April 04, 2005

Depraved Gotham Art

Damien Hirst.jpg

One of the major features which made the pre-911 flagship of the Law and Order franchise so outstanding for so many years was its ruthless satire of the NYC upper crust. Since 911, L and O, along with all the rest of the retrograde network product has undergone an ugly public identity crisis, putting the bulk of its efforts into helping us deal with our new moral uncertainty and taking on its new role as our great protector. During the show’s heyday, however, there was nothing to match its Fitzgeraldian zeal – in novels like The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald could not stress enough the inequities between the ‘Haves’ and 'Have Nots’, the inordinate decadence of the few compared to the total animal destitution of the many. Since then there has been little in the way of such social satire from any cultural sector – Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is a rare exception poking fun at the even more insulated West Coast elite. So it comes out of left field to have the whiles of the stinkin’ rich skewered in, of all place, Artforum, the mainstream art industry rag that would bare more comparison to Saturday Night Live than L and O. What makes any conscientious utterance from the likes of Artforum so extraordinary is that, like SNL, the magazine started really strong, but has for the last thirty years or so survived largely on the currency of special guests. The innovation responsible for the uncharacteristic bout of actual art criticism is the website’s “diary” page. First off the writers are clearly licensed to dish the sauce (possibley a signal of no more business as usual from the new editor Tim Griffin?). And, these aren’t the regular crew of house trained tongue waggers. Styles vary. Jewish American Princess philosopher Rhonda Lieberman makes quick work of her prey without getting any blood on her vintage Gucci purse, while Linda Yablonsky, at the other extreme, does not hesitate to fully vent her spleen. Lieberman was assigned to the open house collector events that coincided with the Armory Show. Where once there would have been nothing more than sycophantic reverence for the decadence of NYC art aristocracy from a magazine like Artforum, Lieberman is merciless. The key to her success is that she lets her subject speak for itself. Literally. No one in earshot is safe. Her most powerful insights come from quotes. Lieberman quotes a young artist in the throes of an hysterical meltdown: “It used to be a system of patronage… It used to be about the artist. Now it's about them [the collectors, the buyers]… There's no connection between them and the art. It's projection on their part. They're projecting that there's some kind of linkage between the work and them.” Or, she notes an anonymous jealous jab at the East Nineties townhouse of a collector: “I'd put a moat around it! I'd never let people know I lived that well.” At yet another open house we are privy to the restless dissatisfaction of a number of collectors who complain about how “everything has gone to pot lately” and the ever more greedy attitude of dealers: “It used to be about building a collection… Now he just wants the highest price… To which another collector answers: “It disturbs the order of the universe… I've been going younger—but prices for younger artists are going up, too.” In another diary, Yoblanski unabashedly tees off on Damien Hirst’s show of photo realist paintings (Hirst doing Jeff Koons doing Rosenquist) of, among other things, a monkey being injected in the eye. Yoblanski does not rely on any one else to tell us what she thinks of Hirst’s fascination with “soul-killing violence” and “living death”. Samuel Keller, director of Art Basel, is, however, described as looking at one of the pill pictures and murmuring, “I don't know, I don't know.” In an amazing display of bucking the status quo, she goes on to candidly conclude: “At these prices, it's difficult to understand how paintings that are not going to get any better with time can continue to acquire value. Though truth be elusive, let's just say that that is exactly Hirst's point: to empty art of meaning. In a market where money is so disposable, how can art transcend mere currency to become more than just a brand? If this is indeed Hirst's message, then he has issued a galling challenge to every other living artist. It will be interesting to see who takes it up.” There is, of course, no reason to believe that Artforum is turning a new leaf, but there is definitely a refreshing candor in these diary entries. What is so amazing is that these otherwise hardened critics, generally inured to the excessive self-indulgence on their beat, are these days showing signs of being overwhelmed by its current state of pointless Fitzgerldian depravity.

Posted by dmb at April 4, 2005 12:49 PM | TrackBack
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