Wednesday, June 17, 2015

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN PARASITOLOGY

Parasitology is the scientific study of parasites-- creatures that attach themselves to free-living species and suck blood and other nutrients from them.  

1.  HOOKWORM (Ancylostoma duodenale)

Photomicrograph of the hookworm

The hookworm is a parasitic worm that burrows into the intestine of its victim.  It uses those teeth to hook into the intestine wall and drink the host's blood, while causing infection, nausea, indigestion, anemia and protein deficiency.   Hookworms infect nearly 700 million (mostly poor) people around the world.  The Center for Disease Control reports that hookworms "account for a major burden of disease worldwide."
Hookworms are able to move from one host to another when the hookworm is excreted in dung.  After they land on soil, hookworms are able to penetrate the bare foot of another human host and burrow through to the intestine.

2.  RICHARD PRINCE (Lizardus Plagiarista)


Richard Prince has made a lot of money taking the work of other artists and selling it as his own.   Prince cannot paint well himself,  but he'll take an illustrator's painting,  re-frame it along with a copy of the published version, and sell it for a hundred times what the original artist was paid.

The prestigious Gagosian gallery in Manhattan which sells Prince's work explains that Prince's appropriation art "redefined the concepts of authorship, ownership, and aura." 

In a hilariously loathsome moment, the Gagosian web site credits Prince as the artist because he conceptually re-framed this painting, and credits Rob McKeever for photographing the work for their web site, but nowhere mentions the name of the actual painter, Rafael DeSoto because, you see, that would be irrelevant.



Predictably, Mr. Prince has been sued for plagiarism but just as hookworms hide in crevasses of the bowels, Mr. Prince and his gallery found shelter in a crevasse in the law.  A court found Prince guilty of copyright infringement but on appeal a divided Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the original ruling.  Two out of three appellate court judges ruled that Prince was making "fair use" of another artist's work because Prince's pictures “have a different character” from the original, giving it a “new expression” and employing “new aesthetics with creative and communicative results distinct” from the original work.  The dissenting judge claimed the court was not qualified to decide which of Mr. Prince's works were "transformative" and which were not.  ("It would be extremely uncomfortable for me to do so in my appellate capacity, let alone my limited art experience.")

Parasitology tells us that as long as posh art galleries can afford better lawyers than the individual  plagiarized illustrator or comic artist, Prince has nothing to fear. 


At one time, appropriation art consisted of artists taking functional industrial objects that were never intended to be art-- a urinal or a bicycle seat-- and pointing out the artistic qualities in them.  In those days, appropriation artists were clueless about how to exploit concepts to become millionaires.  They thought they were having fun. But like all god's creatures, parasites continue to evolve.  Appropriation art grew and and tightened its grip, becoming increasingly shameless.  Artists were soon appropriating the conscious designs of commercial artists and they now appropriate entire works of art, intact.  Sometimes they delete the signature of the original "low" artist and replace it with the signature of the "high" artist.

What can the science of parasitology teach us about the new breed of appropriation artist?  Just as hookworms are able to travel from host to host by being excreted in dung, appropriation artists spread via opinions excreted by art dealers, auction houses and Manhattan galleries.  Nancy Spector, Chief Curator at the Guggenheim, trills: “Prince’s work has been among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years."  Better keep your shoes on around the Guggenheim.

Just as with hookworms, people who traffic in dung prove to be the most fruitful hosts for appropriation artists.   Well known aesthetes such as Wall Street financiers -- always noted for their artistic sensitivity-- have become the leading investors in Mr. Prince's art.  Hedge fund billionaire and Guggenheim donor David Ganek collects Prince's art when he isn't too distracted by his death struggle with the FBI and federal prosecutors over his alleged criminal stock trading schemes.

4. THE ECONOMICS OF PARASITOLOGY


The appropriation artist who adds a concept to a pre-existing work of art often gets paid hundreds or thousands of times as much as the creator of the initial artwork.  Whether that is too much or too little depends on the relative value of the contributions, so let's examine both candidly.  Many appropriation artists claim they are contributing "irony" or "social awareness" to the original work of art.  Prince's contribution, his gallery informs us, is that he "urges the viewer to see shopworn images in a new context." This would seem to be the kind of insight you might expect from a high school literary magazine, but hardly the kind of insight for which someone might spend 1,000 times the price of the original "shopworn image." Is it possible that Mr. Ganek is buying something else with his millions?

Economists distinguish between two types of property: property that is valuable because of its inherent quality, and property that is valued simply because other people can't have it.  This second type of property is called "positional goods," and it seems to be one of the healthiest sectors of the fine art market today.   The "concepts" being peddled by Mr. Prince and others are for the most part hackneyed platitudes that would not impress a credulous school girl.  They couldn't possibly account for the astronomical prices such work commands.  No, the thing that accounts for the price is not the concept, it's the exclusivity.

The popular arts being appropriated by artists such as Mr. Prince were the exact opposite of positional goods.  Far from being exclusive, they were mass produced and distributed to the largest possible audience for the lowest possible price-- for example, the price of a comic book or cheap magazine.  This business model may be the source of their wonderful strength and vulgarity, which are viewed with envy by the anemic fine art community.  Fine artists return again and again to commercial illustration, trying to siphon off its potency for use as bait to attract buyers of positional goods.  Judging from Mr. Prince's financial success for such slender work, the formula continues to work.

