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This contemporary art really is laughable

August 14, 2010 |  8:30 am

Mika Rottenberg, "Squeeze," 2010; Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery/Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery; © Mika RottenbergEver since Marcel Duchamp put a urinal on a pedestal and signed it with a pseudonym in 1917, artists have been poking fun at the pretensions of the art world. But within the hallowed halls of museums and galleries, you’re more likely to hear stifled chuckles than loud guffaws. 

“The act of laughing is considered kind of a low-class, working-class activity — a form of entertainment — and you know, it’s not something you do in art museums,” says Sheri Klein, author of the book “Art and Laughter.” Because of this association, she says, the role of humor in art is “terribly misunderstood.”

Yet perhaps things are changing. Absurdities of all stripes feature prominently in a number of summer shows by “serious” artists, including John Baldessari’s Los Angeles County Museum of Art retrospective and Mika Rottenberg’s solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Is there perhaps a way to talk about humor and art that doesn’t reduce the work to superficial entertainment? 

Read more in my Sunday Arts & Books feature.

— Sharon Mizota

Photo: Mika Rottenberg's  "Mary Boone with Cube" (2010)

Credit: Mike Rottenberg