Has Art Reached Peak Goodwill?
Post #1689 • April 30, 2014, 10:55 AM • 2 Comments
Art needs a certain kind of generosity in order to function. The world is full of intelligent, thoughtful, aesthetically sensitive people who don't give art much thought. They're not against it in theory, but it doesn't interest them either. In some cases they've seen what goes on in the name of fine art and recoiled from it. Someone once asked about my work in comics and replied with an apologetic smile, "To be honest, I'm not interested in Art Comics. No offense, man." I know of one beleaguered soul who apprised himself of local contemporary art, even attending the openings regularly, until he gave up on it all at once and pursued an interest in Japanese ceramics instead. Contemporary art stopped being worth his time.
Hence it would seem not to be in the interest of the high end of the art world to reinforce its reputation for being a rich person's romper room. Nevertheless it is hard at work doing so, and the eternally class-conscious not-quite-high end of the art world has complained with unusual ferocity. Roberta Smith said of James Franco's goofily restaged "Untitled Film Stills," the ones originally staged by Cindy Sherman, "It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, while also wishing that someone or something would make him stop." She called the 65 poems by the artist in the accompanying catalogue "excruciatingly sophomoric." Pace is also about to exhibit his paintings of Seth Rogen that Lauren Duca categorized under "This week in things you never ever wanted to see."
Not to be outdone, Gagosian will be showing paintings by Harmony Korine, Franco's director in the roundly panned "Spring Breakers" movie. They look like art but that's about all you can say for them. Paddy Johnson reserved judgment until seeing them but noted her "growing reservations about what celebrity shows like this actually mean for the art world."
Oscar Murillo, who was observed by the Rubell celebrity machine to have cranked out seven or eight paintings in 36 hours in advance of a studio visit, finally finds himself so overextended that he has had to take refuge in conceptual art, installing a chocolate factory staffed by some fellow Colombians at David Zwirner. Scott Indrisek commented, "There’s something sweet but ultimately disgusting about all of this; misguided might be the best summation."
It's tempting to blame the rich for this insidery cluelessness and indifference to aesthetics but the same thing goes on in the public art sector. In Edmonton it made news that public sculpture commissioned by Keeley Haftner, consisting of two stacked bales of recycled trash, was deemed so bereft of merit that an area man wrapped it in a tarp and put a sign on it noting sensibly that "Our tax dollars are for keeping garbage OFF the streets." Haftner's comments on the gesture serve as Exhibit A as to why good people hate art: "I can't say [Coupal's reaction] is completely negative, although it is certainly extreme. ... The question of beauty has been brought up a lot in this debate, which is a really provocative and sometimes problematic conversation."
In medicine there's a designation called "immunocompromised," which means that the patient's immune system for whatever reason is unable to fight off pathogens. Art is immunocompromised. One might fulminate against Franco and Haftner and the rest but the real object of concern ought to be why the art system fosters their parasitism. We should ask why Franco's paintings of Rogen are supposedly bad and plagiarized but Richard Prince's paintings are supposedly good and appropriated. We should ask why Haftner, who can paint, was clearly steered away from doing so and rewarded for complying.
Or maybe we shouldn't, and just let the art world as we know it destroy itself. Maybe we'd get a better art world out of it, one that would justify goodwill instead of burning through it like gasoline.
Update May 1: Greetings David Thompson readers.