Art, real Art, can be created with the cheapest, most common, materials. It doesn’t require a gallery for context or validation; it doesn’t require an explanation or a backstory or a validating slot in the display case of the Official History of Art. It inspires more Art and inoculates frail flesh against boredom, poverty, loneliness and old age. When wielded en masse it can be a supple weapon against venality, brutality, anality and the shitty Isms of Race, Sex, Class and the Fasces. Talent in one or more of the Arts is a gift from the Prankish Gods and it rarely goes unpunished.
I was an Initiate at an early age and spectacularly sensitive to the Synaesthetic kick of the voluptuous palette of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Young Faun or Sherry by The Four Seasons or Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy, a painting that has haunted, calmed and sternly advised me for most of my life (that lion’s coldly vigilant eye!). All this despite the cultural distortion of the Cold War Media-field surrounding the CIA’s over-promotion of shitty, empty, half-assed so-called “Modern Art.” So-called “Modern Art” was supposedly hyped only to burnish the cultural status of The West so “we” might outshine those wily Reds. But was it? Was it, entirely?
I believe the masscult promotion of non-Art (and anti-Art) as “Art” was not just about Cold War gamesmanship but for the deeper reason that ART, real ART, was always too egalitarian. Too class-smashing.
Talent is distributed willy nilly when X-sperm hits Y-egg under Z-conditions, a gift from the Pranking Gods which the wealthy still cannot buy nor actually own or control, however many individual Artists have been kept on the humiliating leash of patron-serving patronage through the ages. It’s always been about Control. If the Wealthy can’t control the dissemination of Talent, they can change the definition of ART, or try to, and that’s what they’re up to, I think. They don’t want to be lectured by Geniuses, they want to be Amused (and sucked off) by Clowns. And they don’t want Transcendent Serfs, touched and ennobled by Art, real Art, they want charity cases and food-court-buffoons and burnt-out fuck-ups crawling over refugee corpses to get to the best deals on widescreens and truck scales the day after Thanksgiving. They want to sever your hotwire to the Divine.
Don’t get uppity, is what they’re saying.
Don’t you ever start thinking of yourselves as Whole.
Great ART will make you uppity.
It’s also simply more convenient for the Speculators if the aura surrounding the artifacts of almost any available cipher can be inflated to profitable extremes. Waiting for a genuine Genius to be born, tamed, commodified and martyred can be just too time-consuming, no? My Wife was recently invited to a reception for just such a readymade anti-Artist, a cipher (wealthy dad attached) whom a consortium of German gallerists are hoping (hilariously) to hype into being taken for something as oxymoronic as a German Basquiat (Basquiat being a genuine talent seduced and despoiled and killed too soon for his Talent to really bloom): https://orange.handelsblatt.com/artikel/36162
For every Successful Joke there are so many Talented Failures who end up ripping their metaphorical canvases and breaking their figurative brushes and quitting Art forever in order to go to law school or learn to write code or sell insurance. Only a lunatic fringe of cranky subversives (among whom I count myself) never picked up the brush/ pen/ guitar in the first place with the intent of wretched corny mainstream success… and therefore never gave up when it became obvious that the wretched corny mainstream success was a mirage on an infinitely-receding horizon. Although I’ll admit to pretending to. Pretended to try, I mean. Many (if not all) of my girlfriends, at the time, sincerely needed to believe that I was doing ART for a reason (any reason) other than ART.
I wasn’t. I was only doing it because I couldn’t not. Wrestling with Lit and Music, primarily, and using pens and paintbrushes to deal with my dreams and libido. I eventually quit the painting stuff when I realized that I had much more to say with Lit and Music, the jealous lovers between whom I am snatched and jerked and shaken and stretched all day.
