Modern what? Miley Cyrus – ‘artist’.

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Shona Jackson analyses ‘Dirty Hippie’, Miley Cyrus’ attempt at modern art.

The controversial child star turned tongue-wagging exhibitionist seems to hold a permanent reservation in tabloid headlines for her outlandish exploits. But love or loath, Miley Cyrus has left an irrefutably deep footprint stomped in the face of modern culture with those leopard-print neon platforms. A long running television series, MTV ‘artist of the year’ recipient, a net worth of 150 million dollars, and still time to ignite a storm of sexual impropriety that infected schoolyards with an epidemic of twerking gyrations. No one could accuse her of being withdrawn. But Cyrus’ latest foray into the highbrow realms of the art world is quite another thing altogether. The two entities seem to have collided in a fluorescent expulsion of phallic shapes and glitter glue. Miss Montana has well and truly left the building…

‘Dirty Hippie’ is no longer just a reference to smoked-out festivalgoers, but now also the title of Miley Cyrus’ debut art exhibition, which was unveiled at New York’s Fashion Week. In the simplest terms, her sculptures feature a multitude of objects glued to other objects. Her pieces all have the eloquence of an out of control under 5’s craft session, yet her infamous hyper-sexuality is glaringly evident. One piece features a vibrator adorned with plastic babies, a Marijuana joint and letter beads proclaiming ‘fuck’. Another is a bejeweled bong, embellished with air fresheners, candy and plastic weed leaves; a five-foot high shrine for the marijuana Gods. The collection is an unsettling juxtaposition, a conflicted and disturbed lovechild of Claire’s Accessories and Anne Summers. But then Monet landscapes were never to be expected.

Reception to the exhibition has been, as we would expect, mixed. Die-hard fans hail her an eclectic visionary who has looked beyond the visage of modern art. Admittedly, Miley’s artwork somewhat falls in with the already established movement of junk art, a sub genre that creates new objects from old items. But this potential credibility is lost on her critics, many of whom consider New York’s Fashion Week and her collaborator Jeremy Scott as merely pandering to the whims of celebrity. Others imply the exhibition comes across as the product of a therapy session with glitter glue. Miley’s candid comments on her creative motivations certainly don’t dispel these impressions. In an interview she quipped ‘I just sit around and smoke weed anyway, so I might as well sit around, smoke weed, and do something.’ It’s not surprisingly then that this has provoked many a brow-furrowed critic to ponder whether her collection merits the label of ‘art’.

Art as a concept is an irrefutably grey area, in that applying boundaries to such a term seems to negate the very notion of creativity. The definition of art according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is ‘something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings’. The implication of this seems to be that anything can be art if a person perceives that it holds an expressive value. It would be small minded to think that art only lived within gilded frames in the Louvre or beneath the imperial dome of the National Gallery. There is no definitive jury and as a cultural sector, art has no entry test or examination. My unabashed disdain for Cyrus’s collection does not throw into doubt its status as art; there’s no doubt it’s imaginative and expresses something (quite what is probably a matter best left to art analysts or clinical psychologists).

What really seems to be on trial here is not a matter of semantics, but our judgements of the collection based on preconceived views of Cyrus herself. There’s an apparent association with art as the product of strife, a pained experience reserved for the straight-faced, smock-wearing crowd, and so for Cyrus to barge her way through from a world of privilege, smoke a joint and throw the canvas out of the window in favour of vibrators and drug paraphernalia is to some, darn right offensive. But I can’t help think that if Tracey Emin had begun her career as a child star with every shade of her life shouted out to the world in print, many an art-critic who praised ‘My Bed’ (you know, the one with the blood stained knickers and used condoms?) would have turned their nose up.

Perhaps Miley and her artwork reflect far more about the world than we would care to admit. Those seemingly haphazard sculptures of hoarded neon admittedly do seem to mirror an unsettlingly decentered, hyper-sexualized and unashamedly consumerist society. It’s art alright. But I still don’t have to like it.

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