SO YOU WANT TO BE HIP. HAVE YOU GOT WHAT IT TAKES?

Jenna Orkin

Boom chicka boom chicka... Welcome to Sensation. No, it's not a new fragrance. Sensation is the new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that's been causing all this, well, sensation around town. The exhibit that asks questions; questions like, They call this art? Can that metal detector detect plastique? How can I use my transfer to get home? With something to offend prudes and animal rights activists alike.
Here is a shark suspended in 5% formaldehyde, prophetic of the dead animals that lie waiting for us in the rooms ahead. How scary he would be if he were alive! But he isn't so... What are we supposed to think? Is what we think the art? Mmm... Looks like maybe it is. Is that a cop out? You bet!
Boom tacka boom boom. Here is a picture consisting of the artist's written comments on contemporary life: comedians, pop music, da dah, da dah. They're not interesting or original but this is art not literature so that's not the point, Genius.
Tikki tikki bing bong. Here is an empty room. But no, look! There's an arrangement sort of like a mini Stonehenge on the floor. Maybe that's to remind us the exhibit is from England. But it's too neat and boring. Maybe it's Stonehenge if a modern artist were to redo it. And those aren't stones; they're a hundred little lavender cubic thingies. Please walk around the art work rather than through it so you don't trip on it. But wait, they're not exactly cubic. Let's check the title; in this exhibit, half the art is in the explanation. They're models of the spaces beneath chairs! What kind of genius or person with nothing better to do would think of that! A must for the art collector with a big empty room or a hundred chairs arranged in rows of ten with the right sized spaces under them.
La la shooo... Now the prize piece of the collection, behind plexiglass which stands several feet in front of the picture so if you want to throw a rotten egg at it, just step a little to the left: Chris Ofili's controversial rendition of the Holy Virgin with a breast of elephant dung. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you but whatever else this exhibit is, it's not sacreligious. The way I know is: In another picture Mr. Ofili lovingly inscribes into a similar mound of elephant dung the names of Miles Davis and other jazz greats. Nobody has suggested he's defiling them. Try to get this through your head: Mr. Ofili digs elephant dung. He gets it from the London zoo and puts it everywhere. And in case anybody's told you that you can't tell it's elephant dung, they're wrong. You can. At least, you can tell it's some kind of dung. I'm not up on the varieties so I don't know if Mr. Ofili shaped these baseball-sized piles or if they came this way. But if you didn't know what they were you'd say, "Is that horse shit or something?" This in turn leads to other provocative questions: Is all art horse shit? Or just some of the pieces in this exhibit?
If you have any doubts about what this exhibit means, just listen to the accompanying sound track narrated by David Bowie. It'll convince you:  It may not be art but boy, is it contemporary.