What does art have to do with taste? | Arts | DW | 11.08.2011
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What does art have to do with taste?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and taste is, well, debatable. An art exhibition in Baden-Baden shows how presentation, demand and money define trends and matters of taste.

A man stands in front of a painting at the 'Geschmack' exhibition in Baden-Baden

Good, bad, or something else entirely?

Some like it; some don't. That's true about everything from Brussels sprouts to Chianti to art.

Gone are the days of a fixed canon which defined "beautiful" art. Nevertheless, museum visitors still expect authoritative guidelines that tells them: This is good taste!

Johan Holten, the new director of the public art collection Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, has to take taste into account when he arranges an exhibition. And Holten is convinced that he as a museum director cannot be the sole provider of artistic orientation.

Art without canon

In the 19th century, the standardized social terms of good taste were still intact, and museums were there to convey this good taste to the public.

The exhibition currently running in Holten's museum, "Taste - the good, the bad and the really expensive," dedicates an entire room to this historical perspective, classical landscapes from the turn of the 19th century. At that time, the paintings had an educational intended purpose and were used to develop the social mentality.

A woman walks by a work at the 'Geschmack' exhibition in Baden-Baden

Taste can be very fickle

But the role of the artist changed in the 20th century, and that had an impact on the role of art itself.

"For at least the past 40 years, artists have made a conscious effort to mix up the categories of good and bad," explained Holten. "As the director of a public museum at the beginning of the 21st century, I have to ask: Which categories, then, can I use?"

Holten made it clear that he's not interested in selecting artists he has a personal interest in, or who are in great demand at the moment.

Finally, Holten settled on 13 artists for the current exhibition, who explore the mechanism of the art business. One of them, John Bock, is known for outfitting dolls with surreal garments in reference to the world of fashion which constantly tries to grab people's attention with something new.

Other artists in the show deal with the topic of money and luxury. Art and money are inseparable, according to one of Holten's theses.

British photographer Martih Parr portrays the world of the rich and beautiful. For his "Luxury" series, he photographed millionaires visiting high-class trade fairs in Miami and Moscow and decadent get-together at race courses all over the world.

Artist Josephine Meckseper also focuses on wealth in her work, taking everyday objects out of context and stylizing them into classy, luxury accessories.

'Hammer and Sickle' by German artist Josephine Meckseper

'Hammer and Sickle' by German artist Josephine Meckseper

Money rules the art

"Commercial interests decide how and when something gets presented," said Holten. Money rules the (art) world - and is a determiner of taste.

But that is all the more reason for individual decisions to come to the fore. As American publicist and author Susan Sontag said in the mid-1960s, matters of style, taste and aesthetics do not depend on the quality of an object or picture. The perspective of the beholder and their personal criteria are much more important.

Author: Jochen Kürten / ef

Editor: Kate Bowen

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