Friday, April 1, 2016


Definition: gim-mick (noun).

A trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity,
or business.

Synonyms: contrivance, scheme, stratagem, ploy,
shtick (my favorite)

I’m on the e-mail list of a relatively new art center known as the Bronx Museum. It’s located on the Grand Concourse and 165th St. and I have to confess, despite my interest in the borough, I’ve never been there. A press release arrived today announcing an upcoming “performance event” (their words, not mine) in which an artist (who shall remain nameless) will present an “interactive community based project” (again, their words, not mine) in which participants will share cups of brewed (donated) tea and make a room-sized quilt out of the tea stained paper filters. I let out a giant AAAARGH! when I saw this ….the triumph of the gimmick, I fired off an e-mail to the sender of the press release saying: “Re-purposed tea-stained paper filters woven into a quilt? Give me a break. This isn’t art, it’s a gimmick!” But why should I have been so surprised, most of today’s art is gimmickry masked as high-sounding “Conceptual Art.” I even believe that Gimmick I and Gimmick II are currently taught in all the major art schools in America. Everybody is searching for the cleverest gimmick, the one that will lift him or her above the rest. Tea-stained filter quilts? Not bad as gimmicks go, but not terribly original. A friend of mine did coffee-filter curtains a few years ago.

Anyhow, my e-mail to the Bronx Museum asked why contemporary art always needed a gimmick? Couldn’t it stand on its own? I’d be perfectly happy to see a lovely quilt made by an artist out of stained paper tea filters, but to make a media event out of it? To my surprise, a real person answered (chalk one up for the Bronx Museum), the Social Media Coordinator.) He actually wrote back asking what I meant, and, given an opening, I fired off a diatribe against this kind of busywork, a gimmick that to me was only one step away from a clever advertising campaign. Apparently, the Social Media Coordinator decided he had given me enough of his valuable time and did not respond. I’m sure he thought there was no point arguing with someone who didn’t understand “art.”

That leaves me with the point of my little tirade: so much fashionable art today isn’t art but an attempt to become successful through notoriety. Novelty sells, especially to art buyers that largely don’t know what they are buying. I appreciate and understand an artists desire to do something new and challenging, but that’s not as easy as it was a hundred years ago, in the days of the Dada  - true rebels and intellectuals who saw their unconventional art as a way of challenging a corrupt society. Today, it’s pretty hard to do something that hasn’t been done before - and who says novelty should be an artist’s goal?

But it’s an interesting issue and needs to be taken seriously. At what point does true creativity morph into gimmickry? I think the answer lies in the aesthetic value of what is being produced and the artist’s intention in producing the work. For example, Marcel Duchamp’s famous “readymade,” the urinal he entered into an art exhibit one hundred years ago, really is a work of art. Its harmonious curves make it a beautiful abstract sculpture in white porcelain. Plus, Duchamp was also saying that there could be aesthetic value in the mundane, the mass produced and the ordinary. But without beauty (debatable as it might be) as a goal, all you have left is a gimmick.

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