What the hell is this? In praise of art that is funky, interesting, and difficult

There are times when I  look at a piece of art and wonder – what the hell is this? And more often than not, when I am looking at art with my friends, we have this moment of befuddlement and frustration where we have to stop and really question it. Lindsay, Jessica, and I call this our “Untitled Heroic” moment which was coined after we experienced a performance art piece (named “Untitled Heroic”) that was  a hot mess, where the artist was unable to articulate why her sitting in an empty room, petting her pink wigs was “art.” Needless to say, we were not impressed but that doesn’t mean that all difficult works are worthless. In fact, they can give us the opportunity to  ask good questions and think about our world from a very different perspective.

Anastasia Ax “EXILE”

Represented by Sinne at Untitled Art Fair

Anastasia Ax is an artist who lives and works in Stockholm and was represented by Sinne, a contemporary/experimental gallery in Finland. I was able to speak with Marckus Astrom, Sinne’s curator, while at the fair and he was so helpful as I investigated this piece comprised of bales of Miami paper trash.

In the work Ax gathered  four bales of paper and proceeded to rip them apart and paint on the walls of the exhibition space. This act was conducted in a performance art context and the piece changed as each day passed. Ax has done works like this before in even larger venues.

What did I get from this?  Sometimes we need to recycle ideas and emotions multiple times in order to work through them. Ideas and histories reman even though their shape and size can change. Making progress on something that is massive and chaotic can only happen in small chunks over time.

Who likes this stuff? This type of work is primarily for mueums, where they can be taken care of and are part of a larger institution that encourages the questioning of art and can be used as a tool for contemplation and education.

From Ax’s artist statement about the work: I have always been interested in destructive forces and their impact on their environment. They are of course devastating, but can also have a cathartic and liberating effect. From that which is demolished emerges new ideas.

Anastasia Ax


Marina Abramovic “Counting Rice”

Represented by Marina Abramovic Institute at Design Miami/

Marina Abramovic is an iconic, self-promoting performance artist who transcended her Commnist Serbian background to dramatically change the definition of what is art. She is beautiful and pioneering and creates works of art that are as undecipherable as they are intriguing. You cannot help but fall in love with her. But, let’s be fair, her work is difficult. I have written about her before, but I was able to participate in her work “Counting the Rice” at DesignMiami/. Seated on a concrete bench designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, I separated rice from lentils. I spoke with Marina’s assistant at the booth and discussed the work and how powerful the execution of the banal can be, because that is exactly what it was.

What did I get from this? Something can look easy and boring but it is more difficult to do with focus and efficiency that doing something terribly difficult. Even though I have a pretty exceptional attention span, I still have a long way to go. I can sit still for a long time (I flew from Amsterdam to Houston – 9 hours – without once falling asleep or getting up) but my ability to singularly focus could be improved.

Who likes this stuff? I don’t know that anyone “likes” stuff like this. I think that at the right time in your life it can be transformative. And because the works are ephemeral by nature, their ability to affect you emotionally and spiritually are heightened. The act of “doing” that which is easy, gives us the space to work out that which is not.

From Abramovic’s statement about the work: Counting the Rice helps participants to develop endurance, concentration, perception, self-control, and willpower.



Ventiko “On Beauty”

Select Art Fair
This was the first piece we experienced when we started our Art Basel expedition. We were approached by a 20-something year old man, buck naked, carrying a silver tray with business cards. For me, because I am clearly not concerned with contracting some weird body funk stuff, I walked right up to him and started talking. Lindsay backed off like he was a swarm of bees. This is not to say that either one of our reactions to naked people strolling about (some with peacocks) is wrong or right. In fact, sometimes, as in Lindsay’s case, creating your own “proscenium” or space to frame a work is more helpful than joining the party which is my tendency. “On Beauty” was a tent set up like a photo shoot where people created historical works of art. In that way, the nudity was completely contextual. Strolling about on a Miami Beach sidewalk with a garland on your head, is not. I spoke with the artist, Ventiko, and she was very glad to help explain the work to me. The problem, however, was that it was more spectacle and shock than content. When I walked up to her tent, I found people lounging in faux greenery with masks that were made to make them look like normal people. That was the scariest part for me,  to be honest.

What did I get out of this? I am completely open to the bazaar but am more shocked by vapidity. Also, even though I was a dancer, I do not think I am a moving work of art. This is a paradox and needs further reflection.

Who likes this stuff? Galleries, museums, and collectors who are trying to provide complete “experiences” for patrons, buyers, and colleagues. Other than that, I have no idea. (Just being honest here)

From the artist’s statement: Focusing on ethereal and carnal Beauty, a photographic spectacle will be created embracing voyeurism, the human form, perversion of art history symbolism, and iconography inspired by the flora and fauna of Florida.

lady with peacock_2





Jeanette Joy Harris is an artist and writer who lives in Houston, Texas. She has had solo and collaborative photography, installation, and video works shown in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Portland, and San Francisco. She has published work with TribTalk, Glasstire, and Illusion. With a background in philosophy and politics, Joy has also presented academic work on the concepts of public space and action, particularly in the work of Hannah Arendt and Diane Arbus.

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