. . . But I Know What I Like To Laugh At
I could, of course, attempt to defend this with high-sounding philosophy. I could tell you that art is an attempt to express the ineffable, and that the gesture that most reaffirms life is not the accurate expression of reality qua reality, but the joyous surprise, the playful dream rendered plausible and concrete. To an extent I even believe this, since it overlaps neatly with my concept of jokes-as-my-personal-religion. But when it comes right down to it, I think I just love cartoons. And I love the artists I do because they make cartoons more socially acceptable. Take, for example, Klee's "Twittering Machine," which, if rendered in black and white, could be a one-panel straight out of the New Yorker:
I was reminded of this the other night when I was taking the A train to the Village. All the stations on the A line have more or less the same structure---same turnstiles, same white tile on the walls, same beleaguered-looking attendants in scruffy glass booths, etc. But a few of the stations have distinctive character. The station at Columbus Circle, for example, is festooned with art relating to Christopher Columbus. The station at 81st and 8th Avenue, which leads directly into the Museum of Natural History, has pictures of fossils and insects everywhere.
But my favorite station is the one at 14th Street and 8th Avenue, which is the home of an installation called Life Underground, by Dean Otterness. And Dean's work is exactly the kind of thing I love. It's not exactly one artwork---rather, the entire station is sort of haunted by tiny bronze cartoon characters acting out subversive little ironic tableaux, often involving policemen, money, and/or getting eaten. I took a few camera-phone pictures a few weeks ago and finally figured out how to mail them to myself, and with any luck, they'll appear here where I paste them:
And here's my favorite, which actually invades public space:
There are at least eight more tucked in various crannies, and I keep finding new ones. Anyway, it's precisely this surprising little touch of warmth and humor that makes 14th Street my favorite stop, and Dean Otterness my new favorite public artist. In fact, when you consider how much I love subway trains (an issue I'll deal with in a future post), and the fact that it therefore mixes humor, art, myth, and surprising humanity, I'm tempted to say that the 14th Street station is the closest thing I have these days to an honest-to-god chapel.