My primary goal was always to arrange my life in such a way that I could spend most of my precious, non-refundable time creating, and polishing pertinent skills, if only in my head, which meant staying away from jobs requiring A) thought B) customer service. Which often meant house-painting, especially after I refused to sleep with the powerful curator (she was wealthy, sexually frustrated, married to an impotent lawyer and in charge of a 30 million dollar Art Collection… and she was a friend of Mr Warhol) who chased me, and wrote me checks, for not quite two years, seeding the soil of our endless conversations with wince-inducing double entendres. Or the time she relieved herself, over lunch, of the conversation-stopping non-sequitur that she would never have anal intercourse.
Listen, all I had to do was fuck her half a dozen times and paint two dozen very large canvases of angular Neo-Expressionist Black male figures with huge erections and tiny heads in various ironic settings (church, funeral, the ballet, lynchings), for starters, and I could have been at the very least a little famous in SoHo/ Tribeca for a few years and pocketed maybe one hundred thousand dollars? I was bleaching my hair blond and wearing eyeliner already as a frontman for various bands: I would have been a natural. Huge sums were flying about, back then. This was the Gecko/ Bateman era. She paid my rent for almost two years but…
I just couldn’t do it.
Kyra, my Art School Student lover of c. 1981, had great promise as an Artist and she came from the quiet lakes and dowdy Renaissance faires of her provincial town with a thick portfolio of exquisite draftsmanship, the best in her class. She entered Art School (MCAD, which should display a disclaimer over its antebellum portico: FOR RICH KIDS ONLY) and they destroyed her, they ruined her life, they taught her nothing more substantial than a pose, they taught her the useless quasi-knowingness of Performance “Art” Snobbery and they took her for a long and pointless Conceptual “Art” Ride that mulched her native ability and shat her down a huge pipe she never crawled out of again. She moved straight to Manhattan like an Art School wind-up toy, got seven jobs just to survive (not exaggerating), tried to make it with Conceptual Art (like the last piece of hers I saw, a motorized, Gary-Panter-like triviality called Pussy Bag) and nearly forty years (and as many kilograms) later, teaches gradeschool science to the children of rich persons. A tragic figure.
I didn’t even go to Art School but, only a few years after Kyra and I broke up, I had been offered, and passed on, the kind of opportunity (to fuck a mover/shaker in the International Art Market) that probably would have saved Kyra’s (ART) Life, had she been offered it and taken it and run to the fucking bank with it. Kyra and I both suffered from being provincials who were heartbreakingly sincere about Art.
eMail from ET, actual Artist
“A friend of mine was in a copy-shop in London and Marc Quinn ( he of the blood filled heads fame ) came in. He’d been commissioned to make a giant baby sculpture for a mall in Singapore ( or Java or somewhere ). He’d Googled photos of babies and was in discussion about how his choice of photo could be fed into a 3-D printer to produce a large marble sculpture.”
When Kyra was young she was talented, arrogant, naive and happy. I mention this elsewhere on this site but once we had Thanksgiving dinner together and after I’d had the neck, a drumstick and a wing I discovered cadmium red oil paint smeared in the cavity where the giblets should be.
One of Kyra’s teachers, a now-famous Neon Artiste, was fucking Kyra’s best friend, Casey (one of his students) and he wanted to fuck Kyra, too. Casey, like 99% of The Neon Artist’s students, saw zero return on the hefty investment of an Art School “education” but bailed out of the Dream Life early, marrying for money while she could, her upright parents having paid thousands per semester for the privilege of their daughter sucking and fucking her instructor at the school.
Well at least Casey learned who Tristan Tzara was.
The sustained assault upon ART, real ART, and real Artists, has been massive but not entirely effective. For every shitty non-Artist darling (or once-darling) of the Industrial Nouveau Riche, like Jeff Koons, Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst, or a venal witch like Abramovic, there are still a few prominent figures with actual Talent, like Jenny Saville and Kara Walker… and thousands of Talented Outsiders clamoring to threaten the Norm with too much skill and vision. But how many of the latter will end up like Kyra? Perfectly thwarted.