39 comments:

Drew Alderfer said...

Thanks, Dave. This is one of my favorite articles of yours in a while. The subject is one that I find really interesting and engaging. I wonder a lot about the economics of it, and it would be interesting to see someone (or be someone) who investigates whether these types of "positional goods" have a real effect on the commercial and popular arts. I suspect it has a kind of brain-drain effect in one way or another.

One of my favorite quotes from Tom Woodruff, talking about art students and art departments is:

"Now what happens is, all of the "fancy" kids get up and leave and go to the fine arts because essentially what they know they're going to be doing is sort of decorating rich people's houses."

This is my experience as well living in NYC and knowing many fine-artists coming out of elite schools like RISD. They aren't fully conscious of it but their implicit and often explicit highest aspiration is to "sell a painting for a million dollars". Which is essentially the same thing as saying you want to spend your life creating art that caters to the desires and needs of the extremely wealthy. The economic and class dynamics operating here are very interesting to me. I often wonder though whether they have much of an effect on the actual art being made. I make comics and apart from some of the "fancy kids" who have decided to make comics in the last five or so years NY/Berlin gallery art seems to be made on a totally different planet altogether. Apart from the offense that can be felt at seeing the crassness and shameless, lazy self promotion of people like Prince, and the ridiculous apparatus constructed to celebrate people like him it's hard to see that any real harm is being done. These images were never going to make the original artists or the institutions and individuals who commissioned them the kind of money for which these repurposed positional-objects are sold.

Economically speaking, it would surprise me if on close inspection the entire endeavor of high art were not discovered to be parasitic in nature. Many economists are starting to suspect the bulk of activities carried out by the largest financial institutions are parasitic to the larger economy (read society). These same institutions of course are headed by many of the patrons who demand this exclusivity in their art buying. Maybe this kind of expression of "artistic creativity" is simply a symptom of a larger cancer. Harm is done, certainly, but probably in a more fundamental way than the appropriation of low art by boring schemesters.

Donald Pittenger said...

Many years ago while in the Army in Korea I happened to be in the post's medical facility, probably to gather information for a press release. Atop a counter was a large, maybe two-gallon glass jar filled with a brownish-yellow fluid. Also in that jar were worms that the doctors had removed or purged from Koreans, perhaps some of those who had jobs on the post.

That was well before Prince's career got rolling and I wasn't aware of him. So if he also was in that jar, I missed it.

As for a lot of the kind of art I'll avoid seeing at the Tate Modern next month, I always thought it was a form of marketing or publicity to make or enhance an "artist's" reputation rather than having any kind of aesthetic quality.

But your notion of the parasitical also makes sense. I should know: I spent part of my career in government.

kev ferrara said...

It seems to me this is a critical juncture in the history of art and culture. I don't think name calling will cut it.

The core of the matter is institutional; the institutions that have the power to cause and perpetuate this situation: The institutions that have the money, (which goes far beyond rich individuals), the institutions that sell the investment grade bullshit to the rich people, and the institutions that provide the philosophical-cum-sociological cover, which includes academia and media.

Since people will invest in absolutely anything that will make them money, the fact that moneyed people are involved here is not surprising. Taste has nothing to do with investment potential.

And since there's always somebody willing to sell anything that moneyed people might buy, nobody is going to stop the Gagosian's of the world from filling orders for bullshit and thievery. Investors and brokers are trying to make a quick and clever buck, like usual. A tale as old as time and not one anybody should expect will evolve.

The one remaining issue is the cultural cover provided by the media and academia and (the nexus of museums and the same)... which come together on the pages of such supposedly important papers as the New York Times. This is really where this junk gets its power, because it's the tastemakers in the media who directly control popular thought on matters of culture. If the media sloths and academic twerps weren't utterly corrupted by their contract with the cultural mavens they are supposed to report on, maybe they would actually be the watchdogs they are supposed to be.

kev ferrara said...

For example, here's the New York Times doing promotional work for Prince in 2008:

"Mr. Prince mines the ways that society has portrayed women and how women have seemed to want to be portrayed. But his obsessions — images of half-clothed women taken from pulp fiction, biker magazines and other subculture publications — toy much more ambiguously and provocatively with sexism, exploitation and the conventions of pornography than did Berman’s. And Mr. Prince constantly pushes buttons to keep those ambiguities alive. In a question-and-answer session included in the show’s catalog, he is asked whether he has any female friends. He says no. Asked when he thinks a girl becomes a woman, he says it is when she starts baby-sitting.

“I think he likes to be mischievous,” said Kristine McKenna, a writer and curator who organized the exhibition with Mr. Prince and Berman’s widow. “When Richard makes this kind of work, you get the impression that it’s very playful, that he goes into it to figure out what it’s going to be.” (Ms. McKenna recalled that when she first met Mr. Prince in the 1980s, while he was living in the Venice section of Los Angeles, his spare, suburban-style house was “strewn with copies of all these weird specialty magazines like Parakeet Fancier.”)

...

