August 06, 2007

Killed by Death

Mr. & Mrs. Wit.jpg


Straight people don’t know what you’re about
They put you down and shut you out
.
—Black Sabbath

“Killing yourself to live” from Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath is another favorite line. The above quote is an ode to pot, but it could just as easily apply more broadly to adolescent teenage angst. As we grow up it’s not like that painful part of our experience when we realize that the world is not solely an extension of ourselves, and that in crucial ways we are separate and individual beings, ever goes away. The struggle to find our limits is with us forever, or at least until we take our last breath. In an artworld shocker Theresa Duncan has committed suicide and her significant other Jeremy Blake disappeared and is presumed dead. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are, not to exaggerate the point, extremely mysterious. Theresa, herself, bloodied the water back in May by posting an incendiary piece of conspiracy theory on her blog, Wit of the Staircase.. If growing up is defined as an acceptance and acquiescence of and to the artificial limits placed on us by our unspoken bargain with culture and society, both Duncan and Blake were fighting it with everything they had in their arsenal. And they had plenty. I never knew Jeremy. But for every critic who called him a back stabbing careerist or worse, there were plenty of folks who gladly sang his praises. Three invitations to the Whitney Biennial must say something. His Artforum “conversation” with John Baldassari was none too shabby, even if the old-timer (we lovingly refer to him as The Winter Warlock) kept mildly cajoling him by insisting the difference between the older and younger generation was their relationship to art history. The Winter Warlock was all about it, and he accused poor Jeremy of not giving a rat’s ass. At any rate, Blake managed to convince a lot of folks who would otherwise have been in very different camps to get along — techno-futurists and proponents of old school painterly abstraction, among others — which is no small feat. Regardless of what you thought of the work, anyone who can get warring parties together has got something on the ball. My connection was more with Theresa. Not that I knew her personally. I knew her as The Wit. I’m not sure how, but I was on her mailing list from the get-go. And she was an untiring writer. Updates came almost weekly. And every time I tuned in I was rewarded with her latest barrage of postings. To begin with her subjects were mostly Kate Moss- and perfume-centric. Her other obvious passion was Jeremy whom she came to refer to simply as Mr. Wit. I would sometimes reach out to her. Congratulate her on a particularly brave piece of writing and/or let her know about my own latest online contribution, and the response was always lively and committed. As an artist I would have to say that it’s a little easier to hide behind ones art than behind one’s writing. Plenty of artists are able to mask their deficiencies behind prevailing fashions. With writing you’re fucked, there’s just no place to hide. Either it’s good or it isn’t. Duncan definitely had something going on, so I paid attention. “What about the mystery?” I’m sure you’re wondering, besides, that is, why an incredibly attractive and insanely successful young couple would off themselves. Since I wasn’t a close friend I can only go by the same external factors as everyone else. One of the more curious things about all this is that as quickly as the news got around (for a decent roundup around the blogosphere and elsewhere check out Newsgrist), very little about the personal tragedy of the apparent double-suicide has come out. I only know what everyone else knows which is that The Wit’s normally sensuous and arty posts were momentarily interrupted last May by two uncharacteristically harsh pieces. The first appeared on May 13th and was titled “The Trouble With Anna Gaskell”. The second, titled “Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith, the Toast of Vichy France” appeared four days later on the 17th. As a fellow blogger I know exactly how easy it is to publish an ugly tirade. It’s happened a couple of times already, but the thing about it is that it’s easy enough to un-publish such undesirable examples of untamed spleen. The fact that The Wit left those articles up can only mean that she seriously stuck by them. Duncan’s rant against the Saltz/Smith artworld power-couple was a good enough excuse to revisit post-WWII efforts to export US literary and artworld product to a beleaguered Europe and South America. The CIA’s role in championing Ab-Ex and concurrent literary figures shouldn’t be any great secret. The fact is our government was very active in this regard. It’s been the subject of a number of revelatory books. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the US did not continue those strong-arm policies where art is concerned. Our reality is that our government has since taken an extraordinarily adversarial position to the arts, as opposed to other countries like Great Britain and Germany, who have become famous for promoting their cultural product by any means necessary. So much so that our art market has become inundated by awful art from abroad. The UK’s Rachel Whiteread’s work now present in far too many US museum collections is probably the prime example, although there are plenty of others. The more important post was Theresa’s May 13th offering: “The Trouble with Anna Gaskell”. The litany of fashion world reverie was momentarily interrupted by the real world, and it wasn’t pretty. Apparently one Jim Cownie had made a personal case out of making the art-star couple suffer. Duncan is at pains to convey the level of harassment she and Blake were suffering. The story she tells is slightly incoherent. Stalkers are reported to have out-of-state plates linking them to Cownie and his nefarious gang of thugs. At the same time allegations are made against the Church of Scientology who Cownie supposedly works with. It's a somewhat tenuous connection, hard to prove. What we know is Mr. Wit did art for one of Beck’s last albums. It’s bad enough Beck has aligned himself with Scientology, although for all of us who never bought into his mythology his Dianetics connection comes as no major surprise. Such notable newspapers as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times have run multiple articles on the story. Apparently Mr. Wit briefly dated Cownie’s step daughter Anna while in art-school. The link to the Church of Scientology is a whole other ball of wax. Nevertheless, the LA Times made it the centerpiece of their last article. As I’ve said, the real story behind the reported double-suicide remains to be told. There is, however, something totally creepy about the July 25th article: "The apparent double suicide of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan”. Regardless of how murky the allegations against the Church of Scientology are — Duncan, herself, first and foremost, makes accusations against Cownie. No one doubts Scientology’s ability to bully their enemies. It’s common knowledge that they have a wing of the organization entirely devoted to harassing those who don’t agree with them. We all know you don’t mess with the Church, they are a bunch of nasty fuckers. There’s nothing to indicate Blake’s involvement, no matter how contentious, would have resulted in a blood feud. Nevertheless that was the lead. It’s a testament to the contemporary standards of reportage that to get his story the staff writer called the Scientology front office. Of course they denied it. To his credit the writer also put a call into Beck’s press agent who also predictably denied the entire episode. Bravo!

Posted by dm-b at August 6, 2007 05:21 PM | TrackBack
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