I had no career in mind when I painted and doodled alongside my doomed Art School sweetheart, who was dreaming of setting the world on fire with ditsy gestures like Pussy Bag. I had no plans to set the world on fire; I had plans to live, fuck, sing, eat peaches, eat falafel, enjoy the sunrise and write about that and everything else, over and over again, until I could get it right.
And I did.
I’m not that old but I’m old enough and I seem to have gotten away with it.
I know people who know people who have no cocksucking compunctions or arserimming revulsions and who are the opposite of those wonderfully obscure (but Talented) few who unwaveringly refuse to submit.
I know someone who had the super-non-Talent Douglas Gordon for dinner, not long (8 years?) ago, and at this dinner were other decadent intellectual non-Talents, arrogant mediocrities who owe everything to their ability to serve power, to function in the gap between the so-called “One Percent” (though of course it’s really the .00000001%, a much more accurate and explosive figure) and The Serfs: the “Art” arm of the Kapo Classes. Gordon, a gallery gofer when he started, penetrated the charmed duodenal circle because a gallerist (many years ago) wanted to fuck him. Gordon’s famous “24 Hour Psycho” (a slowing down of Hitchcock’s film to a running time of 24 hours) is a half-baked idea at best, a minor curiosity and a handy barometer of status-hunger-poisoning: anyone who sits or stands through more than fifteen minutes of the playback is quite seriously fucked in the head. Don DeLillo’s prominent referencing of “24 Hour Psycho,” in his disappointing Point Omega, was a grotesque symptom of the calcification of wit that turned Point Omega into a chalk-dry DeLillo parody and an epitaph to both DeLillo’s formerly unerring sense of the ridiculous and his literary muscle, perhaps. Let’s hope DeLillo recovers.
Wiki says, regarding Gordon’s conceptual meister-diaperful of flim flam, “The film was an important work in Gordon’s early career, and is said to introduce themes common to his work, such as “recognition and repetition, time and memory, complicity and duplicity, authorship and authenticity, darkness and light.” The film? The film was made by genuine Talent Alfred Hitchcock, assholes. If I put a little green sticker on Gaudi’s The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família and the sticker says “100% Gluten-Free!,” can Gaudi’s cathedral be considered my breakthrough? Only if I suck the right cock(s) first. But let’s walk back to our tatty sliver of Artspeak nonsense: “recognition and repetition, time and memory, complicity and duplicity, authorship and authenticity, darkness and light.” It just writes itself, doesn’t it? To which we might add “catshit and dogshit, phoniness and wankery, stupidity and credulity, money-laundering and tax write-off-ery” and a dollop of Tristan Fucking Tzara.
Look at this insult to any Talented Serf nailed to the itchy crucifix of a minimum wage job and grab your conceptual torches and pitchforks; I mean, really: look at this shit: https://purple.fr/diary/douglas-gordons-the-anatomy-of-my-desire-exhibition-at-galerie-kamel-mennour-paris/
So far beyond the reach of satire.
I can remember being a teen in ’77 and spending hundreds of hours making drawings and collaging the drawings and collaging the collages on a photocopier in the office of the Funeral Home I lived in Philly. And then in Saint Paul in ’82 with a cassette recorder at somebody’s baby grand, painstakingly playing one note on the piano, recording it, playing another and recording that and repeating the process hundreds of times to generate thirty-second pseudo-fugues of primitively animated sound. In ’83 in Minneapolis I was given a heavy roll of over-sized poster paper and decided to create dozens of handmade posters with metallic blue spray paint and a stencil. In ’85 I was using parallel VCRs and a cassette player to make glitchy copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy Surrealist porn with overdubbed audio; I also overdubbed all the speaking parts with absurdities on a videocassette of St. Elsewhere and it was an Art School Hit that had Kyra’s classroom in hysterics; I then filmed with a borrowed Betacam the lower-halves of Kyra and me fucking and intercut that eerily autonomic copulation with images of my clinically schizophrenic bass player Jim sitting under a table in his Buggles glasses seething and that, too, was a cherished hit. In 1990 (London) I co-wrote songs with Gary Numan’s bass player. In 1992 (Berlin) I sang on a cult classic techno version of an ’80s Eurodisco hit. And so on, ad infinitum, before, between and after these randomly-listed examples of compulsive creativity. As natural as toast falling butter-side-down, every single time. I could not not do it. Most of the artifacts long-lost.
