Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where Art Thou

I've taken to reading anthologies. I'm low on fresh 'log', appalled by the Times lists, the New Yorker...David Foster Wallace has been dead nearly 2 1/2 years. So the ones I choose are the so-called alternative collections--what I like mostly is they don't separate fiction and non-fiction, poetry or graphic narratives. It's random-- the catchword of our culture, and the former title of a publishing gargantua. Only now, post-mortem, do I get the humor.

It's not the writing per se, but the reminder that all these niche-writers co-exist---post-Katrina journalists, Haitian activists, torture survivors, doodlers, animal rescuers, ex and future cons, sadists, perverts, and those compelled by unbearable lives. I like trusting Eggers et al to muck through Esquire and Slate issues and reprint with font democracy-- no ads, no boldface bylines.

Walking through Chelsea today I am reminded about our challenged language and why, despite the OED addition of colloquialisms and IM acronyms, we rely on strings of adjectives to describe the enormous range of objects which ally themselves under the noun 'Art' (which I first mistook, having heard Shakespeare at an early age, as a verb; maybe closer to some meaning). Galleries today are anthologies at best... but the whole system of nomenclature needs an overhaul. The auction houses have for years been struggling with a soft-focus line between Photography, Contemporary, Latin, Chinese...when a huge number of works wander across borders.

And for those who actually follow the philosophical progression of what art is or is not (I had the course in grad school--- with the anthology that is so dated it's become current)...the true vanguard can be unexhibitable. I'd even suggest that non-marketability might be a prerequisite. But that's like recording music only mosquitos can hear... one risks deleting a huge audience which has not just made 'art' as necessary as a household TV, but a virtual Wall Street institution. The incredible thing is---unlike fine and large diamonds which are only for the monied--- it's the same $10 paint and canvas--- or whatever... and who sets the line between what is auctioned at Hotel Parking Lot $19.95-and- under sales...or the top lot of the evening Contemporary auctions. Piles of wrapped candy, dead fish--- basketballs... what if a Hirst spin-art piece found its way into the Marriott ? How many Hedge Fund masterminds would pick it out?

So what is art? Should it be domesticated, like lap-dogs, for the rich? Is it 'decorative'? I admit to loving my paintings. I love the colors, the composition--sometimes the subjects make people squirm, but there's an element of aesthetic priority there...
Still...I expect the artists on the edge to be doing things that are hideous, disturbing, provocative. I also concede the concept of the art 'market' can only support some conceptual projects. Of these, we need souvenirs for our walls--- drawings or even photos or bits of hair and blood. Saleable things. In the old days, foundations supported public art projects. Now corporations support them--- the same corporations which own and trade these artists-- whose CEOs sit on museum boards and allocate funds for their artists' exhibitions. Is this different from insider trading?

Am I getting old or do the endless columns of reviews seem to be rehashing the same praise in the same language for the same cyclical reinventions of the past 2 or 3 decades? We have copyrights for music, but the mindless glut of pop melodies has us audio-tranquillized so we scarcely care whether we've heard a song last week or 25 years ago. And does it matter? When a forgerer can't even get away with an exact unintentional imitation anti-art? Sherrie Levine and Mike Bidlo have made a career of it...

I spend less and less time in galleries... I am in and out...can't find much to dwell on, and I am less well-dressed than the average weekend gallery gawker these days. Not to mention the staff. Larry Gagosian really does resemble a Duane Hanson real-estate agent. And obviously he has his own tanning bed. Something truly inapppropriate and downright sleazy about these new gallery moguls. Caveat emptor. The business is self-regulating. Dangerous. Greedy. I pity the artists. Other artists envy and pity the artists. Some artists ignore it all and keep their work under their beds. This is the work we need to see. The unpublished, the unphotographed, the unanthologized.

When I was 21 and graduated with awards from my highbrow Art History program, a well-known philosopher/aesthetician called me and asked me for a date. He was rather old--
not handsome but huge on brain-appeal, and I guess I was bohemian-hot back then, and I was new in New York City, single, and fair game. Of course I was terrified and overwhelmed. Flattered. He took me to see Rocky. By the 4th raw-egg drink, I realized he was putting me in my deserved place. He's now been dead for decades but I wonder where he'd have taken a Gagosian to lunch. McDonald's? Maybe the dumpsters behind Chelsea Piers which one could see from his galleries were anyone to open a window and let some reality and fresh air in.

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