“The Tyranny of Good Taste”


I like excess.  I have been drawn to excess ever since I fell head-over-heals in love with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge in middle school.  Excess, repetition, multiples, collections, accessories, supplements–in short, the “more is more” mentality makes sense to me.  Which is why I was surprised that my first thought, when walking into the “The Tyranny of Good Taste”, a group exhibition at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery  was: There is way too much work in here!  The space is small, but big enough to avoid clutter if interested.  Clearly, clutter wasn’t an issue for Danny Orendorff who curated the group show of 15 artists from around the country, exploring themes of low-brow materials,  junk food, maximalism, craft store crap, left-overs, awkward composition–the list could go on, (in keeping with the exhibition’s flowery delivery).

I admit, I didn’t put two and twotogether until a few days after seeing the exhibition: I actually attended a lecture by Danny Orendorff several months ago.  The lecture was centered around his 2012 exhibition, “All Good things become Wild and Free” at H. F. Johnson Gallery in Wisconsin.  This connection makes perfect sense–the taste is the same, the exhibition is a high-concept show bursting with a variety of materials.  In fact, the combined material list, alone could paint a pretty accurate picture of Orendorff’s taste.

In his current exhibition, Orendorff seems to challenge the artist’s in a competition for superlatives such as “most over-the-top”,  “most ugly”, “most likely to be found in your grandmother’s miscellaneous kitchen drawer”, etc.  These works are the misfits and the picked over pieces in an artist’s storage closets, in their unglamorous presentations and haphazard constructions.  And yet they elicit some degree of comfort through their familiar materials or nostalgic feel.  Jack Henry’s Core Samples offer us a literal conglomeration of child-of-the-90’s memorabilia, while Dean Roper’s busy installation of gaudy odds and ends clutter a clearly self-constructed shelf, hovering over an equally makeshift foot stool.

The work is strong in its ambition to be crafty and abject, and its interest in being so ugly it’s mesmerizing.  I only wonder about the layout of the exhibition.  Most artists exhibited three or four pieces, adding to the claustrophobic feel of the space.  Although I appreciate getting a taste of a collection of pieces by a single artists–as it is often difficult to get a real idea of the artist’s work in group shows through a single piece–the grouping somehow feels slightly juvenile or commercial–each pieces with a label,  each artist crammed on a small section of wall.  If the point is to overwhelm the viewer with a huge volume of work, I can understand exhibiting more than one pieces by each artist.  However, I think it would only heighten the chaotic feel of the space, if it was not divided up by artist, but rather by shape, or by content, or by nothing at all–just a hodgepodge of hodgepodges. Clustering the work by artist, adds a touch of logic which seems to undermine the intended excessiveness.

The exhibition left me with questions of intent.  Considering the title of the exhibition, the work references itself in a slightly ironic way or, at least, tongue-and-cheek flavor.  When is “bad” taste so bad it’s “good”?  Is there a trend-factor or cool-factor, hipster-factor or style-factor to this good “bad” taste or bad “good” taste?  It makes me wonder if these artists are intentionally trying to make work with “bad” taste, or if they are actually just falling short in a mission for “good” taste?  In an interview about doing a creative work, Ira Glass stated that we get into creative work because we have good taste.  But, he says,  there is usually a gap in the first few years of making things, in which our “taste is still killer” but the work falls short of our ambition.   It is only in making a huge volume of work, that we can begin to close that gap.  The exhibition makes me wonder: what if our ambition is not to make work with good taste?  Does this mean the work is successful from the beginning by default, or is does it take just as much persistence (or more) to make “bad” taste work as it does “good”?  Considering the subjective nature of these questions, this exhibition clearly doesn’t resolve the differences between these two camps of art-making, but it does attempt to challenge the hierarchies of taste and value to the extreme.

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