The exhibit “Other Anissas,” by Anissa Mack, currently on display in the Mills College art gallery, is an annoyingly typical example of conceptual art. Conceptual art consists of art that is merely an idea, displayed in any form, no matter how unappealing to a visually oriented viewer. The artist wrote to several strangers, all of whom share her name, and asked them to write back with information about themselves and how they came to be named Anissa. These letters are on display in the gallery behind thin sheets of Plexiglas, with no captions, no titles, and no information whatsoever available from the artist concerning her intentions with this piece.
After the first five, all of the letters begin to sound the same. Each participant expressed surprise that there were others with a similar name and then proceeded to explain that she received her given name for one of two reasons. One reason is that her parents had some connection to the Arabic origins of the name itself. The other, more common explanation is that the participants were named after a child actress who played Buffy on the 70s sitcom, “A Family Affair.”
While all of these letters make up a fascinating sociological examination of naming and the American connection to television, they do not make for particularly interesting art. Mack seems to have fallen into the same trap as many other artists of the modern era, in that she has produced no more than an interesting idea. There is no aspect of the presentation that is creative or innovative. Mack has simply taken an idea she had and displayed the results of other’s participation in her project. Like the work of hundreds of others, she has the arrogance to merely display what in other academic circles would be the beginning stages of a research project, and expects us to appreciate it as art. Unfortunately for Mack, art still requires some degree of creativity and craftsmanship, in addition to an interesting idea, in order to grab the average viewer’s attention and make a real impression.