Many people say they don’t understand art. No one says this about music. Or food. No one says “I don’t understand Mozart.” Or pizza. But they say it about art. Why? Because art is an alchemical process; seemingly not as direct as music or food. Art exists in the material world. In fact the artist’s primary job is to embed thought in material. Even Duchamp’s urinal has the artist’s thought embedded in it; in its title; in the idea of someone calling it art; of an artist sublimating his own choices in order to choose something that already exists in the world. Yet, people still look at much art and say they don’t understand it. This is art’s revolutionary power. That it exists just beyond language, in a non-linear, paradoxical realm where several things can be true at the same time, a place where your eyes don’t necessarily process everything that you’re seeing and what you’re seeing transforms in the mind into something that is not simply something to be looked at but that transcends this narrow modern definition of art and is transformed once again into an object that does something.
Art that does something. That’s what I was looking for when I juried this show. Art that surprised me. With more than novelty or a flash of skin. Surprised me for more than a moment, surprised me and kept me surprised. I look for art that tried to fail flamboyantly. I don’t mean art that someone dropped from their roof in a goofy Dada gesture. I mean art that when the artist made it I could imagine this artist thinking, “Oh no. What have I done?” Art that did something that the artist wasn’t expecting. Something, maybe that the artists didn’t want to happen, didn’t want anyone else to see, until it became clear that this was the way the art wanted to be seen. I looked for artists who didn’t seem to take the paths more traveled, the dependable academically approved ways and means of making art. I looked for artists who seemed to have skill but that then tried to unlearn or relearn skill, redefine it into something other than “good drawing” or “respectable abstraction”.
I looked for artists who seemed driven to provide some sort of unknown algorithmic reaction to their topic, their medium, material, process, and desires. Artists who where somehow trying to make things that haven’t been seen before, provide a taxonomy into their inner-lives, fashioning encyclopedic palaces in single works, were interested in the representation of the invisible, the unseen, the unseeable.
What shocked me; what thrilled me is that I saw a lot of these kinds of art coming out of the Kansas City area. This show could have been twice as large. I narrowed it down less because of quality than the finite problem of space.
I know that many will look at much of this art and think, “This judge is cracked!” They could be right. But for me, being “right” is one of the least interesting human qualities under the stars.