Back in 2016, gallery-goers at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gazed in awe at the latest in brain-melting art.
Placed against the wall beneath an official-looking piece of paper lay a pair of spectacles. Frenzied attendees clotted around the exhibit. Snap! Snap! Snap! went their cameras. How profound! Beret-topped patrons fainted into heaps.
On Twitter, the gallery compared the work to Marcel Duchamp, of urinal renown.
But all was not as it seemed. A pair of teenagers placed the spectacles on the floor for a prank.
The mesmerized recovered their faculties. Of course! Everyone was in on the joke. Nobody thought a pair of spectacles placed against the wall was really art. They were having a laugh at the philistines’ expense.
By saying nothing, by shrieking in ecstasy, and by taking photos, the cultured played their part in this playful little ruse. Like Stalin’s applause, they resisted the temptation to cease clapping first lest they find themselves in a proverbial cellar with steel pressed to their temple.
Doubtless, they were fans of the late composer, John Cage. An “experimental composer,” Cage is best known for his 1952 composition, 4’33”, performed without deliberate sound.
During the performance, musicians do nothing but remain present for the four minutes and 33 seconds of its duration. The profundity? The ambient sounds, be they traffic wallowing, be they birds chirping, or if you’re in New York, a trucker screaming, “Hey, Asshole! I’m drivin’ here!” are the music.