Only one of these is a work of art.

Villorba, Italy

At any moment, you may be looking at a contemporary masterpiece. The glowing sign of an ill-conceived nightclub might be a Tracey Emin neon. That stiff, stained sheet, a Tomma Abts painting taken off the wall. That pyramid of beer cases, a Cyprien Gaillard pyramid of beer cases.

To distinguish contemporary art from the clutter of everyday life, you have to go see it in its natural habitat: sheltered beneath a museum’s cultural authority, elevated on the cool white walls of a gallery. And you probably already do: last year, the most visited art exhibitions in Paris, London and New York all showed contemporary art, while two new museums, the Power Station of Art and China Art Palace, opened on opposite sides of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, and British contemporary gallery White Cube launched an outpost in São Paulo, Brazil.

The Tate Modern is now a cooler cultural icon than The Simpsons.

British people now consider London’s Tate Modern museum cooler and more iconic than The Simpsons, according to a 2006 YouGov poll on “cool cultural icons” and in the United States, art spaces have become so popular that television channel Bravo recently launched a reality series about the lives of art-gallery assistants. The rise of art-world culture is good for business: at US$64 billion, the global art trade outstrips worldwide sales of recorded music. But now, conditioned to pay close attention to their surroundings, art-museum visitors have lost focus. According to art historian James Elkin, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, they actually spend more time reading wall texts than looking at the art itself.


From the pages of COLORS #87 - Looking at Art.