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conflagration

Post #160 • November 24, 2003, 7:41 AM

My respect for Damarys Ocaña's writing, Luis Gispert's art, and Street Miami's editors took a hit last week. Here's Ocaña writing about the opening of a show by Gispert at the Whitney at Altria for Street:

In the midst of all this, Gispert, wearing blue jeans, a black blazer and Adidas Ultrastars, looked a little lost. After moving from Miami in 1999 to attend Yale and getting steady praise for his work in group shows, Gispert truly was thrust into the national limelight when he was chosen for the 2002 Whitney Biennial exhibition. The museum bought the work in that show, and offered him a solo show of new work. Now, Gispert wondered how it would all go over.

"It's a conflagration of all these ideas that have been in my head for a long time -- hip-hop iconography, the baroque, minimalism," Gispert said. "But people in the New York art world a lot of times don't get my work. They don't know how to take it."

Later:

Indeed, the piece does have the whiff of unfinished business about it -- Gispert was right in calling it a conflagration rather than a synthesis. In the past, Gispert threw hip-hop and Baroque era excesses and exultation into a blender and came up with incredibly smooth, far more eloquent commentary on cultural sampling and material desire. Urban Myths II (The Return of the Hypenaholics), feels like it's stuck in pre-frappmode.

Do you know what a conflagration is? It's a fire. It is not synomynous with pastiche. It is synonymous with inferno. So here's an artist using a fifty-cent word incorrectly, which gets repeated and discussed by the critic as if either of them knew what it meant, and then goes to press without the editor seeing anything wrong. (Maybe he thought he knew what it meant too, but it looks like he didn't read it at all. Substitute "Ocaña's writing" for the title of the work in that last sentence, and you'll notice that the comma doesn't want to be there.) It even gets reused in the photo caption: "Gispert's Urban Myths II: conflagration as installation." Of course, there's nothing fiery about it - just the usual low-culture salad from Gispert.

This is a healthy reminder that all of it - the Whitney Museum Seal of Approval, the overly kind write-up in the paper with the color photograph, the half-baked self-analysis from the artist (dressed to not fit in and misusing the language despite a pedigree from Yale) - is devoid of reality. This segment of the art world, in which I include the Whitney and Yale, is a castle made out of warmed air.

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