unable to properly support the structure’s weight. Hence, its near-fatal tilt, remedied to some extent by modern construction methods used in renovations that have likely halted its inevitable journey to destruction.
At nearly 185-feet in height, the saddest aspect of this landmark is its current Coney Island atmosphere. With so many junky souvenir stands and tacky shops littering the area, actually seeing the tower becomes almost a sidebar event quickly spoiled as you try to avoid the hawkers and scam artists. The city fathers should never have allowed this to happen.
Finally, one for your American Skip List
The somewhat dubious attractions above are just five to skip if you’re in Europe. But US offers its share of traveler disappointments as well. Returning to the argument pitting the magnitude of historical significance against the actual size of the art or the monument, two that quickly come to mind here are the Alamo and Plymouth Rock. Seen in person, both seem tiny indeed compared to their image in history and in our minds’ eye.
In the end, as in so many aspects of life, tourism included, “size really does matter.”
— Headline image: The hypnotic mesmerizing eyes of Pablo Picasso as captured by David Douglas Duncan.
(Courtesy: Rosengart Museum)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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