Mr. Prince said he agonized over the work he wanted to include in the Los Angeles exhibition, submitting and then withdrawing hundreds of pieces before settling mostly on recent collages that take a familiar theme of his — covers of naughty nurse novels — and combine it with pornographic images, tame compared with most things floating around the Internet but most still too explicit for a family newspaper.

While his work and Berman’s are very different, Mr. Prince said, he sees an affinity in the frankness of their approach to carnality, a subject that art too often dances around. “I’ve never wanted to be transgressive or to make an image that was unacceptable or that I would have to censor,” he said. “But that being said, I think a lot of the imagery I do create is sexual, and I hope it does turn people on.” "





kev ferrara said...

Notice how this Times article, from March of this year (2015), segues effortless from hinting about "fraud" in the art market (never directly calling the spade a spade, natch) to simply advertising directly for Prince in their pages:

"The contemporary art market is “almost a fraud,” the billionaire art dealer David Nahmad famously said to the Independent on Sunday several years ago, following another interview in Forbes in which he called the work of artists like Jeff Koons and Richard Prince “luxury products.” Asked about his comments, another member of the prominent clan weighed in: “I don’t think Richard Prince decided to waste his life making trash, so to someone they’re worth something,” Helly Nahmad, of the eponymous London-based gallery, told the Financial Times in 2011. “What they’re worth is a different argument.”

So consider Nahmad Contemporary’s exhibit “Richard Prince: Fashion” a calculated rejoinder. Opening tomorrow at the gallery of David Nahmad’s son Joseph, the show marks the first time all nine of Prince’s rephotographed fashion advertisements, completed from 1982 to 1984, have been shown together. “Richard jokes that I wasn’t even born when these works were made,” says the 24-year-old Joseph Nahmad, who adds that his favorite Prince piece is a monochromatic 1987 canvas emblazoned with the one-liner, “I never had a penny to my name, so I changed my name.” The younger Nahmad calls Prince “the Warhol of this generation.” Prince and Warhol shared both a birthday and an ease with repurposed subjects; Nahmad posits the idea of appropriation, once so radical, as a historical legacy “deeply entrenched in the way art is thought about today.”

Like his landmark “Cowboy” series, Prince’s “Fashion” photographs transform advertising imagery into art through a subtle shift that now seems routine: crop, filter and repost. (Prince has more recently taken Instagram screengrabs and blown them up onto canvas.) In each work, the model’s face is partially obscured — by a swoop of bangs, a shadow, sunglasses or a cloche. “I think it reflects how we often blindly comply to society’s conventions,” says Nahmad, who went into the family business in 2013. “With Richard’s work, the formal beauty is the first thing that strikes you, but the reason it resonates and stays with you is in understanding how radical the work is. In pirating a joke or an image from an ad and calling it his own, at that time, he redefined the rules of art.”

“Richard Prince: Fashion” runs March 3 through April 18 at Nahmad Contemporary, 980 Madison Ave, Third Floor, New York, nahmadcontemporary.com."


So okay, if people on this blog want to actually do something, let's actually talk about how we might target an institution that might be permeable, for instance the New York Times? Why don't we discuss that instead of using this blog to tell each other how horrible it all is and how wonderfully moral we all are for seeing that.

What is the actual extent of the Richard Prince sales force at work at any particular "sophisticated" newspaper anyway? How many people are really behind the line "Prince’s “Fashion” photographs transform advertising imagery into art through a subtle shift that now seems routine: crop, filter and repost." It might be, literally, one single writer and one single editor working in the same midtown office.

etc, etc said...

It's the dirty story of a dirty man

Tom said...

"Economically speaking, it would surprise me if on close inspection the entire endeavor of high art were not discovered to be parasitic in nature. Many economists are starting to suspect the bulk of activities carried out by the largest financial institutions are parasitic to the larger economy (read society). These same institutions of course are headed by many of the patrons who demand this exclusivity in their art buying. Maybe this kind of expression of "artistic creativity" is simply a symptom of a larger cancer. Harm is done, certainly, but probably in a more fundamental way than the appropriation of low art by boring schemesters."

Exactly Drew!

Everything is a Derivative. Or printing money out of thin air while most every one else has to work for it.

Or as Upton Sinclair wrote
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

David Apatoff said...

Drew Alderfer wrote: "it would be interesting to see... whether these types of "positional goods" have a real effect on the commercial and popular arts."

I suspect they have a significant effect, at least in part for the reasons you describe, but the important thing is that they needn't have such an impact. If we take an honest and sober look at the quality of the art being propounded, and avoid drinking the Kool Aid to which Ms. Spector and others have succumbed, we are just as likely to end up laughing at the emperor with no clothes. Honest people are unlikely to take back the corridors of Sotheby's or MOMA in our lifetime, but do you really need those? Leave them to the hedge fund managers.

Donald Pittenger-- There has to be the foundation for an important conceptual artwork somewhere in that two gallon glass jar.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I don't think name calling will cut it."

Perhaps not, but it may provide some merriment while we're waiting for the shameless to develop a sense of shame.

