Friday, April 29, 2011

John Lennon Exhibit Detractors Claim Fraud

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2011 at 3:50 PM

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Controversy is almost always expected to follow good art, and that's generally a good thing: It spurs conversation and gets people to think about things they may have otherwise overlooked. But when does controversy become tired?

How about when it involves calling the posthumous publishing of artwork fraudulent?

Come Together: The Artwork of John Lennon, coming through Franklin this weekend (see the interview I had with Yoko Ono about it here), is thick with borderline obsessive detractors. It seems to speak less to the quality of the art, and more to the skewed view of art that some people seem to maintain.

Gary Arseneau called the upcoming art show at Franklin a fraud, and has created an entire website around the idea that “The dead don't create artwork.” He claims that Yoko is attempting to trick the public into believing that Lennon himself printed the artwork in the exhibition, when in fact Yoko and her assistants tint and manipulate the pieces, obviously without Lennon's consent.

Nothing that Arseneau claims is untrue — it's just uninteresting. If someone bases the value of an art piece around the physical presence of the artist in its creation, then their ideas about artistic originality are both flawed and outdated.

The Scene spoke to a source closely tied with the Come Together exhibit, and he told us this argument isn't anything new, and that he's been dealing with people crying foul since his involvement with the exhibit began, some 10 years ago. He says the exhibit's detractors are missing out on more than just the last 50 years of contemporary art — they're also missing the point of the whole exhibit:

99% of the people at the exhibit aren't coming to buy artwork. They're coming because they're Lennon and Beatles fans. They're coming with their kids or their grandkids or their spouses or their friends or their siblings, and they're listening to the tunes on the way over there, and they're rehashing their memories of the first time they heard the White Album, or where they were when John was shot, or if they're old enough to remember the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and they see a different side of John Lennon. They might not know that he was an artist. And it's been an entryway for so many hundreds of thousands of people to go to an art exhibit for the first time, because it's John Lennon. I think that's the true nature of what those exhibits have become: They're meeting places. We'll get the wealthiest person in town standing beside someone who literally doesn't have a penny in their pocket, and they'll be in front of the artwork, they're listening to the tunes, and they're coexisting. And I think that's what John would have wanted, and I know that's what Yoko wants. And that's been what we've been able to perpetuate all these years.

Lennon was always a controversial artist — remember the riots sparked by his “more popular than Jesus” remark? — and Yoko was arguably the most hated woman in the world for a time. And yet it still seems surprising that this exhibit would harbor such strong opposition. There are artist reproductions on everything from coffee mugs to children's bedsheets, and picking apart an exhibit like Come Together seems to not only miss the point of the exhibit, but the point of contemporary art.

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