But I'm going to beat this. I can do it. I promise.
It was a long and dark December
When the banks became cathedrals
And the fox became God
O’Reilly appears not to know that the word “fox” also refers to a canine animal who lives in the wild and is part of the mythology of almost every culture.
In my Animal Speak reference, I found this: Probably the fox’s cleverest hunting technique is ‘charming’ [where] the fox is seen near a prey, performing various antics. It will leap and jump and roll and chase itself, so that it charms the prey’s attention. While performing the fox draws closer and closer without its prey realizing, as it is caught up in [the fox’s] seemingly non-threatening antics. Then at the right moment, the fox leaps and captures its prey.
This fox, however, looks as if it’s just having fun:
However along with deconstruction, we lost our ability to discern. We went rollicking off in the other direction, making deconstruction an excuse for sloppy thinking, sloppy execution, sloppy everything. And I lay much of the blame for this on the proliferation of art schools who profit by making everybody think art is easier than it is, who in order to exist, need the majority of students to come away with a positive experience. I remember a final graduate crit at SVA, when I said to a student about her sculpture, “There’s a lifetime of work to be mined from this”—thinking that I was giving her my highest praise—and she burst into tears because to her mind, she was finished. This was it. What, she’d have to do more?
However I believe the resounding failure of the Whitney Biennial marks the beginning of the end of a too-long era. It goes along with the political scene. We want substance. As with the Iraq war, SUVs, and Froot Loops, we’re not inclined to think something is good for us just because the powers that be say it’s so. I’m encouraged by the fact that I’ve seen more good art in the past six months than in the last ten years put together—and that we’re having these conversations. Before when I saw stuff like Fritz Haeg's Animal Estates or the Whitney’s publicity I thought that I was the only one who thought it was ridiculous. It’s a relief to learn that I’m not alone.
Then there’s Jerry Saltz’s review in New York (June 25) of the Gavin Brown/Urs Fischer conceived “group show” entitled “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns” at Tony Shafrazi Gallery (through July 12th), a mishmash of authenticity, appropriation and reproduction that Roberta Smith called “demonically aerobic to brain and eye” and Saltz wrote is “like some mad replicating vision machine, or a walk-in Louise Lawler” that was intended to “set art free from the context of the white box.” I’m as weary of the “white box” as anyone, but I don’t find the tag sale aesthetic of “Who’s Afraid,” where every image seems to cancel out every other image, a viable replacement. Howard Halle, in Time Out, called it a “deeply cynical meditation on the deeply cynical nature of the contemporary art world.” To me it felt toxic, was toxic—given the out-gassing fumes from Ron Pruitt’s plastic bag “waterfall” and Rudolf Stingel’s new but visitor-smudged white wall-to-wall carpeting—an environment to be exited as soon as possible.
The back-story is much more interesting. I mean if you were to write a novel about a guy who sprays paint on Picasso’s Guernica at MoMA and then goes on to fame and fortune as purveyor of graffiti-based art, it would be just too cheesy. It’s a story that I've always felt revealed the rotten core of the art world. But to bring it up-to-date, here’s Shafrazi, 34 years later, at the after-party for ”Who’s Afraid,” being presented with a birthday cake that’s a giant replica of the Guernica.
Saltz writes: Brown climbed atop a table and, amid much yelling, toasted Shafrazi. He then thrust a cake decorator filled with red icing into Shafrazi’s hands. As the crowd screamed, Brown implored, “Write, Tony, Write!” Shafrazi started moving the device over the cake. Slowly he wrote the words I AM SORRY. Time stood still. It was like an angel of redemption had entered the room to take away Shafrazi’s guilt. The room went silent. I was shocked. The Shafrazi began writing again. He wrote one more word: NOT! It was like the Sopranos finale. Just as you thought everything was going to change, everything became more of what it already was.
And that sums up the exhibition: something that purports to be new and different but is really just more of the same old.
Anonymous is so right, it's almost word-for-word. But you have to grit your teeth to watch it.
And "Spatula", commenting on Haeg's Animal Estates admittedly treads on the “dangerous terrain of discourse” in wondering how it can be construed as art, but I will take it on. My definition of “art”—since Duchamp made sure that it can be anything, which to my mind, was a necessary step—is something where execution and idea merge so completely that we’re unaware of either and taken to a place beyond words. That’s what music does for me (thank you, Jose Gonzalez, who I saw at the Iron Horse in Northampton last night) and that’s what I want art to do. That’s what I get from Olafur Eliasson’s endeavors: a place of new experience. Indescribable. Therefore, when I see something that sends my thought processes away from the piece at hand, when instead of being immersed in it I'm congratulating myself for having been so precocious as to realize—even in Mrs. Egbert's first grade— that it was stupid to go around in a group pretending to be squirrels, then it’s not art.
I’m all for political incorrectness if it’s an agent for social change which, strangely, “Sex” is, in the way the film emphasizes real values behind a façade of exaggerated consumerism. But I guess there will always be people who have trouble making the distinction.
A case for distinction was made the summer before last in Berkshire County, the third bluest in the nation, when filmmaker Mickey Friedman became annoyed that the drivers whizzing past him to shop at the most politically correct grocery store ever, the Berkshire Coop Market, weren’t joining him in his weekly protest against the Iraq war in front of Great Barrington’s town hall. That they might honk to show that they agreed just made it worse. He complained to his friend, Rudi Bach, who suggested that perhaps Mickey and his signs had become part of the scenery, and promised to do something about it.
The following weekend as Mickey was taking up his lonely post, he saw another protest forming across the street, a group dressed in combat fatigues holding American flags and beautifully lettered signs with slogans such as “Screw Peace,” “Gandhi was a Wimp,” “Peace is for Losers,” “God Supports US, not Them,” and my personal favorite, "It's Our Oil." Rudi and his friends took vigorous abuse from the pro-peace ranks, who gave them the finger or yelled from the windows of their Subarus and Volvos, but within a few weeks Mickey had all the company he wanted.
In the end, a returning soldier took offense at the counter-protest and introduced himself to Mickey, who ultimately made a film about his experience: Spc. John Flynn’s War in Iraq.