I think (and I think you think) that it goes far beyond "the Gagosian's of the world ... filling orders for bullshit and thievery." I think there is a cycle of parasitism here, that the Gagosians aggressively and creatively develop and exploit opportunities to siphon off some of the great wealth which their plutocrat targets have previously siphoned off from other victims. (In fact, we might view the Gagosians' adroitness at fleecing rich marks as a public service: they're imposing a tax on antisocial behavior). I believe it makes more sense to view this as a phenomenon of economics and human nature which has kidnapped the language of art to achieve its ends. For that reason, I think the kind of head on confrontation you propose would be going against economics and human nature, and unlikely to succeed. If you urged the NY Times art critics, the Guggenheim curators and assistant curators and deputy assistant curators, and the art history PhD candidates around the country to acknowledge they are all hanging on a withered limb of the evolutionary tree of art, I can predict the answer you'd get.

I think you'd have more success crafting a modern version of the Futurist Manifesto and launching it for such people to cover as an art event. You certainly have Marinetti's eloquence and caustic tone.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- P.S. I'm sure you've seen Robert Hughes interview Jeff Koons (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-imUiYqybc ) and various other art promoters and look them in the eye and ask them to explain their nonsensical persiflage. They sound like utter morons but walk away grinning and sell more the next day. That didn't turn the NYT around, and I think it would be difficult to improve on Hughes.

P.P.S.-- I want to make clear that I am not categorically opposed to any of this kind of art. If someone has a genius concept to contribute to an existing artwork without applying a single brush stroke, I think we have to be open and receptive to such possibilities. In my view, we should apply our critical thinking to new situations the way genuine scholars such as Harold Rosenberg did. What I am criticizing here are twin evils: the hypocritical disregard for the contribution of the original work being exploited and the mindless acceptance of the importance of Mr. Prince's banalities layered on top of that work. This doesn't mean appropriation art couldn't be done legitimately and well. We see traces of it in some cubist collages and in Dubuffet's use of found objects.

etc, etc-- I've always liked that song, and I understand it has to do with writing to specifications just as day tripper had to do with prostitution, but after struggling with the hidden meanings I concluded McCartney made a better nightingale than an owl.

Tom-- Thanks. Smart guy, that Upton Sinclair.

Wendy said...

So really this clown isn't an artist at all he's a a professional framer... except he probably doesn't do the framing either. I doubt anyone will remember his name in fifty years, hell in five years for that matter. The world of contemporary art seems to be nothing more than a bukkaka video come to life, the only question is who is kneeling inside the circle here?

kev ferrara said...

I want to make clear that I am not categorically opposed to any of this kind of art. If someone has a genius concept to contribute to an existing artwork without applying a single brush stroke, I think we have to be open and receptive to such possibilities.

Well, this has been going on since Duschamp "recontextualized" R. Mutt. So the experiment has been running for a 100 years already. Seems long enough to expect some results. So the challenge for you would be to show one single example of a "genius" concept stuck on to an existing work of art.

I don't think you'll find one. And the reason derives from, again, basic principles. To reiterate, by their very nature, stuck-on thoughts break aesthetic unity and thereby make for bad artistry at a definitional level.

I would venture to say that one cannot successfully pursue the moral principle of open-mindedness and the aesthetic principle of unity at the same time. So you end up defending "anything goes" with the hope that maybe just once in a hundred years the typing chimps will come up with Shakespeare. And by believing in such fairy stories, in the meantime, you are essentially legitimizing the very rationale that produces the work you decry here. (Or as John Lennon put it, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans.)

Donald Pittenger said...

I feel uncomfortable when it comes to using the "recent" past (say, the last 250 years) to speculate about the future. Even given that most of my professional career was devoted to population forecasting -- I once wrote a book about it -- technical matters aside, forecasting made me nervous.

That, said, from what I see and from what I read by some of my favorite Web pontificators, there is a sense that various societal standards that were in place 50 to 150 years ago have largely collapsed. Further, those I've been reading lately are starting to wonder if some new standard sets might be emerging, though it's still to early to tell what they might be. An example would be the secular-moral speech codes in Great Britain and on college campuses here in the USA.

The art world has not evolved to the point political correctness has reached regarding speech. What we have instead is a form of chaos where the only remaining widely-accepted gauge for evaluating "art" is something called "creativity" on the part of the "artist." For example, an Andy Warhol print, based on photography, recently auctioned for many millions of dollars. Because dear ol' Andy was so creative to toss aside the tools he had used for fashion illustration and used printing technology to make this big name for himself that alone!! makes that print nearly priceless. Not to mention Prince's nurses.

Then there is the deflation of the concept of art itself as it was known in 1875, say. (That concept in turn had evolved from other ways of thinking about certain types of crafted objects.) Much of Modernism was little more than a rejection of what was considered art circa-1875, and by 1915 artists were making use of exact opposites to what was previously held as good (e.g., ignoring observed proportions when depicting something). That demolition accomplished, the world of painting treaded water for a few decades, then tried abstraction, abandoned that, went on to silly conceptual and irony-based subjects, then largely abandoned paining by taking up newly-defined arts (video, installation, earth, etc.)

A few decades ago it reached the point where almost anything could be considered "art" if it could bring fame and money to the "artist." Even illustration fans were involved in this definitional watering-down. Pouting over the 1890-era disdain that illustration wasn't art, they insisted that it was. And it often is, in a small-a if not a Fine Arts sense.