Q: What did these exercises give me?
A: Detailed revelatory experience of The Now.
In 1991 I was sitting in a flat in an artfully bombed-out building in Berlin’s trippy Turkish Ghetto, Kreuzberg, (the guy’s mailbox wasn’t even affixed to the hallway wall, downstairs, but sat on a brick beside the staircase), sun roaring through the living room window and across the long table at which I sat facing Claudia, a beautiful bourgeois film student from Venezuela, and her lover, Paul, a shaved-bald Brit in pink sunglasses who claimed to wear the glasses as the result of an eye condition, and Claudia was saying that I had only gotten a job at the trendy club she would have killed to get a job at because I was “cool and Black” and I said, “Plus I have more Talent in my little finger than you have in all of your beautiful body, Baby!” and she laughed, Paul laughed, our host laughed but I leered. I was flirting but not hard enough to be impolite. The host’s homely Italian art-school-student girlfriend may or may not have been there at the time. So charismaless. Let’s call her Moni.
The next time I saw Paul and Claudia they were suffering from arserimming-triggered hepatitis (not making that up) and the host’s homely Italian art-school-student girlfriend, Moni, was laughing about it and eating her spaghetti lunch, chewing her food with her mouth open, scandalized. Poor bumpkin. Couldn’t paint, couldn’t draw, was hopeless with tools, couldn’t use a PC, couldn’t use a camera, couldn’t edit, had very few ideas… all she had were the French-theory-rotten textbooks that her theoretical Art “education” was bringing her in contact with. Where was the “ART” in “Art School”? Were her parents really rich enough to blow such money?
What the fuck was Moni going to do with such meager tools and no Talent? At least Kyra, doomed as she was, had real Talent, I thought. At least Kyra had had a chance.
Another tragedy in the making…
Joke’s on us.
A decade elapsed.
Moni became a European “Art” Star in the early Aughties and she has “earned” actual millions in the game as a Big Ticket Art World Chauncey Gardner with a sophomore’s po-faced investment in hypocritical Academic Feminism (her breakthrough gimmick was a collectors-titillating video of a naked chick humping a wall), you couldn’t make it up, you wouldn’t need to, it happens all the time: https://de.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2014/june/30/monica-bonvicini-defined-in-five-great-works/ .
Have we learned anything from that?
If you are one of the Wonderful Few with sensitive-enough equipment to detect and relish Art, real ART, please find yourself a struggling Unknown with the fierce black eyes of Genuine Talent and buy Her or Him a good lunch…
… or suck His or Her penis.
Or do both.
Think of it as the revenge of Tristan Tzara.
ADDENDUM 2: ONGOING CONVERSATION WITH A REAL ARTIST REGARDING ALL THAT:
ET: A lot of contemporary work seems to be made by design studios. We’ve gone from individual ( or occasionally collective ) visions of what the world is to work by people fulfilling a brief. If you’ve ever applied for a commission you’ll discover that first and foremost it involves realising someone else’s ideas.
The law of averages will mean that there’s probably the very occasional good piece of work produced under this relationship but most of it looks like the interest for the artist is in how little he/she is physically involved in the creation of it.
A friend of mine was in a copy-shop in London and Marc Quinn ( he of the blood filled heads fame ) came in. He’d been commissioned to make a giant baby sculpture for a mall in Singapore ( or Java or somewhere ). He’d Googled photos of babies and was in discussion about how his choice of photo could be fed into a 3-D printer to produce a large marble sculpture.
