The wonderful Orson Welles had a visceral image he would use for his recurring depression and worry. He would say the “Black Dog is barking.” And I think that’s an appropriate image for my past year. A nagging philosophical debate has been warring in my mind about the state of art, the state of the art world itself and if I want a place in it. I have found no true or false answers, no easy solutions, but quite frankly, I’ve grown tired of the tautologies and the solipsism. My barking dog has been relentless, tireless. I’m sure every artist goes through something like this at some point in their lives, a moment when one’s cherished philosophies must change in order for one to proceed – fight the fights worth fighting, let go everything else. But who knows, maybe it’ll all wind up in the dog house anyway.
Luxe, Calme et Volupté
For me there’s something deliciously decadent and hopeful about this image of Monsieur Matisse. There on the right a slightly disapproving, square-jawed matron sternly observes the scene – a drawing of a tangled figure and a painting of a movie set interior, a dog sleeping on the patterned abstraction. Matisse himself sits with a book (sketch book?), his feet casually crossed on the stacked leather pillows. There’s a bourgeois elegance to the image, a discrete artistic nonchalance and surprising bohemian excess that so few of us can carry off these days. And why should that be? Life and art exist at once in this picture. It’s as if Rauschenberg’s famous “gap” hasn’t yet taken hold of our imaginations. You know, that gap between art and life that opened up right after the AbExers ran out of steam in ’55. That gap that turned art making into art production. That gap that became synonymous with the Postmodern era.
Dave Hickey is famous for espousing the 40 year law of art – after 40 years it’s permissible to start stealing from the art of that particular era. He then added the proviso that if you thought that the particular 40 year old art in question still sucked, then you had his permission to go back further and steal from an era where the art did not suck. What Dave didn’t explicitly say was that when one does this one has to make that stolen art one’s very own. It’s not enough to just add your signature. For those who want to make art that does not suck stealing is not just about the patina of age, the legitimacy of an art form or the nostalgia for a golden era. Instead it’s about the life and excitement of an idea. Stealing in this sense becomes more like a biblical coveting, something illicit, a sin. It’s like sneaking around with your neighbor’s sloe-eyed spouse or joy riding in a smokin’ hot Little Red Corvette that you picked up in a 7/11 parking lot. Nor is this kind of stealing about the academic “exigencies of desire” or our contemporary mania for appropriating and curating, which to my mind look more like mergers and acquisitions rather than passionate assignations. No, we are not looking to expand our fiscal holdings or do away with a bothersome market competitor. We are not looking for synergies or symbiosis.
What we are looking for, what we are doing is actually involving ourselves in the provenance of the stolen goods, actually folding them into our lives so that they become ours, become part of us; inviolate, inseparable, whole. We’re interested in the life of an idea, not signatures or attributions. This requires actually embodying these non-sucking things, right out there in the open for all to see. It’s something that David Shields called Reality Hunger – the need we experience for authenticity, reality. We are not disguising our stolen properties, our stolen kisses and thick assignations through shell corporations or wholly owned subsidiaries. We do not curate them to a wall so that our Instagram will look interesting to instantaneous clickers. Instead, we who steal cherish what it is that we have stolen. We enfold those things, make them our very own, keep them FOR us rather than for others. In other words stolen things should be “cloud”-less. So maybe this 40 year law is not about time or eras or the past at all, but about the sucking…
Rocket Raccoon: Question. What if I see something that I wanna take and it belongs to someone else?
Rhomann Dey: Then you will be arrested.
Rocket Raccoon: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Rhomann Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket Raccoon: That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand me? What are you laughing at? What? I can’t have a discussion with this gentleman?
Who would have thought that an animated raccoon would define what it means to be an artist? A thief who wants it more. Not someone looking to corner a market or come up with a gimmick. But someone who just wants it more. For instance – shouldn’t we want abstraction to be more than it has been? Shouldn’t we want painting to be more than it has been? Shouldn’t we want more ideas that challenge the status quo? Shouldn’t we want artists who love art more, not artists trying to prove a point? For me that means Modernist art, the Postmodern era, the Neo-Liberal Economic Fun Base of professional artists everywhere has to be challenged again and again until the penny drops. It also means throwing the baby out with the bath water – no more Modernism or recombinant Modernism in any form – period. Make an abstraction, a sculpture, a video, whatever, without the Modern tropes. Think! Do! Be! 40 years, Hell! Go back to just before the 1860s and find a contemporary abstraction in that!
Look, do we really need to sit in awe of things like this – “Billionaires Chasing Warhols Fuel $16 Billion Art Sales.” – for yet another year? Nope! I was finally able to get my black dog to sleep soundly on my abstractions, and for the moment, he seems fairly at ease. At least he’s not barking so loudly any longer, though he does growl now and then.
One thing at a time…
Happy New Year.