Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Non-Representational Joke

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Wall Pocket, 2003-04, MoMA, New York

We've all experienced nonrepresentational art; beautiful or jarring abstract forms that provoke in our mind as well as our senses. It has the unique distinction of depending almost entirely upon the museum or gallery wall for its interpretive context. Abstraction splinters the way we think about an artwork because it prods and challenges us to break the experience down into essential units of color form, sound or texture. The reactions it inspires run the gamut from pretentious reverence, abject distain, utter dismissal, playful arousal to befuddled head scratching.

Alma Thomas (1891-1978), White Daisies Rhapsody, 1978, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

In our house we have something called the non-representational joke. We had several at the dinner table tonight and I'm thinking of calling the Whitney Museum to see if one of the moppets could submit a performance piece for the Biennial. They go a little something like this: 
Why did the chicken cross the road to the water?
Because he dropped his sippy cup?
No (thinking hard).
Because... he was friends with a duck?
I give up.
Because he was a rock and roll boy chicken.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on Red and White), 1949, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

I know, I had the same reaction! It is so sophisticated and masterful the way she smashes the conventional structure to pieces. So subversive! This is all completely uncharted territory in both avant-garde circles and the comedy world. Here's another gem I learned tonight:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Tutu who?
(Laughing about the sound of "tutu who?") Orange.
Say orange who?
Orange who?
Orange tutu.

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped bare by Her Bachelors, Even/The Large Glass, 1915-23, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

(This one always reminded me of Odysseus' poor Penelope being beset by suitors.) 


CDB said...

I'm really staring hard into Bride, looking for the non-representational joke. I'm failing, maybe it's because I'm a Sicky Kitty this week (oh no! Blicky gave me what he had.)

How's the dog search?

And the Costner post is up. Finally!

Blicky Kitty said...

No the artwork is just an analogy for my kids' jokes that have no rhyme or reason! Oh good I'll swing by in the am to read the Cosner post. :)

Debby said...

Hm. That's the way I tell a joke when I get half way through and realize I've forgotten the punch line. When you're a grown up, however, people simply look at you like you're a loser.

MuseSwings said...

I love those kiddy jokes! They are hilarious! Charming non-representational analogy. When I saw that first picture on my sidebar I thought it was some giant hornet's nest hanging from one of your trees.
My little brother used to entertain us with his nonsense jokes at the dinner table week after week until one night we waited for the punch line and it turned out to be a real joke which caused side splitting hysteria and much peering at us over his glasses by my father.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

I'm much much more likely to appreciate those jokes than that art!

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

One of the few (VERY FEW) reasons I would want children is for this very experience. It's sheer randomness and joyful experience to hear would make life worth living.

Poetikat said...

Kids are totally on another plane, aren't they? Reminds me of the time when I was a TA with a kindergarten class and we had a fireman visit and give a little presentation. Afterwards he asked if there were any questions and a little girl nearly dislocated her shoulder trying to get his attention. When he finally picked her she said, "I'm five."
Gotta love that.


Jeanne said...

The zen of humor is in that *snap* when you get it. And it's fascinating how kids, who are normally much more zen than parents, absorb the structure before they understand what makes funny.

Kind of like watching them acquire language, with syntax and vocabulary leapfrogging each other.

Blicky Kitty said...

Haha Debby that's why I so rarely attempt it these days. :)

Cynthia, the von Rydingsvard sculptures are actually lovely close up. We have one at the Providence airport. I can see the hornet's nest though. :)

:) Roshni! thanks for stopping by!

Yes Margaret they are random. If I could describe my week to you though that warm fuzzy feeling would dissipate faster than you can say "you have huh? coming out of the huh? and it's all over the huh?"

You are so right Kat, I think they might just live in an alternate universe.

Jeanne what a perfect way to phase it!

steviewren said...

I remember those days. First there is the non-representational joke, then the joke that is new to them but old as the hills to us and interspersed between it all is the bathroom humor. If you have boys, let me warn you...the bathroom humor never ends. Why do men universally think it is hilarious?

Heather said...

I love Mark Rothko and so did my ex boss - we had several prints up in our old office.

Poetikat said...

Maybe I should have been a boy. Bathroom humour gets me every time! (A *toot* can send me into hysterics).