The technology is very interesting but it’s more interesting to watch it in action rather look at the finished result. The finished result being an extremely large, extremely bland object where the artist demonstrates no concept of dynamic outline or volume. His involvement is Googling and picking up the cheque.
SA: In the end it’s the triumph of the “Tastes” and Worldview of the Thick-Fingered Vulgarians running the show and rubbing our faces in it, turning their essential view of Art as trivial (unless it’s a rare historical relic, like a doodle by DaVinci) into a random and contempt-filled public display…
ET: I’m currently…… ( what’s the word? ) …. developing a story-line for a performance so am now feeling I’m part of the problem we’ve identified rather than the solution.
SA: ET, considering the fact that you’re an actual Artist, brainstorming and problem-solving in order to manifest bits of your imagination in a public space… as opposed to concocting a way to get as much money, for as little effort, as possible… I’d say that you’re the Problem’s opposite, and (if there were a few thousand of you) something like its solution.
ET: The guy who really boils my piss is Olafur Eliasson the Norwegian who created that pretty, Instagram-friendly , non-specific religious-experience light installation which toured all over the world.
Apparently he has 100 assistants working at his foundation in Oslo.
When you see what he does you wonder what the 100 assistants do. It’s not heavy engineering, mass choreography or any complex process-led work. I suspect most of them pack installation kits into boxes and organise them being sent all over the world. The installing of these kits being done by the relevant museum/gallery technicians.
If one of his publications is any evidence then another thing they do is eat their lunch. The Foundation published a limited edition, expensive cook book with the daily menu and recipes in it. Truly art eating itself.
SA: AH yes I used to hate the mention of that fucker’s name too because I had a chum who was an “academic activist” or “art activist” or whatever the term was and he wanted to BE this Eliasson character. What I LOATHED was the halo of POMPOUS VIRTUOUSNESS that somehow hovered over his bombastic, high-kitsch work
ET: Indeed. The virtuousness blinds you to the emptiness of the work.
I initially thought that the design and promotion of the battery-free torch was a worthwhile idea – it is but a friend who bought one said it’s just an inferior horribly designed version of what you could already get on-line.
Eliasson has basically added Ikea designs onto the list of what art galleries can show. And because we’ve had a decade or two of hyper capitalist artists in the form of Koons, Hirst, Emin and Lowentraut Eliasson appears to be someone with a bit of integrity but after you’ve waded through the guff you discover that he’s operating in exactly the same way and in the same places as those four.
Koons is a repulsive figure but at least there’s something awkward and unsettling going on in some of his work. If Eliasson had any integrity he’d get out of the gallery circuit and start working in Medecin sans Frontieres or a charity – but of course that doesn’t pay as much.
SA: One of the biggest no-longer-questioned issues in all this: But is it Art? If Eliasson’s work were situated in the category of an esoteric branch of Sensation-Driven Entertainment, I wouldn’t have a problem with him or Abramovic or even Koons or Hirst. It’s the hijacking of a known term that more properly refers to aestheticized personal interpretations of the world in 2 or 3 dimensions, on a personal scale (ie: a sculpture by Rodin is Art whereas the statue of Liberty is Architecture), in which the skill of the Artist’s execution figures into the work’s value… is what I don’t like. Like calling a Trans-to-Female Male a “Woman”. “Woman” is already a word that means something that doesn’t include “Trans-to-Female Male”, so come up with a New Word and leave the original word alone (ditto the pronouns). It has to do with the Invasion/Colonization mindset of the parent culture, I think… the same mindset that can look at a thoroughly inhabited “America” (whatever the natives variously called it) and see a pristine wilderness ripe for Invasion/ Colonization. So the original word “Art” gets overrun, repurposed and rendered meaningless and so will the word “Woman”… but to whose advantage? Not Artists or Women.
