Lowest common denominator


I just came back from seeing the traveling art exhibit that everyone has been raving about. It is called Ashes and Snow, and it is currently on display in Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo. This movable art tent was in LA just before I left about 2 years ago where it was likewise greeted as something incredible.

I thought it was total crap.

More of a marketing idea than anything else, the show is a testament to hype over substance. The images are simplistic (not to be confused with its much richer cousin, simple) playing into a mass culture (and watered down) idea of the exotic. These images in no way force anyone to contemplate the messy reality of truly far away places, they simply allude to a sanitized, romanticized version of it. The images are perfect for our culture of mass consumption, for they contain no content that would argue against modern excess. Quite to the contrary, the final part of the exhibit is a large vending area so that people may continue to consume these images with their purchase of posters, postcards, cds, books, etc. In fact, the entire exhibit could be considered the showroom, with purchase and checkout at the end.

Ultimately this exhibit was about as aesthetically and critically fulfilling as a “Hang in there baby!” kitty poster. The difference being that the kitty poster is less pretentious.


  1. Kelly says:

    I found some of the images quite amazing and some downright howky (I have to admit I love elephants).

    My question is, does the commercialization of an artist’s work automatically lesson the value of the work? What if commercialization is the only way to fund the artist and/or the exhibits? Shouldn’t an artist be able to market his art (and reproductions of his art)? And if there had been no hype, no bookstore–would you feel the same way?

    We might be a culture of mass consumption, but for most people “art” in the form of postcards, posters, and CD’s may be the only art they will ever see or be able to purchase. Copies of famous works–both classic and modern, can be found hanging in the homes of everyday folks–something that would not have been possible a hundred years ago. Unfortunately mass consumption has also led to a generation of people who believe Anne Geddes, Thomas Kincaid, and Wyland are the most famous artists of our time.

  2. Stephen says:

    Those are all excellent points, Kelly. But I guess my biggest problem was in how this exhibit has been touted. The hype and sales of the exhibition turned out to be far greater than the work itself. I am not arguing that art can never be appreciated by the masses or in reproduction, but rather that this type of circus takes away from any thoughtful appreciation of the true merits of the work in question. For me, this was all about the “show” and not at all about the “art”.

    I think of one of the great sayings of the Buddha, when trying to convince his followers to avoid idolizing him: “A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon”. Except in this case, the finger isn’t pointing at anything other than itself.