Trite Image of the Day

Cai Guo-Qiang

This page respectfully dissents from Regine's and Paddy's granting of Image of the Day status to the above jpeg, and The Telegraph's original designation of it as an "image of the week." That is, assuming those titles carry with them some honorary weight and don't mean "sensational but trite image of the week."

Here's how the Telegraph describes it: "Visitors walk under 'Head On' by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. The installation consists of a pack of 99 life-sized wolves, fabricated from painted sheepskins and stuffed with hay and metal wires, barreling in a continous stream towards--and into--a glass wall." Regine helpfully adds: "Only the first ones crash into it, but the pack chases after the leader."

The above photo is to art what Steven Spielberg's cinematography is to movies: visually dramatic, epic in scale, pompous, obvious. Actually that's not fair to Spielberg, who's greatest sin is indulging in razzle-dazzle imagemaking that has nothing to do with his plots. For example, why have a long bike chase if ET could levitate the bicycle all along? Because chases are so...cinematic. But the bicycle flying in front of the moon is kind of striking. One or the other--you can't have both. Cai Guo-Qiang faced no such choice. He has created a singular story, the theme of which is "Think for yourself, dude; following others can, like, lead to tragedy." As if that wasn't bad enough, he has his wolves flying through the air like Santa and his eight tiny reindeer. Why? Because it looks dramatic in the gallery. Please.

- tom moody 9-01-2006 8:13 pm

Brings to mind a short version of Peter Schjeldahl's description of 'festival' art: What you see is what you get.

Spectacles are seductive, (and I'm a sucker for a good chase scene) I would have fallen for this if I entered the room without any foreknowledge of the work, but then I'd rack my brains for other solutions to the problems you bring up. (I've done that too often with work that might have, almost, nearly been good, and so me working overtime to fix someone's art should be considered the kiss of death for a piece ...and I should really stop doing it)
- L.M. 9-01-2006 8:54 pm


I looked at the artist's website and he appears to be Christo with wires instead of wrapping. But he's made a career out of the "festivals." There's really no fix for this. The problem is the need to fill up big museum spaces with "cinematic" work. A guild of itinerant functionaries emerges. This artist was trained as a set designer--he has content in his work but an awful lot of it is hackneyed.
- tom moody 9-01-2006 9:03 pm


i think your summary of the theme ("Think for yourself, dude; following others can, like, lead to tragedy.") is the most appropriate reason to slam this work rather than the fact that it's cinematic or that the artist is trained as a set designer. the latter only mean he can execute collossally scaled pointlessness like the former. there is an interesting conversation in there though about festivals and cinematic work creating the demand for stuff like this, i just wanted to stick up in principle for set designers and cinematic work
- spd (guest) 9-01-2006 9:37 pm


Nothing against training to be "other than an artist." But one of the things you learn in art school is to distrust what comes easily and naturally for you--to question your own facility lest it lead to "easy" work. I don't think it's too late for this artist to get a "crit."
- tom moody 9-01-2006 9:45 pm


Visually, I find it goofy. Wolves don't come in vast herds; they live in small packs. Who has the energy to be alpha over 100 other wolves? And sorry, wild canines just aren't that stupid. But I suppose an installation of a hundred little lemmings flying through the air would be too comical.
- mark 9-01-2006 11:08 pm


Goofy is the part of it that I like. (I also have a soft spot for the dumber type of canine, but then my mind heads in the direction of idiot book titles like "Women Who Run With the Wolves" and it gets too stupid ...even for me)
- L.M. 9-01-2006 11:18 pm


I think he means it to be profound, as in "Humans have the snarling bravado of wolves, yet, paradoxically, behave with the flocklike stupidity of sheep."

Oh, almost forgot--"sheep that fly through the air."

- tom moody 9-02-2006 12:00 am


I think you are right! "Humans have the snarling bravado of wolves, yet, paradoxically, behave with the flocklike stupidity of sheep."
Though the very unclear point is to which peoples he is referring too? And then it gets a little deeper and more paradoxical.
Also, as suggested, the cinematographic is so apparent, here frozen: A simple idea with a grand gesture, not to mention lots of prop work, soars, and defies gravity, principles our spirit, the word, the thing, the urge, no matter how futile the aim or precondition is--end up... anyway.
- brent (guest) 9-02-2006 2:12 pm


more pack behavior than flocking.
- bill 9-02-2006 5:12 pm


Are they flying through the air, or are they running over a hill?

Does it matter which people he is referring to?

Does the fact the wolves were made from sheepskin add to it?

Whats wrong with "cinematic work" anyway?

In short, I like it.
- LP (guest) 9-03-2006 2:25 am


1. They are flying through the air. This artist specializes in "objects incongruously suspended from the ceiling with wires." The work is not about invisible land structures--it is about things floating that make museumgoers say "ooh."
2. It does not matter which people he is referring to.
3. The sheepskin doesn't add enough--it is an obvious contradiction. Wolves--sheep: opposites, d'oh.
4. There is nothing wrong with cinematic art, as long as there is some logic at work. Why make the wolves fly, if the same point could be made by having them running on land into the glass wall? As for "the point," Bob Dylan said it better: "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters."
- tom moody 9-03-2006 6:17 am


There are more sheep than wolves, so it does make sense, in a prop sense, and also another interpretation--the middle class is far from the middle way! Expressed here as 'in the height of theatricality'.
- brent (guest) 9-03-2006 4:32 pm


It's a real piece of crap but could be saved by an invitation only senior citizens scrabble game in a kiddie pool, center stage.
- ls (guest) 9-03-2006 5:22 pm


There you go! Someone else is thinking of ways to fix it too.
- L.M. 9-03-2006 10:16 pm


i like respectful "dissenters". as paddy added on eyebeam reblog: "touché!" but i'd still feature it as the image of the day for the amount of conversation it is generating
- régine (guest) 9-05-2006 5:44 pm


What generated the discussion, the image or the dissent?
- tom moody 9-06-2006 12:22 am


I would not have looked at it without the dissent... what strikes me too in that story is the emphasis that was put on the production of the item. First it is chinese, so it has some novelty thrill to it, Second it is the product of the local industry On a personal note if I saw this stuff in a gallery I would like to be able to grab a wolf and throw it at the glass pane
- frederic 9-06-2006 7:24 pm


radioactive cats

These wolves really reminded me of Sandy Skoglund's "Radioactive Cats" which I first saw when I was pretty young. It made me think "wow, art is cool! I want to be an artist." Over the years I've come to see the piece more and more as a shallow one-liner, which is a bit sad, but I am still very fond of the image anyhow. Also its dystopic and somewhat relevant. Also its been heavily reproduced as a post-card/poster. I would speculate that the wolves piece might work better in this context, as a 2-d image, than as an installation.The wow-factor is more palatable when its disposable.
- sally mckay 9-07-2006 8:27 pm





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