The other little quibbly problem I have is with the subtle Racism of positioning the Bjorks and Eliassons and Thunbergs (et al) of the Entertainment World as emissaries from an “advanced and wise and superior” culture because they’re Nordic, the “Aryan” guardians of “Gaia”. I mean, The Nord is nicely under-populated (meaning they can afford their generous Social Democracies) but credulously Nordiphile Americans don’t seem to be aware of the alcohol/ depression/ Vitamin D Deficiency issues… or the decidedly un-evolved Dolphin-slaughtering tradition of certain Norwegians! So Eliasson’s work is greeted with built-in reverence; Basquiat’s work is valued for its Funk; Abramovic (Eastern European) found her niche as a Witch… it’s an extension of the Racial Essentialism plaguing all other social interactions. Where’s the Transcendence in that?
ET: My feeling is that most of the people you mention had something interesting going on in their early work but either got sideswiped by a demand from the market that their imaginations couldn’t sustain or they believed the hype. Hence the increasing repetitive nature of Hirst’s work with each repetition using more expensive materials.
Abramovic’s work looks entirely hollow when she’s being lionised by slebs, placed in a modern art museum and being dressed by Prada. Whereas early performances in cellars/squats in Belgrade where the audience don’t know who the hell she is give what she does ( with Ulay of course ) a bit more bite. Performance art should be messy, haphazard, an occasional insult to the intelligence not something that happens within pristine white walls
SA: “Performance art should be messy, haphazard, an occasional insult to the intelligence…”
We certainly got a lot of that when Abramovic tangled with Jay-Z… and cooked for Hillary Clinton! laugh
(rant comes Tourette-ing through:)
The thing I’ve become leery of and often disgusted with is how Art is packaged with the shiny surfaces and plastic Eros and cheezy come-ons of Pop… that is: I want a wholly Art-centric space for Art where Art is allowed to speak quietly and unwaveringly in its devastating voice. I’d prefer Art that got through without a face attached. I STILL have no idea how Cezanne’s face looked and I’ve forgotten Rousseau’s and this emphasizes the irrelevance of the personalities attached to those oeuvres, oeuvres I can therefore enjoy purely. I don’t want to stare at Cezanne’s apples because Cezanne was hot in his bathing suit. Performance Artists, for me, by making themselves the subject, had better have a powerful statement to make in order to transcend my suspicion that I’m the victim of an attempted seduction by a Narcissist. All day long we’re seduced by movies, pop music, breath mints, politicians… I want something more Real than a come-on (or Complicated Selfies) from Art. Forgetting the Sexy girls in their birthday suits, and leaving for a moment the question of mental health regarding Vito Acconci, Burden and Joseph Beuys (et al), I have to say I give full marks for clarity, imagination, human interaction and Artistic expression to troupes like yours, ET, or agitprop teams like the Yes Men… the theater bit doesn’t interfere with the Art bit (and vice versa) but each amplifies the other because whatever Narcissism is (naturally) inherent in your work is channeled into a higher collaborative goal. Not running easy and rampant in naked boobs and dicks or like crazy Yves Klein out the window.
It’s the same resistance I feel toward Bowie’s beatification as a Renaissance Man: surely he was a cool-looking guy who was a bit smarter than the average muso and he did a dozen songs I really like but where would he be if he’d been ugly? Now, for me, an Ugly Bowie, with the same voice and epic poses and all, fighting against Society’s simpleminded aesthetic to impose a vision despite his handicaps… THAT would have been Art. A dumpy hideous Cindy Sherman or Carolee Schneemann would have generated enough friction to make the projects interesting (maybe). But all these cute Novelists/ Performance Artists/ Painters/ Singers… for me that’s just an inevitable side-effect of a Surfaces-Obsessed Culture (and the Third Reich was pretty surfaces-obsessed). I don’t want to see their tits, dicks OR their faces.