Philosophy of the Arts

Filosofie van de kunsten (esthetica)

Public events vs. public art

One problem with the “roadside monuments” in Jonas Staal’s “Geert Wilders Werken” is that initially, i.e. when their effect was still of maximum height, they did not make themselves known as art. As a consequence, they did not induce the passers-by to take up an artistic attitude, but lured them into believing the “roadside monument” as announcing the demise at the relevant spot of the one mourned, in this case Geert Wilders. (I say “initially”, because by now, of course, we know they are not real and truthful, and we might argue that it is now clear they are art—if indeed they are.).

…The intitial “Geert Wilders Werken” disrupted important socialrituals…

As soon as one believes that the monument is real, one starts mourning the death of GW (or so we assume), his falling victim to some accident or crime at that spot. One might want to write out the ensuing response.
But someone may ask: “So, what is wrong with that?”, and the answer might be hard to spell out.

For one, I think it disrupts a perfectly defensible ceremony of mourning. Secondly, the “monument” forms a case of public lying, it disrupts public interaction (one might retort: “what is there to disrupt?”, but that is a cynical remark, about which more can and should be said, but not here). I would argue that this second point merely shows the relevance of the first.

If, however, this “work” does not present itself as a work, and hence does not call upon people to take on an artistic attitude, then its maker, it seems to me, cannot in retrospect claim art status for it. (It makes one think of a rougher case, in London, a few years ago when a woman rang the local police announcing three bombs in the London metros; upon which inner city was evacuated. A few hours later the same woman called the police to say it had been a work of art … Of course, the “GWW” are far less disruptive, but I am not interested in the empirical gradation of societal effect, but in the conceptual point: when is art?).

Droste effect

Apparently, Geert Wilders sued the artist, complaining that he, Wilders, felt menaced by the work. That, I think, is grossly overstated (as thought the judge), as well as a misinterpretation. Of course, the case wasn’t over by then, even though Wilders’ first claim was dismissed by the judge.

He re-claimed his case at a higher court, upon which the artist included these court cases in the “Geert Wilders Werke”. I don’t have a quarrel with that latter move, as in doing so, the artist does exactly that which he forget to do in the beginning: announce art status.