The future? Chaos backed by the present Art Establishment ("artists," academics, critics, auction houses, galleries, museums, wealthy buyers, etc.) has enough inertia to remain dominant for decades. So Prince will do well for the rest of his career (I hope he keeps photographing motor cycle molls). However, I think the need for people to link to paintings and sculptures at a higher emotional level than an ironic sense will begin to crowd out the chaos in the longer term.

No doubt making our views on matters discussed here in comments more prominently known could help this return to better standards regarding what art should be. But the task needs to be multi-front, dealing with all aspects of the Art Establishment, as well as a long, hard, multi-generational slog.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Duchamp is probably as close as I've seen to a genius appropriation. With one porcelain urinal, he defiled the temple of fine art-- a temple with many false gods and bad values that were long overdue for defiling-- and simultaneously opened people's eyes to the forms around them. He showed us we shouldn't turn off the aesthetic part of our brain just because we're standing in front of a urinal with our pants unzipped. His contribution was enough, I think, to establish that such an art form can be inspirational and enlightening the way that great art is, even if it looks strange to our eyes.

Of course, Duchamp earns good will from me that Prince does not because Duchamp did not claim credit for someone else's accomplishment or attempt to get rich from the final product. For me, that affects the concept.

I think our debate on unity vs. open mindedness (or scylla vs. Charybdis) does not need to be reduced to extremes. ("you end up defending "anything goes" with the hope that maybe just once in a hundred years the typing chimps will come up with Shakespeare.") I believe an appreciation for the creative tension between the two extremes will keep us from being closed minded on the one hand and imagining poetry in chimp writing on the other.

Wendy-- I am fairly certain that metaphor would never have occurred to me.

kev ferrara said...

David,

Even Duchamp did not think that he was placing common objects in a gallery setting in order for them to be contemplated aesthetically. So you are really off the mark on this on a basic level. Duchamp said himself was a pulling a kind of prank in order to challenge the definition of art. (If you need any object to be put into a gallery before you are able to consider it as a pure design then you are about as close minded a person as could be imagined... walking through life appreciating nothing but function.)

Anyway, if I accept the absurdly sad notion that Duchamp's pseudo-intellectual prank was indeed a work of "genius", then surely you must concede that it was a genius comment about art, not a genius work of art.

Again and again, the issue comes down to whether the work is composed as art or written using art/sculptural elements as the words.

Of course, Duchamp earns good will from me that Prince does not because Duchamp did not claim credit for someone else's accomplishment or attempt to get rich from the final product. For me, that affects the concept.

Insane. So one can steal to one's heart content so long as one doesn't attempt to get rich off it, eh? What about using "appropriation" to get to the upper middle class? Is that okay? I suppose the more poverty stricken the postmodernist, the more stealing he is allowed?

Wendy said...

Lol. What can I say David? I guess I just have a poetic mind... or something :P

Laurence John said...

the endless (lame) reinterpretations of Duchamp's 'readymade' never cease to amaze me... the basket balls, the shark, the bed.... do modern artists have to perform some sort of licking-blood-from-Satan's-claw initiation rite watched over by the ghost of Duchamp before they're bestowed a successful career ?

Duchamp's prank was probably shocking for the time, but how can an idea that was 'avant garde' in 1917 still be considered avant garde by the art intelligentsia today ?

i honestly worry for the sanity of people who think that the ideas behind this sort of work are worth celebrating.

chris bennett said...

Roy Lichtenstein is a sort of precursor to this, but he did at least have a strong feel for a satisfying, punchy, catchy design - as his later works using material other than comic frames show. And the Pop Art movement in Britain can certainly be accused of appropriating existing mass-cultural imagery and serving it up in a gallery with a 10,000% mark-up. (In their defence, they were not quite so cynical about it as the Prince of Artless here.)

I'm not sure that there is anything much one can do about it outside of direct litigation concerning specific transgressions. Over here in Blighty we have Tracy Emin as professor of drawing at the Royal Academy - which is why I have boycotted the place (not that they care or even notice). But I am reminded of the irony of what David's post is about: In the Academy gift-shop Emin's crappy, seen-a-million-like-'em-before, life-drawing doodles adorn the gift mugs, diary note pads and ties on sale. The Queen of Post Modern finds no way of directly selling to the mass market in terms of the agenda she so believes in, thus she peddles printed tit-bits from her sketchbook alongside the J.W.Waterhouse calendars.

I think the phenomenon will eat itself - there is only so much bullshit make-believe meaninglessness that a culture can eat before it realises it is starving. I hope so anyway.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Even Duchamp did not think that he was placing common objects in a gallery setting in order for them to be contemplated aesthetically. So you are really off the mark on this on a basic level."

I suspect the divisions aren't as sharp as you describe them. I agree Duchamp did not think the lines on his "fountain" were especially beautiful or elegant, but I think he was more interested in demeaning and breaking down the borders of traditional art rather than uplifting plumbing fixtures. I think his point was that once the fixture was "chosen"-- selected from all the other functional fixtures and positioned upside down in a way Duchamp found pleasing-- it was entitled to be exhibited and evaluated applying the same aesthetic standards as the other, more traditional, artworks.

