Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Tuymans Experiment

Last year, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote an article that came to be known as the Joshua Bell Experiment. The article won a Pulitzer Prize.

The premise was simple: If world-famous violinist Joshua Bell played for tips in a Washington DC subway, would anyone notice the brilliance of the music. Most people didn't. Sure you can say that people were busy going to and from work, or simply otherwise distracted, but of those who did stop to listen, few recognized the quality of what they were hearing.

In what can only be a variation on the Joshua Bell Experiment, in "The Tuymans Experiment," the acclaimed Belgian painter Luc Tuymans and some art-world collaborators set up the same general scenario. The painter -- whose work apparently sells for millions at auction and whose reputation is presumed to be large in his native country (obviously, few of us will have heard of him) -- paints a mural on a busy Antwerp street. A hidden camera records whether passersby stop to appreciate the work of a "master." It's a thought-provoking video. We should, however, keep in mind that this modern art, a genre few people -- even Europeans -- really appreciate.

Here is the video:

From Good Magazine, where this "experiment" appeared:
We're all for public art, and the modest Tuymans is a good sport. But, when only 4% of passersby stop, the narrator hopes that "these numbers will wake people up...[to] take more interest in art." We're a little uncomfortable with the suggestion that a busy student, or surgeon, or postal worker, is obligated to stop just because a Tuymans painting is there. After all, people routinely walk past entire museums full of art for perfectly good reasons.

Just for fun, we'd be curious to try the opposite experiment: take a painter without critical credentials, put them in a respected gallery, and secretly tape the praise of the aesthetes.
Good point, and a nice idea for another experiment.

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