No. Just no.
Roadkill photographed and adhered to a lobby floor is not art.
To explain: Minneapolis College of Art and Design senior Hannah Andersen in 2019 won a Merit Scholarship from West Photo Senior Photography for $4,000. A merit scholarship is described as "work based on students’ displays of their work. Each year, a jury of MCAD faculty members awards Merit Scholarships to participating students in a variety of categories."*
I hate to criticize “one of my own,” as it were. Especially from my alma mater. But then, maybe that’s why it pains me so much. I expect more art, more intellect, less shock value. MCAD’s mission statement is, “Where Creativity Meets Purpose.” Really? What is the purpose of this display?
Call me cynical, but by the time I was a senior, 75 percent of my class had dropped out. Of those who graduated, half got and kept jobs in the fields of art, design, photography, or theater. To its credit, MCAD’s 21st century course selections include a slew of computer courses as well as a major in Entrepreneurial Studies. If Ms. Andersen’s future lies in editorial photography, she may do well. But as art qua art, her senior project is a bust. Aesthetics, 0. Shock value, 10. The faculty who nominated her has questionable values and even more questionable eyesight in regard to art. Design, meh. A loose grid pattern is inarguably a design.
The room-sized, life-sized exhibit packed a punch. As in, the gut. Feathers crushed and smeared on asphalt; bloodied entrails of a rabbit; comatose squirrel; smashed snake. You get the idea.
Without having to define art, and even without a common aesthetic, this display is clearly not art. Does it involve hard work? Yes. Photography skills? Yes. Initiative? Certainly. Creativity? More-or-less. I have heard more than one person suggest, over the years, “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone photographed road kill and called it ‘art’?” That a senior at MCAD actually executed the idea does not lend it any creativity.
In 2008, Marc Seguin featured a show entitled, “Roadkill” at New Charest Weinberg Gallery, Miami. His oversized pieces consisted of taxidermied animals such as a wolf and quail interacting with humans. One painting displays a moon-type sphere in transparent white on a background of warm beige. From it hangs an upside-down quail. Blood from an outstretched wing drips down the otherwise blank canvas. Another piece features a man free-falling, face-down, inches above a double-image coyote, muzzle open, preparing for contact. Clearly, these are conversation pieces, editorial pieces, artworks. This is interpretive art.
Not all art is beautiful. Picasso, Goya and many others have established that. But something as common, albeit sad, as roadkill, in and of itself, doesn’t have enough editorial content on the face of it to even place it in context. I have thought and pondered and what-iffed the Andersen’s MCAD Roadkill series. Roads and roadkill exist outside; the display existed inside. So the display was taking an uncomfortable fact of life and making it more uncomfortable. To what end? Roads and roadkill are man-made. So? Squirrels, birds, snakes and possum are trampled by horses and killed by hail, too. What makes this so special? So creative? Why not paint them instead of photograph them? Why simply place them on the floor for people to walk on or around?
I give up. I’m too blinded by the shock value of exploding guts to appreciate this intersection of nature, humans, and photography. It all makes me feel as though art and culture are on a collision course. In the meantime, I’ll take my car through the carwash, just in case any remnants of contemporary art are stuck to the front grille.
*Just in case someone should conjecture that I am sour grapes about not receiving a Merit Scholarship, I did receive a tuition scholarship during my second semester at MCAD. It was based on grades and performance. I hold no grudge against Ms. Andersen. I just don’t understand or appreciate this kind of art and design.