Art Institute Chicago as an Exemplar of the Decline of Western Civilisation

April 19, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, Ulalume | 2 Comments |

Art Institute, @ Chicago & in general, April 2018 –

What happened?

We have skirted this issue before, in referring to the decline and the sorry state of things….

The World of Art has ceded its sacred task of conveying that which is not you, to you, and so crossing the bridge from feeling to meaning. Instead, it has become a Tower of Babel; full of lies, laziness, cynicism, and opportunism.

And here’s some hard evidence of the course of decline, using the great store of the canonical contained in Chicago (and beyond) with the, alas, equally abundant tat:

Would you prefer this, Picasso’s “gift” to Chicago:

or this…?

This sugary kitsch….

Koons’ Looney Tunes

with, say, this..

Compare this ‘Annunciation’ by Jay De Feo, 1957/59…

with this ‘Annunciation’ by Titian….

Rather ponder the significance of…

‘Conduct Your Blooming,’ ‘7 banners to foster love and positivity’ by Cauleen Smith

…or this (we didn’t feel love and positivity viewing the banners; instead, we needed a drink):

Comparisons can be odious…

Lady Helen Vincent by John Singer Sargent

…compared with the odious:

‘Vision’ by Joseph Stella



We were stunned by the ‘dark poet of the national consciousness’, Cady Noland, and this installation, “The Big Slide” (1984):

…but we soon recovered:

…and then decompensated, beholding this allegedly finished work inspired by the sacred mountain looming above Delphi:

Cy Twombley’s “The First Part of the Return from Parrnassus” uses ‘ improvisational gesture and allegorical narrative’

…preferring to remark upon Mr Twombley’s effort as a decadent shower of shit.

We’ll stick with Nicolas Poussin’s allegory from Parnassus:

Mark well the words of Roger Scruton: “Post-modern abstraction is really construction, in which abstract elements are combined ab initio, and without reference to the natural forms and perceptions which might first have endowed them with a meaning. The shapes, lines and colours may have never been bathed, for the painter, in the light of reality. Their purpose is not to capture and make permanent* the hidden structure of appearances, but to glorify the sovereign role of the artist, who shifts and arranges them as would a child playing with coloured blocks. Constructionism is a ploy, which, by making the artist into the creator of his world, cuts off any external judgement, any comparison with things as they are. The world of the constructivist is no larger than the psyche of the person who makes it. The result has been a sudden narrowing of the artistic intention, and a launching of post-modern art towards bombast and doodling by turns.”  Scruton then, in a footnote, suggests as examples, “For doodles try Cy Twombly; for bombast Richard Serra or Julian Schnabel. The cultural impact of abstract art in America is a subject for the satirist…”**

What about self-portraiture?  That’s got ever better, surely?

How are we feeling now?

By Jack the Dripper

Christ by Velásquez

Boy by Charles Ray

It makes us very snippy, and our reaction is to hover near earnest folks (especially the young, who may yet be saved and who may thereby yet save civilisation) gazing at the current lot of rubbish and loudly deride it.

Modern Art is, in the main, pure fraud. It operates on ruthless market principles, clothed in doubletalk and gobbledegook. It has abandoned aesthetics and no longer seeks, were it even able, to be evocative. We call it the *Post-Eternal Phase, because its representative works leave the mind as soon as the audience turns away and its work is complete as soon as the cheque is cashed.

[**Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, (1998), p. 82.] [2023 update: April riots in Chicago (it’s 1968 again) and a mob tried to break into the Art Institute of Chicago. Not, we suspect, as a tribute to aesthetics…]


  1. Reply

    Smug of Glebe

    April 20, 2018

    I suggest comparing Van Gogh's bed at Arles with Tracy Ermin's bed in the Tate. By the way, check out the Sydney Bienale for pure trash!!

    • Reply


      April 20, 2018

      We did, Smug, and concur. Article about this deplorable melange to appear soon...

Leave a comment...

While your email address is required to post a comment, it will NOT be published.

Leave a Reply

© Copyright 2014 The Varnished Culture All Rights Reserved. TVC Disclaimer. Site by KWD&D.