Faulty Arguments: Because Art

dashazhukovasplitI was in third grade, maybe fourth. My class, 60 plus tweens had taken the stage in our school’s Upper Social Hall. The first notes of the piano echoed out, and shortly thereafter, the belting began.

Second week, more advanced
And we had to be a table
Be a sports car
Ice cream cone

We were singing “Nothing,” from A Chorus Line to overjoyed parents, clapping and video taping our singalong for our school’s spring showcase. We made table shapes, and sports car motions, and tried our best to melt like mint chip cones on a hot summer day.

Our rendition of the song (which, omitted the “bulls**t” but kept in the assertion that Morales feels “nothing” when her drama teacher dies), was greeted with a standing ovation– the only kind of ovation Baby Boomer parents would give their gold-star Millenials. However wildly inappropriate the song might have been for ten-year-olds, that was overlooked, because, well, art. (This was back when Music was part of the daily school curriculum.)

And even though we were busy singing lyrics we couldn’t possibly have understood, and contorting our little bodies into tables, we certainly weren’t sitting on people. There was a line and our music teacher, Miss Hall, would not have dared cross it.

The Russians should take a non-musical note.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich and his partner Dasha Zhukova are known as the art collecting world’s “it” couple. At the beginning of last year the two grabbed headlines when they purchased a collection of over 40 works by Russian conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov. While details were not disclosed, it’s assumed they paid between $30 to $60 million for the group of paintings and installations.

This acquisition postulates that the two know art. Why else would they spend that chunk of change? And why do they have so much change to spend? Zhukova is the daughter of Russian oligarch Alexander Zhukov, and as if by right of wealth, a darling on the fashion scene. She runs around with like-minded-set-for-life Russian billionaire socialites, like pint-sized Czarina and editor of Buro 24/7, Miroslava Duma. The ladies attend Paris Fashion Week, and peacock with the best of them. They know fashion, and art, obviously, and have the best that money can buy.

Except apparently, common sense or sensitivity.

On Monday, Duma posted the above photo (and a corresponding interview with Zhukova) on Buro 24/7.

Because, art.

At least that’s what the women are claiming now that their creative endeavors have been called out as loathe-fully racist by the entirety of the Internet.

“This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics. I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image,” explained Zhukova.

“The chair in the photo should only be seen as a piece of art which was created by British Pop-Artist Allen Jones, and not as any form of racial discrimination,” said Duma.

Except the fact that Allen Jones created his women-as-object sculptures in the ’60s. And all of those women were white. Not that those criteria make the work any more digestible. Of his own fiberglass work of the female figure, Jones has questioned, “you’re wondering whether or not if people will see it as art.” He’s also asserted that the, “sculptures were very much made to offend the accepted canons of what fine art might be.” Offense taken.

The current version is by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard (also a man!). Melgaard was called a “projectile vomiter” of an artist by the New York Times. “It’s hard to say what Mr. Melgaard is getting at,” they said. Which is the same question everyone is begging of Duma and Zhukova.

What exactly is Duma asking us to understand? A spokesperson for Zhukova has said the chair, “reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics.”

Except we translated the entire interview. And unless Google’s translator did us a dirty disservice (possible), there is zero talk of gender or racial politics. There’s no missing context. The ladies talk about fashion, and Russia’s cultural heritage. They address Zhukova’s dream of owning a Richard Serra sculpture. But there’s no mention of Jones or Melgaard. Or the routine objectification of black women, or women at all. The closest Zhukova comes to discussing the political implications of art is when she states, “I believe that art – it’s a great tool for the modernization and development of society and culture, and this kind of change is always for the better.”

So this whole #becauseart, argument doesn’t really fly. If it is about art, what does issuing a sort-of, sanitized apology and a cropped version of the photo suggest (as Buro 24/7 did)? Does cropping it take an erasure to the whole fiasco, or does re-issuing the photo only further illuminate the inherent racism?

Because the reality is this: Duma chose to publish a photo of a conservatively dressed white woman, sitting atop a nearly naked black woman, proving only, that while money might buy a chair, it certainly can’t buy class.

Maybe, every day, for a week, they should try to be a table. Or an ice cream cone. Just something other than wealthy and oblivious.

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