Art today often aims to shock rather than inspire. How did that change happen?

This February, I woke up one morning to a seemingly urgent text from an artist friend of mine. It was an RSVP link to an installation show with a persuasively enigmatic accompaniment: “Reserved a spot. The warehouse is downtown. Might be the last chance to see it. Worth it.”

In L.A., there’s a certain pressure to know what’s fleetingly relevant. “When are you going,” I asked. “Yesterday.”

I drove through the downtown sprawl to arrive at a hangar-sized warehouse on a busy street. A parking attendant ushered me into a lot that was already full. Stepping out of the car, I heard an odd thumping, almost like a faint whale call, emerge from the building. Anticipating more of the exhausting showiness I had just endured at Frieze, L.A.’s largest art fair, I was surprised to see that most of the attendees streaming toward its source seemed like normal people. The line moved fast, and soon enough I was inside.

In the middle of the warehouse, sitting atop an elevated scaffold platform, was a life-sized forest made entirely of plastic and paper mache. A path cut through it, leading to a yellow one-story home. As I rounded the corner, I found the crowd dispersed around a few windows and portholes, peering in. Trash and shattered bottles were strewn everywhere, and some kind of feces were smeared on the curtains. Two naked blue corpses lay in the carpeted living room.

I noticed a millennial couple circling the building with their toddler on their shoulders. I followed them, and we came to a crowd before four large screens that took up an entire wall of the warehouse. The screens projected footage of a girl cosplaying as Snow White relieving herself on a countertop, her giggles reverberating throughout the room. The mood was severe, and the people in the crowd laughed nervously among themselves. They could not look away.

A row of occupied school desks sat before another screen, where Snow White was now asleep, naked atop her sheets. The seven dwarves entered, excitingly muttering to one another. About six hours of footage remained. What the hell was I watching?

I left the warehouse, passing a line that had now grown to hundreds of people. Two Teslas got into a honking match for my parking spot. I couldn’t swat away the incessant thought: what does making people feel like this accomplish? Why was everyone coming to see this?

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