Valley News on Wenda Gu

From today’s editorial page in the Valley News:

The shock of the new may be what much contemporary and conceptual art is all about, but shock isn’t necessarily accompanied by awe. It’s often accompanied by revulsion. The Dartmouth community, filled with young people whose cultural tastes and aesthetic judgments are evolving, resorted to low-brow criticism, calling Gu’s hair pieces “disgusting” and “creepy,” and some Dartmouth students formed an Internet chat group called “Students for a Bald Baker.”

Not everyone was turned off. One student commented, “I mean this guy is like the Monet of hair.” But the generally unfavorable critical response to the installations seems to have disappointed the Hood’s director, Brian Kennedy, who apparently had hoped the works would inspire more erudite public dialogue. Speaking to Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon the other day, Kennedy said, “I think acceptance of new is less accepted than it has been in previous times. This (type of contemporary art) is not new in the art world, but it’s incredibly new to Dartmouth students.”

Maybe. Or perhaps the students weren’t so much narrow-minded as they were discriminating. That is, maybe they just didn’t take to Gu’s creations, just as many people are repelled when first confronted with Damien Hirst’s animals preserved in formaldehyde or Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine that caused much outcry when it was exhibited in 1989. The fact that Gu’s installations irritated some and unsettled others could be seen as evidence that both the artist and the Hood succeeded in getting students to raise questions about contemporary art even if the works themselves didn’t inspire rapturous commentary or dissertations on the growth of nationalism. Whatever the case, we hope the dismissive reaction doesn’t deter the Hood from commissioning other works for a campus that would benefit from more public art, as Kennedy has pointed out.

The full editorial is here.