Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone, and here is a thought to be going on with . . . "Mamá siempre me decía: ratón y queso amigos son . . ."

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Stockholm Brillo Box Syndrome

Andy Warhol's first retrospective was organized in 1968 by Pontus Hulton, esteemed director of the Moderna Museet, in Stockholm—and I'm not being snarky here. Hulten, who died in 2006, was indeed esteemed, for that exhibition and many others. In 1990, he organized another Warhol retrospective, for the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. As you might expect, it featured a batch of Brillo Boxes. The show would have been incomplete without them. The trouble was that the Boxes on view at the St. Petersburg museum were not products of the Warhol Factory. Hulten had them manufactured by Swedish carpenters.
If they were authentic, the Stockholm Boxes would be worth more than $75 million. But they're fakes. Not only that, they are flagrant fakes—a cinch to distinguish from Andy's Boxes, just as Andy's Boxes are a cinch to distinguish from the supermarket kind.
What to do, what to do? I mean, if we believe in a free and unencumbered art market, what sense does it make to deprive that market of $75 million worth of merchandise?
Here's my suggestion. Add Arthur Danto to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. Why? Because Danto claims that there is no visible difference between a Warhol Brillo Box and the Brillo boxes manufactured by Purex Industries. From this silly claim follows Danto's “end-of-art” theory—more on that in a later post. The point for now is this: having said that he can't tell a Warhol Brillo Box from a real Brillo box, Danto should be willing to say that he can't tell a Stockholm fake from a real Warhol. And this is just what the Authentication Board would love to hear, given its cozy relations with the dealers who have become the approved outlets for authenticated Warhols.
This would not be win-win. It would be win-win-win. Danto's willful blindness to the obvious differences between a Warhol Brillo Box and a real one would receive institutional recognition. By settling once and for all the problem of the Stockholm Boxes, the Authentication Board would solidify its relations with certain dealers by doing them a substantial favor. As the recipients of this favor, these dealers would see impressive improvements in their bottom lines. Yay, market! Yay, authentication games! And, above all, yay to the fog that conveniently descends upon all those who need to be blind if they are to formulate their theories about visual art!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Verne Dawson at the Whitney Bienniel

I was so happy to see that Verne Dawson has been chosen for the next Whitney Biennial. The hopelessly dopey, deliciously hokey Dawson treated as if he were a serious painter! Amazing! I mean, he's not even a serious illustrator. Human anatomies like doodles. Trees like tangles of wire—partially disentangled, I grant you, but how much allowance must we make for amateurism? The space in Dawson's paintings feels flat, like a sheet of tinted cardboard, or gelatinous, like the inside of a jelly doughnut. Yummy, but no yummier than the idea that Dawson is a latter-day shaman, a mystic and seer whose meditations on the past have something to tell us about the future. What, exactly, is his message? That we are getting sillier and sillier and so, by the time the apocalypse arrives, we will be too infantile to be all that upset.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Art Credit

Before I get too snarky, I want to go on record on the subject of Tracey Emin's tipsy, love-lorn public persona. It's just what the art world needs. Her drawings, by contrast, are deplorable—so bad that they require me to introduce the eminently snarky concept of the art credit.
It's like a handicap in golf or the spread that evens up the betting on a football game between mismatched teams. Let's say that it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Team A is going to steamroller Team B. Your bookie might say, Take B and seven points. Or fifteen. It depends on just how lousy Team B is, in comparison to Team A. You take Team B and fifteen points, Team A wins the game by fourteen points, and you win the bet.
So, how many points do we have to give Tracey Emin to keep her in the game with, oh, er, I don't know—Michelangelo? Those of you who saw her show at Lehman-Maupin know that her scratchy, unmuscular drawings make Josef Beuys look like Michelangelo. So, what's the spread? A hundred points? A thousand? Is it even calculable?
What bookies call the spread I call the art credit, because it's the special allowance that certain artists are granted simply by virtue of having established themselves as artists. The beneficiary of a sizable art credit, Emin has no reason to learn to draw—any more than John Currin has any need to become a better painter. Positioned as a major artist, Currin enjoys an art credit big enough to get him compared to Renaissance masters, even though he works at the level of old-time illustrators like N. C. Wyeth. Not that Currin's art credit is as big as Emin's. It doesn't have to be. There is, after all, something verging on art in his work.

