Earlier today, Jerry Saltz posted a short comment on his Facebook page about a video work by Adel Abdessemed that caused a violent debate. Of course, what provoked such strong reactions was the issue of cruelty toward animals which seems to incite human passions more than the plight of their fellows. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Here’s Saltz’s NYMag.com blog post describing the controversy:
Right now there’s a short video at David Zwirner Gallery that has some of the art world up in arms. Adel Abdessemed, 38, who was born in Algeria and now lives in New York, is a big deal on the international circuit. He had a one-person show at P.S. 1 last year, was included in the last Venice Biennale, and has had numerous solo museum exhibitions. The Zwirner show is a bit of a fizzle, an example of huge expensive gestures producing paltry effects. (As such it’s a throwback to the art of the recent past.) The work that has people furious is Usine, a 1:27-minute color video made in Mexico depicting a bunch of different animal and insect species thrown together into a pen: We see fighting roosters, snakes, pit bulls, tarantulas, iguanas, white mice, scorpions, and one toad. The creatures maul or ignore one another.
Saltz is the first to say that he didn’t think the work was very good. But it provoked thought and reaction in him. So he isn’t willing to dismiss it as not being art. It just isn’t very good art, to Saltz.
I understand the conviction and compassion aroused by Abdessemed. The work is exploitive and intense. I hate cruelty to animals. Still, I did come away from the Abdessemed piece knowing more than ever that I don’t believe in certainty, that even though the work wasn’t good, I was snagged by the paradox it raised about what kills what. Still, two of the best comments in the Facebook thread came from artist Matthew Weinstein, who is very certain about his position against cruelty to animals. First he made a good comparison: “I’m having my work made by Indonesian children who work 16 hours a day and get paid $10.00 a month. I’m doing it as an act of controversy to make people think about the unjust nature of the world economy. Thumbs up or down?”
The irony here is that Saltz’s Facebook friends were far more upset by the cruelty toward animals than the supposed art project that involved exploiting Indonesian children.
Saltz: Adel Abdessemed’s Fighting-Animal Video Sparks Art-World Uproar (Culture Vulture/NY Mag.com)