Some experts think that golf, baseball and multi-day bicycle races take too much time to keep fans interested. If those sports don’t cut corners, many think, they’ll disappear.
Something similar is happening in art. The loudest voices want to know a work’s monetary value. The intellectual equivalent of such cut-to-the-chase behavior is wanting to know, right away, what a work means.
In both cases, ambiguity disappears. Along with it goes subtlety, complexity and just about everything that is interesting, including how a piece looks and feels, not to mention its hard-to-quantify consequences.
All of those aspects of aesthetic experience come quietly into focus at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, where “Foreground: The Landscape of Golf in America” presents 176 pictures of golf courses without telling visitors what any of them mean or how much they are worth.
You’re on your own.
A pair of explanatory captions provides background info: There are 17,000 golf courses in the United States (about half the world’s total); 4,000 are private, 13,000 are public; the average course covers 150 acres; the total area they take up matches that of the state of Connecticut; 25 million Americans golf, which is about 1 in 13 people.
A series of captioned photographs lays out the basics of the game: rules, terrain, etiquette. Drawing parallels to literature, poetry and life, the texts emphasize golf’s relationship to the landscape, particularly the diversity of its courses. While most have 18 holes, no two are alike. That distinguishes golf from most sports, which are played on uniform rectangles.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 158-image slideshow of aerial views of golf courses across the country. It’s fun to watch the courses scroll by. The bird’s-eye view is perfect: it balances big-picture similarities and detailed uniqueness.
You find yourself creating categories to make sense of the whole: urban courses, desert courses, forest courses, farm courses, waterfront courses and courses that inhabit godforsaken wastelands.
Standouts in each category include Woodhaven Country Club (Palm Desert); Kissing Camels Golf Course (Colorado Springs, Colo.); Prison View Golf Course (Angola, La.); Purgatory Golf Club (Noblesville, Ind.); Palm Beach Country Club, (Palm Beach, Fla.); and Bird Homestead Golf Course (Soldotna, Alaska).
Beauty and humor are in ample supply. So is absurdity and paradox, especially when you see the great lengths to which humans go to make a place for a game that takes more time than most and more space than just about any other.
What all that means is an open question. The only way to find out is to have patience and to think for yourself. Each activity is its own reward, especially today, when instantaneous communication and even quicker gratification seem to be what so much of modern life is all about.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation, 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City. (310) 839-5722, through Sept. 21. Open Fri., Sat. and Sun. www.clui.org