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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Support Gu-erilla Art

Regarding the recent Wenda Gu installation in Baker-Berry Library, I applaud both the Hood Museum of Art and the College for their bold initiative. These large sheets of hair successfully startled the bucolic yet static Hanover landscape, and I look forward to the Museum's next commission of public art on campus. While I respect the witty and clever statements of the students quoted in "Adios, Gu: Never has Baker-Berry sparkled like this" (Oct. 31), I am nevertheless troubled by the constant sentiment, also expressed in a handful of other articles, that the Gu installation is somehow "bad" art.

Such a judgment stems from the belief that there is a prescription for what constitutes art, that art should be this but not that, that Object A qualifies as art while Object B does not, etc. This centuries-old value system, which mythologizes the concept of a "creative" artistic "genius" producing "aesthetic" experiences for our delight and enrichment, is classist, romantic and repressive.

As many people will attest, artworks come in many shapes and sizes, and art does not have to be beautiful, or pleasant, or diverting, creative, sincere, emotional or even fun. On the contrary, art can be mechanized, ugly, distant, confusing, offensive or gross. For me, the best artworks take the viewer outside his or her comfort zone and provoke discussion and debate. By these criteria, the Gu installation is a smashing success (during my four years in Hanover there was never so much written about an art exhibition, despite the many wonderful exhibitions we had).

Following Grace Glueck's very favorable review of the installation in The New York Times on Aug. 17, 2007, I stopped by the campus when visiting some relatives who lived nearby.

Inside Baker-Berry I found something enigmatic and arresting: Upon reading the textual reference to education and advertising I reflected upon the spectacle, one floor below, of Orozco's murals silently watching over the studious social and economic elite of tomorrow.

In our post-Warhol world, Gu's industrialized method of production should not raise eyebrows. Nor should we be surprised or irked by Gu's ambiguous, sometimes contradictory descriptions of his work (like most successful artists, Gu is a savvy businessman and public relations expert).

Gu's alleged labor practices, described in another campus publication by Jared Westheim '08, do indeed warrant further examination, symptomatic as they are of the alarming working conditions that our late capitalist global economy encourages in emerging markets around the world. Then again, artworks are luxury commodities that, almost by definition, soak up and store surplus wealth, objects whose production diverts resources and capital away from the greater good.

If we are to criticize Gu, the most salient indictment would be one of the art world and our modern conception of art in its entirety. If we want to save that particular conversation for another day, then I hope we can appreciate Gu for adding another voice to our environment, a voice that disrupted.