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Friday, October 16, 2015

Duchamp's Fountain of the bonsai world.

Duchamp's Fountain of the bonsai world.

Recently at the Artisans Cup 2015 in the  Art Museum of Portland, Oregon this piece was among the 71  bonsai exhibited. It is by David Crust, who is a student of Nick Lenz. I am sure that this was the most confusing if not disturbing piece of the whole exhibit. I was asked by many what I had thought of it as judge. In my answers I called it 'Duchamp's Fountain of the bonsai world'.

So what is Duchamps's Fountain? I have to digress here to make this more understandable: In the year 1917 the art world was in turmoil and much discussion was going on what was art, what was good at, what was not art and who made these decisions. Up to around 1880 the world was in order. Art was something that was beautiful and that appealed to most people. Painting and sculpture were realistic, up to photographic realism. This was more or less consensus among the art world and the general public. In the following decades the art world fell apart. Impressionists dared to paint outside in natural light and painted the world as they saw it and not as they were told to see it. Some did not paint in strokes but painted in what today is pixels - unheard of. Some painted things that one could hardly recognize any more. Then some painted abstract - end of civilization! All sort of 'insanity',abounded.

There was an open fight whether the new stuff was art. The art museums decided that it was not. So the new artists created their own art museums which still exist in Paris and other places as 'secession'. At art exhibits a strong judging system tried to avoid influx of unhealthy art.The general public decided that it hurts the eyes. So who decided what was art and good art? The museum Directors thought they did and they did indeed by exclusion. The gallerists did by selecting what they thought could be sold. They were astounded that the 'naive' Americans bought all this crap because they had no idea what good art was. The general public as always thought that they decided - what the majority liked was good art and what the majority hated was bad art. Nobody asked the artists.

At the most important art exhibit in the world in 1917 in Paris, Marcel Duchamp did the unthinkable. He managed to get into the exhibit what is widely called 'Fountian'. This is a euphemism because it really was a urinal, but the word is so obscene, isn't it. Well, obscene and shocking is what Duchamp wanted dot be. Therefore it should be clalled by it’s real name.

It was a urinal as mass produced industrially with no alterations or additions by the artist. When asked what in the world he was smoking
Duchamps said along the lines 'so many parties think that they decide what art is and should be, nobody has asked the artists. Her is the answer: the artist alone decides what art is. This is a urinal and I call it art, high art, good enough for the most important art exhibit. It is art because I have decided so. Period!.' What a scandal! up to today. Duchamp had invented the ultimate scandal as promoting art and himself. We are now so used to this as it had become commonplace in the art world. But at that time it was a novelty and it took a genius to do that. And Duchmp had invented what is called 'Conceptual Art'. This means that one has to know things to understand it. While eg a nude female or male body as sculpture needs no explanation and is understood by everyone instantly a urinal does need explanation. If one would not know what at this means one could think it is a mistake, it is crap. So ironically the cleaning crew thought after the end of the show and threw the original away. In 2005 around 1400 art historians from around the world congregated and had to vote for the most important piece of at of the past century . Guess what they came up with.

Back to the bonsai world. Yes, this is in a way shocking and it does need explanation. What exactly is it anyway? It is apparently a vintage Kirby vacuum cleaner probably from the fifties in which a nice little larch is planted and an Angel is hanging from it. It is by David Crust but could well have been by Nick Lenz. Is it art? Is it beautiful? It is ugly as good art - much to the surprise of many - does not have to be beautiful. And it is art as it was done by an artist.

It is a statement: 'the bonsai world was in order up to around 1985 when everybody knew what was right and what was wrong. It all could be found in the bonsai bible - John Naka I, Old Testament, John Naka II, New Testament. Everybody knew what was good and what was bad. And then came modern bonsai - they looked more like sculptures than trees. Then naturalism, bonsai looked like trees and not like bonsai - how dare they! Bonsai rules were obsolete. Then penjing - how ugly! Then other strange aberrations like Fairy Tale Bonsai Style. Nobody knows what is right or wring any more. Who decides what is bonsai art and what not? The ones who judge the entries to exhibits do. The judges for the exhibit do. The customers who buy do. The magazines by what they print do. The viewers on the internet do by their 'likes'. Nobody asks the artists.

This is the answer of an artist who says " I, the artist, decide what is art and what is not. This is art, period! It does not matter what others think It is not a democratic decision. If the ordinary person does it it is crap, if the artist does it it is art."

This is a statement that wants to say: the whole world thinks that what they like is good and what they don't like is bad. So what - they don't count. This room is full of vanity, all the bonsai try to be as  beautiful as possible, as impressive as possible. They are craving for the public's attention and for winning awards or fetchng money. And the artists are following the wishes of the public. They create the kind of art that the public wants. This is artistic prostitution!. And this artist clearly shows so.

Like it or not. It will go into the history of bonsai art because it is the clearest statement so far that proves that bonsai is an art form. The discussion is open and will never end - as is the practise in art since ever. We will never again be certain what is good an what is bad. We will have to see what artists come up with.


  1. I was so pleased my piece was chosen as an entry but the greatest affirmation was standing in the darkened walkways at the exhibit and listening to the young people stop and talk art about it-- appreciating its line and feel and decrepity...just as I do.

  2. This, like much of our so called "modern art", is a perversion of true art which always has been defined not by the artist but by the beauty of the work.

    It is a nefarious attempt to hijack the incredible beauty of God's wonderful creation and supplant it with that which is aesthetically distasteful. A hoover beside a bonsai tree is not a statement, it is a clear attempt at desecrating that which is truly beautiful. That which makes bonsai such an enjoyable hobby in which so many of us find great peace and serenity.

    Bonsai is not art - It is a celebration of that which always was beautiful long before man ever came along - God's creation. The caliber of bonsai is very often determined by the resemblance to its real life natural grown counterpart.

    Please I call on all of you to not support such a disrespectful and deluded attack on what is such a wonderful community. We make bonsai to be beautiful, to replicate that which is naturally beautiful and to evoke sentiments of awe and wonder at the incredible creation we see before us. These people have already ruined the art world with their abominations let's not allow them to do the same with this ancient tradition.