>>"Again and again, the issue comes down to whether the work is composed as art or written using art/sculptural elements as the words."

I agree, except I would couch it more broadly. The question as I see it is whether art must be evaluated exclusively as a physical manifestation of beauty and skill, or whether the context (including not just subject matter, but title and intent and accompanying manifestos) play a role in the quality of the artwork. I'm not one of those who believes that a thoroughly crappy object can be redeemed as art by a sociological treatise stapled to it, but I do believe that context matters. A red canvas entitled "Red number 47" means something different from the same red canvas entitled "blood of the patriot."

>> "Insane. So one can steal to one's heart content so long as one doesn't attempt to get rich off it, eh? What about using "appropriation" to get to the upper middle class? Is that okay? I suppose the more poverty stricken the postmodernist, the more stealing he is allowed?"

Because I believe in context, I think that if Duchamp wants to make a wicked and irreverent statement about the art establishment, it helps that the urinal was thrown away once the point was made. (In fact, it shows that you and Duchamp share similar views about the value of the object itself.) Far more odious is Mr. Prince, who makes an irreverent statement about the art establishment in an effort to get rich selling it through the art establishment. I often have cause to quote Bob Dylan's line, "To live outside the law you must be honest." I think Duchamp was honest. I think Prince isn't even honest about living outside the law.

Laurence John-- We may disagree about the value of Duchamp's original insights but we are certainly in agreement about the craven poltroons who got rich following in his wake. I suspect he would disavow them.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "I think the phenomenon will eat itself - there is only so much bullshit make-believe meaninglessness that a culture can eat before it realises it is starving. I hope so anyway"

i agree, except i think that for the majority of normal, healthy people this sort of art has always been irrelevant. most ordinary people turn to music, cinema and novels to provide cultural sustenance.

there's a Chris Ware cartoon: in the first panel a modern artist has just completed a huge minimalist painting and says to himself - "at last ! i have succeeded in giving painterly voice to the human soul, while keeping current with the most newfangled aesthetic theory... whew ! i'm bushed ! call in the shippers... i'm outta here !" - in the next panel he's sitting in a cinema, looking at the screen with a tear rolling down his cheek.

etc, etc said...

With one porcelain urinal, he defiled the temple of fine art-- a temple with many false gods and bad values that were long overdue for defiling-- and simultaneously opened people's eyes to the forms around them.

And then all the people who couldn't read were taken to the university and shown the word "CAT" written in large letters on a blackboard, and were declared to be literati.

kev ferrara said...

I suspect the divisions aren't as sharp as you describe them. I agree Duchamp did not think the lines on his "fountain" were especially beautiful or elegant, but I think he was more interested in demeaning and breaking down the borders of traditional art rather than uplifting plumbing fixtures.

Who, pray tell, appointed Duchamp the arbiter of anything? Who are the people who have elevated Duchamp's prank into some kind of momentous and iconic moment in the arts? Who are these shallow punks forging art history so as to include other shallow punks in prominent cultural positions? That is the question.

Leaving that aside, what one “means to do” and what actually happens are usually two wholly different things.

The worst thing about punks sassily striding into the halls of culture with baseball bats is that they’re too engorged with their own power to do much reflection, particularly about their own deficiencies as cultural arbiters. They have no idea of just how ignorant they are of just how much work and thought and history and love is contained in works of refined beauty. But they, like all delinquents, don’t much go in for all that subtlety and humanity stuff. But once they get to swinging, they just destroy and destroy with all the confidence and rage of the dumbest barbarians. And in return, we get a few crude trinkets of entertainment once they deign to build anything to replace what they’ve smashed.

With refinement as the enemy, crudity becomes the new tradition… forget aesthetics, forget composition, forget two thousand years worth of progress regarding our visual language…. All that progress wasn’t the progress that the barbarian or his “judgement is the real crime” apologists want… Instead we get a red square on white canvas, a silly cartoon of the horrors of war, artist’s crap in a can, paint splatters, crumpled cigarettes in an ashtray, a dead shark in formaldehyde, a building wrapped in a toga, black canvases, white canvases, and other one liners. That’s the oh-so-impressive legacy we are talking about here. The uplifting of toilets by any other name. And when you lift up a toilet to the status of a Brangwyn, Sorolla, Fechin, Sargent, Vermeer, or Michaelangelo, what service are you actually providing, David, but spitting on real human achievement and making allowances for charlatans?

But you have already stated it was Duchamps “genius” to “defile the temple of fine art” so maybe you have some toilets of your own to sell.

I think his point was that once the fixture was "chosen"-- selected from all the other functional fixtures and positioned upside down in a way Duchamp found pleasing-- it was entitled to be exhibited and evaluated applying the same aesthetic standards as the other, more traditional, artworks.

Are you suggesting that every object in the world has “entitlements,” David? Is there a proof for that which didn’t fit in the margins? Or is this some religious precept you’ve suddenly been enlightened to believe?

AleŇ° said...

David wrote: "I think his point was that once the fixture was "chosen"-- selected from all the other functional fixtures and positioned upside down in a way Duchamp found pleasing-- it was entitled to be exhibited and evaluated applying the same aesthetic standards as the other, more traditional, artworks."

