“In a recent essay, the photographer Carter Mull lamented the “overabundance of nostalgic abstract painting in the world today.” And it is lamentable, but so, for that matter, is all the visually dead nth-generation post-minimalist conceptual sculpture, the half-baked ironic art and the overwrought political work. Though Mr. Mull particularly chastised the Lower East Side’s relatively green dealers for this pervasive conservatism, there, at least, it is somewhat understandable. Profits are smaller at their price points, and one rough season, one bad art fair, can spell disaster. Many L.E.S. dealers say their businesses are growing at steady, sustainable rates these days—and hence those expansions.”
Recently, I enjoyed watching a Postmodern filmic wreck, un grand discours, about love, art, outcasts and sublime cultural darkness entitled Anonymous, a movie that whips up the unrequited conjecture regarding the “true” authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an old fashioned conspiracy movie filled with inspired revelations, outlandish leaps of time and logic, OTT acting, beautiful photography and costuming, and piles and piles of gold plated bullshit. Among the more inspired shiny turds in this movie is the portrayal of the Bard, Shakespeare, as a half-witted, simpering, insanely ambitious, murderous, sybaritic opportunist. He symbolizes the money grubbing social climber/fame seeker that will do absolutely anything to gain renown, groupie sex and gobs of money. There is nothing this man won’t do for fame. The unsung hero of the movie, the Earl of Oxford, on the other hand, is portrayed as a man-done-wrong by his enemies, the people that he loved and trusted, his social standing, his insanely complicated familial heritage, and ultimately, by his own failed desires and ambitions both artistic and political. Edward De Vere is doomed to remain forever Anonymous, not only to the world at large, his own class and history, but also to us, those who have been clued into the real “soul of the age.” His fantastic legacy of love and artistry will forever be attributed to another. Quelle horreur! Tragedy most foul…an Elizabethan soap opera for a Postmodern world!
What fascinates me is the conjecture about the legitimacy of the Bard himself. The few moments we get with the actual character in the film are among the best. He’s a comedic one note charlatan who grabs hold of the moment and runs with it. This movie Shakespeare is also slagged off by a no lesser actor of note than Derek Jacobi, who states that there doesn’t exist a shred of evidence that Will ever actually wrote anything, no works in his hand survive. Never mind that there’s not a shred of evidence for any of the other bald-faced conjecture presented in the movie. Nope, this my friends is Postmodernism at its “best!” There’s a scene where Edward, our hero, plans to overthrow his enemy by inciting a mob through his play. And this is, in its way, the same kind of thing that this movie does. It tries to incite us to overthrow our “knowing” about Shakespeare. The tragedy is that this hokum works on people. To which I say, to suspend one’s disbelief for the enjoyment of the moment does not mean one must lose one’s mind! An entertainment that lies to tell the truth is not the same as lying to change the truth.
Which brings me to the passing of our own Robert Hughes. There are a lot of the old school that are aging and passing. Men and Women that brought real things into the art world. Hughes was among them. I enjoyed many of his reviews through the years, but he began to mean something REAL in the last decade or so of his life – after the Time Magazine years, after the motor accident that left him broken and weak. He explored in depth the changes in the Art World and in Art. The New Shock of the New and the Mona Lisa Curse are real masterpieces of Televisual Art Criticism. His take on the dismal prospects of art in a Postmodern Capitalist Economy leave one thunderstruck. His interviews with players on all sides leave your mouth agape and your jaw slack. The one thing that Hughes always seemed to be after was truth, both in art and in words. Hell, I know he lambasted a few artists that I like, but so what? Everyone needs a good kick up the backside once in a while, just to keep one honest! As a critic its his job to have a point of view, which is something a lot of critics have forgotten. Hughes could not only tell you why something was good, but why it was bad as well – why it did or didn’t work in the context of history, style, color, form or composition. But mostly he could tell you why it wasn’t true, why it felt like bad faith art. And there’s a lot of that kind of art and art making running around the high circles of the Art Economy these days.
The new season, 2012-2013, is about to begin. There are hundreds of galleries opening this weekend hoping to draw you in with parties and new faces. The excitement is palpable. But what we all should be looking for is change. New things that point to new ideas, new thoughts, new visions. So far I’ve followed the links on the hundreds of spammy notices I’ve received, and it looks like much the same will be going on. Postmodernism continues because change is a dangerous thing – maybe not politically or spiritually, but certainly economically. The auctions begin, the sales begin, careers will be made and sold in easy exchanges, and it should all dovetail nicely into the scripted dialog of the Art Economy itself. In 2008 the economic world went dark the day after the very lucky Damien Hirst sold off his warehouse goods. We all thought the Art World would collapse in a heap. But the US government borrowed trillions of dollars from the Chinese and pumped up the world economy – I say world because many of the Wall Street portfolios that were rescued by that money were held by the Global Corporate Elite – the collectors. American taxpayers inadvertently bouyed up the failing Art World by taking on massive debt to be paid for with their tax dollars. Is it any wonder the wealthy elite want their taxes reduced – why not let the suckers pay it back?! This was the biggest monetary giveaway to the wealthiest individuals in the history of American Politics. And with their pockets still stuffed and fat, it allowed the Art Market to continue on its merry way, shoring up the Postmodern Hegemony of tight, self-righteous douche bags. OK that’s a bit OTT, but it’s true.
In the end it’s about your voice. Like Ben Jonson says – our voices are completely different. Then Edward thunders at him, “You have no voice!” If you play the game, if you don’t work it out beyond the confines of what’s expected, if you do it to make a dime, you might have a career, but you shall never be the soul of an age. Whether any of us get to experience that “soul” is beside the point. The point is to work, to do one’s best, to live and to expect to be Anonymous. Your soul is your own business. Good Luck to you all for the new season! Henri wishes you all the very BEST!