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Moving Performances

by James Lileks

Fine art these days is rarely either. Go to the sculpture wing of a contemporary museum, and you won’t find a painstakingly chiseled block of marble whose astonishing frozen drapery recalls the brilliance of Bernini. You’ll get a lump of masking tape with the title “Despair III” (1974). If there is painting, don’t expect that the artist could do anything more with a brush than draw Hitler mustaches on pictures torn from fashion magazines. Why? So we can have a conversation about anorexia and fascism, or something. Or explore the connection between cosmetics and nationalism. Modern artists always want to explore connections, although the connection between a lack of a marketable talent and a reliance on arts grants is not high on the list of conversations they’d like to have.

The contemporary museums of the world are stuffed with forgettable truckloads of junk-shop agglomerations and conceptual ciphers, instantly forgotten when a show of spray-painted sex toys or photographs of cast-off prosthetic limbs comes along to start another conversation about exploring. How do you keep it fresh and intriguing? The Aussie paper The Age reviews a new work that raised eyebrows and flared nostrils at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art:

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