But didn't Duchamp advocate the aesthetic indifference? As he said many times: "A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by esthetic delectation" and " This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste ... in fact a complete anesthesia." There were others like Robert Motherwell who considered that Duchamp's readymades had an aesthetic virtues: "the bottle rack he [Duchamp] chose has a more beautiful form than almost anything made, in 1914, as sculpture" but Duchamp's quotes still comment on that: "When I discovered ready-mades I thought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken my ready-mades and found aesthetic beauty in them. I threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty."

David, what do you mean by "in a way Duchamp found pleasing"? Did he position the toilet upside down because that appeared more beautiful to him? Maybe he did that cunningly just to make possible for some unpredicted additional (re)interpretations of his work. Maybe he just wanted to conceptually symbolize the turning upside down of aesthetic values. I don't understand how we can "applying the same aesthetic standards as the other, more traditional, artworks" when it comes to the fountain.

Laurence John said...

the urinal wasn't upside down: it was on it's back, which is the only stable way it would be able to stand without being bolted to a wall.

Frebnedzo said...

I'm doing a little googling and get the impression that Tom Lesser framed the originals with the paperback covers. I was trying to find the story of Princes appropriations, did he just buy them from a pulp collector? Maybe a link to an explanation would help me... I thought Princes appropriationg of New Yorker caroons were pretty funny (he would switch the dialogue/punchline from one cartoon with another).

Ayumi Sophia said...

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Tom said...

Ayumi

David is already a success!

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I agree. I'm not a big fan of Lichtenstein but at least he and other pop artists contributed something. Duchamp started with with a purely functional object and eliminated its useful significance. As part of the Dada movement, he had a point to make regarding the de-definition of art in the wake of WW I. But once that conceptual point was made, it's not clear to me what was to be gained by each successive reiteration. The pop artists started not with functional objects but with someone else's artistic designs-- Brillo boxes, soup cans and even comic book panels. A lesser innovation in my opinion, but there were still some minor transformations and insights. After 50 more years of desensitization, Prince just reframes someone else's art whole cloth and perfumes it with concepts so slender they're hardly worthy of the term. That's all it takes for today's art establishment to separate a hedge fund manager from his millions.

AleŇ°-- You raise some excellent points, and seem to have a deeper background in Duchamp's "fountain" than I do. I know it is an extremely important piece; it seems Duchamp was a smart, complex man who was interviewed about his fountain several times over several decades, during which time his story changed. By the time Duchamp recreated the fountain the 1960s (because the first had been thrown away) a lot of thinking had evolved. Duchamp went from saying that the signature "R. Mutt" was taken from the Mott plumbing company to saying it was taken from the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. He went from saying that the idea arose from a conversation with two men, Stella and Arensburg, to saying that the idea arose from a conversation with "one of my female friends." He went from saying that he "took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view" to implying that a urinal was selected as a way of pissing on the conventional art establishment. But one of the biggest changes that I think took place during those decades is that art proved to be like peripheral vision-- the more the Dadaists tried to locate its outer boundary, the further that boundary moved away. That's why, as you state, Motherwell and other successors to Duchamp saw aesthetic qualities in his readymades. Whether Duchamp did, I confess I just don't know. Prince was such an easy target, I didn't think much about his predecessor Duchamp, who I respect far more.

chris bennett said...

Laurence -- “except i think that for the majority of normal, healthy people this sort of art has always been irrelevant. most ordinary people turn to music, cinema and novels to provide cultural sustenance.”

But because the difference is not commonly recognised it is allowing Kev’s ‘uplifting of toilets’ to take place (a marvellous summation of post modernism and hysterically funny post Kev BTW). Even a person as sane as David Apatoff is leaving space on his plate for POMO food, albeit leaving much of it untouched. 

Frebnedzo said...

“except i think that for the majority of normal, healthy people this sort of art has always been irrelevant. most ordinary people turn to music"... 'Modern classical music' is held in even lower esteem by the public than modern art. It seemed to have wandered into a different academic ghetto, one bereft of hedge fund managers. (Things are more complicated than that obviously : movie scores, jazz, electronic pop music have all taken the explorations of modern classical music and put them in a context where they are both heard by masses and 'make money'. But one could claim that this use of modern music is similar to an illustrators use of the 'open-ness' of the world of imaging due to modern art. The 'big money art-world' opportunities are much smaller than for a painting).

Sean Farrell said...

Kev's excellent description of the destroyers taking a baseball bat to all aesthetics and values said it all. I differ with Kev in that I'm not sure the primitives are as ignorant of what they are doing as we might hope. Yes, the rank and file may not have a full grasp of what's going on, but some do know what they are doing. In that light, Richard Prince is not a useless hack, but a first rate revolutionary, a mocker and despiser of all things, neatly wrapped in a commercial package.

His “art” does exactly what the commercialists want it to do, which is to destroy all accumulated heritage and subtleties. In the new commercial egalitarianism, all is decreed, a product and thus is at odds with complementarity in all art forms and all thinking, be it larger to smaller, dark to light, tone to color, activity to rest, mentor to student, host to guest, etc. Movement doesn't happen in equal allowance, nothing does. Life, art and nature is a complicated arrangement of artistic and social permissions, one moving here and another moving there, trees finding their own spatial relations and contorting in their own way for available light. Everything about Richard Prince says, it doesn't matter, that's the old way of seeing and living and it's gone now. We don't or won't be seeing things that way ever again.

chris bennett said...
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chris bennett said...
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chris bennett said...

