What It’s Like to Live With Art That Doesn’t Love You Back

This uninhibited approach occasionally results in strange dilemmas, as was the case with one of the Stones’ purchases, a 1993 installation by Jason Rhoades, ‘‘Jason Rhoades and Jackie Rhoades-13 Booth Cologne County Fair.’’ Filling a former staff bedroom, it is a kind of autobiography of the artist’s life up to that point: a room jammed with artwork and objects from his childhood, like his 4-H club tie and cap, and the accouterments of his mother’s occupation as a decorator of state-fair booths. (‘‘I guess he did some outdoor things, because there’s an air gun as part of this installation,’’ Norah Stone says, a little perplexed.) Rhoades also placed a charcoal grill inside the piece, on which he cooked links of sausages during the installation, leaving one on the grill in homage to some of his major influences, like Dieter Roth and Joseph Beuys, who also incorporated perishable food into their art. But after a year or so, the Stones were showing the work to a visiting museum conservator when they noticed that the sausage had grown spores of black mold that could spread through the whole house if not contained. Rhoades had to return to reinstall the piece in a different room, covering the perishable portions in a glass case, letting the sausage rot in there. The meat came to resemble a dirty gym sock, draped across the grill. The couple considers the organic, if rancid, aspect of the piece a profound part of its meaning. The work has, Norman says, ‘‘the presence of Jason,’’ who lived hard and died suddenly in 2006. ‘‘It’s very much alive, in a sense,’’ Norah says.

HOW AND WHY people collect is often a symptom of a given cultural moment. Abstract Expressionism changed the terms of painting, and in doing so, created its own kind of intellectual capital, in which Pollock’s splotches of color became a new language that was necessary to understand in order to be considered visually literate. Collecting now has the reputation of an opportunistic pastime, a way of accumulating trophies, and living with difficult art both is and isn’t a remedy for this — to maintain a conceptually rigorous or hard-to-install art work is on one level a thankless labor of love, and on another a kind of particularly elite humblebrag: Is there a more outlandish statement of privilege than lamenting how the water in your Jeff Koons installation is growing mold?

Still, the truly arcane might be the final frontier of serious…

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