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Rudi Fuchs, that jolly old elf

This former director of the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam, is not that old, really, or all that jolly, either, but he is definitely an elf. Or is he? Maybe the Awful Truth is that he just plays one the stage of international art, living on his knees, the better to offer his obeisances to certain artists who have found niches in the upper reaches of the auction market. At least he's consistent. I mean, what are we to see but a sign of rock solid-solid integrity in his decision to champion not only Robert Ryman but Tracey Emin? Even elfish Rudi couldn't claim that Emin's drawings are any good, so he praised them for their “salty line”--“salty,” I suppose, as in “risqué.” More about Ms. Emin in my next post . . .

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Having It Both Ways--Art Theory Division

It is sometimes said--by me, for example--that the art theorists headquartered at October magazine have never come up with much in the way of theory. Their writing is a collage of bits and pieces brought back from Europe, and you know what collage is: the amateur's medium. Unless you're Picasso or Kurt Schwitters, making a collage is like keeping a scrapbook. Nonetheless, the October theorists are brilliant. They have figured out how to have it both ways--how to placate even as they attack. So, as they rack up credit as daring radicals, scourges of the establishment, they hold down university positions, sinecures at the heart of the establishment they so daringly oppose.

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People complain

People complain about all the ads in Artforum. It's like complaining about all the buildings in Manhattan

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Black and White in Color

During the '80s, Allan McCollum figured out how to have it both ways. Not only did he make paintings but he also managed to get the stamp of approval from the death-of-painting ghouls at October Mag. So clever. He did it by painting dozens, hundreds, probably thousands of smallish all-black paintings, which he framed in generic white frames—sort of death-of-the frame frames, if you see what I mean. A wall-full of these objects always looked quite spiffy. It all came back to me at the Marian Goodman Gallery, where Gerhard Richter filled an entire wall with smallish, mechanically produced paintings. It's Allan McCollum in full color—just as pretentious, just as impoverished, intellectually and emotionally, and, needless to say, quite spiffy.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Herr Fischer's Haunted House

Urs Fischer has turned the New Museum into the art world's answer to the Addams Family house—dank in affect, dim in concept, and deliciously creepy. Naturally, I showed up for the opening party. Wandering from floor to floor, brushing aside the cobwebs, I met so many ghosts that I began to doubt that I would ever meet the man of the hour. At this Fischer show Herr Fischer was nowhere to be seen. I saw Lynda Benglis, in strange, protoplasmic form. I saw Barry Le Va and Robert Rauschenberg and George Segal. Salvador Dali, maestro of the melted watches, was in attendance, haunting a melted piano. There was a funhouse mirror reflecting Richard Artschwager's familiar wood grain and any number of unexorcized bits and pieces of Andy Warhol. Of all the works in this overstuffed show, my favorite was Cumpadre, a croissant suspended from a length of fishing line. Guess what perches on the croissant. A butterfly. What else? Fischer's butterfly is a distant relative of the parrot in Joan Miro's Object, the benchmark example of Surrealist assemblage. Cumpadre wants us to believe it has met Miro's standard. Do not be fooled. Step back and watch, as Fischer's object sinks to the level of public sculpture, something along the lines of Homage to the Generic Surrealist.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sherrie Levine

I think it's fabulous that Sherrie Levine devoted an entire career to the idea that there is no such thing as originality. So original. I'm reminded of the prude who comes across as hot.

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The artwork as labor-saving device

The great thing about Jeff Koons's new works at Gagosian is that you don't actually have to look at them. Thanks to the artist's new, improved system of hieroglyphics, it's enough to read these images, which is so much more efficient. There's a hieroglyph for female genitalia and another for landscape or rock or whatever. Messy zigzags and loops stand for painting itself—far be it from Koons to neglect this traditional medium—and benday dots stand for lots of things: the Pop Art heritage, the commercial media, mechanical reproduction and the ghost of Walter Benjamin. There's not much else to read here, and that's a relief. In today's busy world who wants to get bogged down in a novel? Even short stories are not short enough. Because Koons understands this, he gives us paintings we can grasp as quickly as ten-second spots on TV.

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They said I had to go to Chelsea . . .

They said I had to go to Chelsea but I said no, no, no. But . . . I did go to Chelsea and I saw the Sleeping Puppets at the Mathew Marks Gallery--recent work by Fischli and Weiss, and quite terrific . . . in the regressive way that makes so much contemporary art so comforting, so unchallenging.

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More Fischli and Weiss

The puppets are at 526 W. 22nd St. A few doors away, at 522, is Fischli and Weiss's collection of 800-plus magazine ads laid out on 38 tables. Yawn. It's almost as boring as Miami/Basle, that dreary labyrinth built of everything you already know. This work by F&W is billed as as an expose of late capitalism. If only. The Awful Truth, of course, is that this work, originally commissioned by a corporation, was designed as a site for some late capitalist to stash some cash.

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