Opinion: ‘With All’ and the discomfort of modern art



Ryan Sampson

Ryan Sampson

Ryan Sampson is a senior architecture major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

The following are my thoughts on modern art: I don’t like it. I found myself forced into a trip to a modern art museum during my last day in Venice in the spring, and it was highly unpleasant. There was the back half of a horse somehow attached to a wall near the building’s entrance; two televisions facing one another shouting unrelated sentiments on a loop; and a perfectly formed cube that was made out of the flattened bodies of dead animals and then given a monotone layer of gray paint.

These are nothing like the work of Monet and Degas that I find myself drawn to. I understand that some art uses a necessary horrific beauty or even something purely gruesome or unpleasant to get its point across, but I find it difficult to see art in a dead shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde at the Met.

At Palazzo Grassi, I felt bad sulking around for two hours hating everything, so I decided to try a new approach to my modern art experience. While I may not have appreciated the piece itself, maybe I could gain something from the meaning behind it or the artist’s intentions. So as I moved from room to room, I began to read the small signs displayed in both Italian and English to try and, at the very least, not feel like I had wasted my time.

There seemed to be a central theme throughout the museum: Each artist wanted to explain — or mock — some societal phenomenon, or he or she wanted you to feel uncomfortable. Let me just say that they succeeded.

My least favorite piece was in a room by itself. The walls were a beautiful old brick, which had probably been placed over the original stone — the museum space itself was in an old Italian palazzo — and the floors were concrete. The view out of the window overlooked the Venetian canal, which was quite tumultuous on that day, and the sky was a dark gray, a perfect backdrop for the white marble sculptures.

Maurizio Cattelan’s “With All” is a set of nine figures, beautifully formed, but disturbingly made to look like bodies beneath sheets. In a world with so much gore and grotesque imagery, it’s surprising to find something so simple, so haunting. I considered leaving the room immediately.

It reminded me of the soldiers who have died, from not just our country, but from any country that has men and women willing to put themselves in danger to fight for what they believe in. It made me think of a hospital, where they place the sheet over someone after they die.

This is the room in which I began to read the descriptions, and it did exactly what the artist wanted it to: It made me squirm.