Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mud Muse

In the early 70's, my parents dragged my siblings and me off to a kinetic art exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In retrospect, it's surprising that this opportunity ever arose, as my parents aren't exactly connoiseurs of this scene.

On arrival, we were greeted by a giant, undulating ice bag. It might have been 20 feet high. (Note 5/31/2009: click on the link and you'll see that it's not 20 feet high...so much for childhood memories). Bearing in mind that my memories are dim, I certainly wondered "what's the point?", and probably didn't get any satisfying answer.

Inside the museum, the first piece was a snooker-table sized tub of slowly gurgling, bubbling glop. A plexiglas window prevented most of that glop from going splat on the art aficionados. There were occasional major eruptions, however; the evidence was all over the floor.

I didn't want to leave that room. "What's the point?" didn't have much point at that point. You'd just strain your little head to catch the next explosion, mesmerized by the whole messy affair.

Onward to a pre-laser light show. After that, I don't recall. I assume we ventured into other, more permanent exhibitions. We may have passed by Van Gogh or Picasso. Or Warhol, for that matter. The art that left a lifelong convex-shaped impression, at least until I go senile, was that tub of mud.

A few years ago, I got to wondering what exactly I saw. Turns out, it's "Mud Muse" by Robert Rauschenberg. He died just last year! Quite a famous figure, if you know your modern art. Along with Jasper Johns, Warhol, Twombly (friends and/or lovers, actually), the stereotype of the whacked-out modern artist.

I asked my father about that exhibition. He retains a sort of catalog of all the pieces at the event. More than 200 pages. The construction of "Mud Muse" is covered in a fair amount of detail. The "mud" is actually bentonite, known best to me as a protein-removing substance in winemaking. The gurgling was caused by some sort of vibrating action under the table, not a conventional system of pumps.

Google "mud muse" and you'll read the art critics a-cooing. According to one, it's "the interactive work of art conceived as the perfectly responsive lover." OK. Others make note of the fecal texture and color of the work. Even as a toddler fresh out of his anal expulsive phase, I don't think I saw things in that light. It was just the essential, amplified, glorified gloppiness of mud.


Below is a video of "Mud Muse" in action. I don't recall any soundtrack, and have a strong recollection of the mud being far more viscous. Perhaps someone over-diluted the bentonite on the day the video was shot.

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