The SOFA Show (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) at the 69th St. Armory on Park Avenue proved to be more than interesting. There were some exceptional exhibitions. It made me wonder just how an artist becomes famous. Is it by getting a piece in a museum or is it by having a book done on you? Perhaps it is just living large and having other people talking large about you. The stars of today such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst certainly know how it is done, but could they do it again if they had to? In other words, do they even know how they got so big?
In the 18th century, artists were either amateur or paid on commission. They were famous if they made a good likeness. One of the more famous 18th century artists was a mediocre painter, William Kent. Kent’s patron, Lord Burlington, got him appointed to be court painter at the expense of James Thornhill, William Hogarth’s father-in-law. Hogarth was outraged and whenever he got the chance ridiculed the importation of foreign ideas for architecture and decoration, something Lord Burlington, the preeminent Palladian in England was dedicated to. Kent, of course, was the intended butt of the joke, but Kent went on to become one of the greatest of English gardeners and decorators. His Etruscan room at Kensington Palace is a triumph as is the trompe l’oeil painting in the stairwell.
Art, like beauty, is allegedly in the eye of the beholder. If that is true and millions of people swoon over something that is mediocre at best, does it make that object art? No, that is nothing but taste, good, bad or indifferent. Art isn’t elected art. Popularity or high prices for things has nothing to do with art either. Art is…………, well, I might suggest a visit to a SOFA show, or perhaps any old art show, a museum, an antique shop, a gallery. I think you get the idea–keep on looking.