Picking up on Sean and Kev's points:

The 'art stage' is a very convenient place for the vandal to legitimise themselves. As the props are kicked over, the musicians are urinated upon and the play torn up, the audience imagines it is all part of the show. And when its all gone only the stage remains; so whatever next is dragged onto it - washbasins unbolted from the lavatories, someone snatched from the street reading out a betting slip that happened to be in their pocket, a cat dangled over the violins left in the orchestra pit - they are all taken to be a development of what used to go on before.

The thing that genuinely perplexes me is why the audience, having got the idea, has not left the theatre. Certainly the game going on behind the proscenium has glossed-up its act for public consumption and the journalists, delighted to be supplied with something easily translated into their craft, have willingly put their shoulders to the cause.

Or has the nature of the auditorium changed? Has the browser culture conditioned us to see it now as a concourse where we take our visual gargle and move on? And that in such a world Punch and Judy survives better than Ibsen, Mickey Mouse on a plinth far better than Malliol.

Sean Farrell said...

Chris, Very nicely said. I will try and add a little.

The theater analogy is a good one because theater is more being than analysis and being is a desired state as it is more immediate than reason with its complex explanations. People find the reality of being mysterious because it defies analysis, being something in itself. Being, is easy to manipulate and get a rise out of because it is a desirable receptive state. A simplistic explanation can appear profound, not because the explanation is profound or mysterious, but because being is profound and ever mysterious when contemplated. A person living in a world of explanations and directives may rarely experience such being and may be easily taken by theatrical antics. An incongruent statement revealing a perceptual state of being is easily mistaken as some kind of insight into being itself, which it is not. Therein lies the hook.


Another element playing into its longevity is the concept of glossiness you mentioned, the clean and shiny product, the antiseptic environment which is itself a valued commodity in modernity. Cleanliness is a virtue and represents order which has reduced sickness, infant mortality, etc., an undeniable good. A decadent concept is more palatable, in the reassuring solidity of an architecturally antiseptic environment with its pristine white walls. The walls stripped to a pristine white themselves highlight the awkwardness of being and position the environment with theatrical advantage to the visitor. The whole experience is theater of a quasi religious type and often the prevailing message over the art itself. The art of Richard Prince, decadent as it is, is seamlessly merged to this strange theater imitating a puritanical state of being.

Sean Farrell said...

The white walls of the gallery and museums not only represent a puritanical state of being, but a puritanical state of authority.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "The thing that genuinely perplexes me is why the audience, having got the idea, has not left the theatre"

as far as i'm concerned they have. i've been to exhibitions of modern art here in the UK (at those museums that resemble mini Tate Moderns such as De La Warr Pavilion and Baltic) and the public can't leave quickly enough.

the public like Jack Vettriano.

the only 'audience' i know of for the ultra-cererbral, rarefied, post-modern in-jokes of artists such as Richard Prince are those with a vested interest in that world; dealers, art journalists, curators, other like-minded artists, art students from Goldsmiths etc.

kev ferrara said...

A person living in a world of explanations and directives may rarely experience such being and may be easily taken by theatrical antics.

I like the way you formulated that, Sean.

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Kev.

It appears that one virtue was used to cancel out another until there were but a few disconnected but useful virtues left. Cleanliness, material goods, freedom and the mechanical codes remain for the moment along with a list of evils which replaced previous virtues. The mechanical codes, math and science, replaced the codes of being human and human content. Presumptuousness and wealth replaced gratitude, indifference replaced concern, sensuality replaced love, situational ethics replaced honesty, Miley Cirus replaced modesty, mechanical and rancorous sounds replaced edifying and civilizing music, robotics replaced human skill, government and finance replaced prudence and nature, novel definitions replaced being. Cries for justice replaced the concept of social grace. Honesty was used to promote cynicism. Cries for mercy were used to achieve license. Products designed in the name of greater efficiency, like a garden shovel, fold at the first application of pressure and artists complain of not being able to find a decent pencil.

The destruction has been extraordinary by almost every measure and achieved by pitting one virtue against another, knowing full well what end was being served. Not all artists were apart of the revolution, but some were well aware of their goal, to end the “tyranny of virtue”, that of conscience, personal boundaries, and now Richard Prince with his rebellion against ownership, effort, individual talent, inventiveness, incorporating it all into a collective identity, justifying theft. The rebels sought to embark on a new kind of being based in raw simplistic truth which eliminated the need for thinking with its complexities of measurement, requiring forms and standards to understand. The irony is we wound up with the worst of both worlds, an elite governing using an incomprehensible language and a general loss and comprehension of virtue.

Because the destruction was done in the name of some virtue or greater good, the loss of nuance seemed a small price to pay along the way, making the whole thing difficult to argue. But a closer examination of those lost nuances expose a far more beautiful reality. On the bright side, people of all walks of life are wondering how can we avoid the loss of what's left by new challenges to our understanding of ourselves as individual beings.

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