Friday, May 16, 2014

More proof of the art world's debauched state

Remember when I said "Art is not what, but how"? Every rule has exceptions. Case in point: Jeff Koons' statue of Popeye. It's not badly done -- whoever Koons hired to do the actual work was very competent. (I understand that Koons pays his ghost-artists around 14 bucks an hour, which ain't much, when you consider the fact that the studio is located in Manhattan.)


Come on. Steve Wynn paid $28 million for this thing. Twenny-eight MILLION, in this world of poverty and toil, for a statue of fucking Popeye.

Don't get me wrong: I like Popeye, though not as much as I used to. (The charm of the character wore off when I moved to a town where some of the dockworkers actually sound like Popeye. If you thought that voice was just a movie thing, you thought wrong.) But...$28 million? For Popeye? Even Max Fleischer would have found that price obscene.

I can only hope that fumble-fingers Steve gives this statue the same loving care he gave to that Picasso. As for Koons: That disgusting Fraudist is no artist, and I wish everyone would stop debasing that title by applying it to him.

Look, I get camp. I don't particularly like it, but -- like everyone else who grew up watching Godzilla movies and the old Batman TV show -- I understand that camp humor can be a legitimate source of chuckles. That said, there's a difference between a source of chuckles and a work of art. Camp humor is fine when it's cheap and low. Camp is great when you're slumming. Putting a $28 million price tag on a work of camp "art" is enough to make me vomit.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I will: A friend of mine -- a female friend who has had relationships with other females -- took one look at this statue and remarked that this shit happens because we've let a "Gaystapo" take control of the New York art world. (They've kiddingly referred to themselves as the Homintern.) I wouldn't mind their stewardship if they did a better job -- and if they knew something about art. But let's face it: Fraudists like Koons and their enablers in the Gaystapo have hopelessly corrupt aesthetic values. They love the kitschy and the campy. Their only true talent is for rationalizing the hideous, and for finding ways to market their hideosities to gullible one-percenters like Wynn.

What's more, I am convinced that J.C. Leyendecker -- perhaps the most gifted draftsman and painter this country has ever produced, and as gay as the proverbial spring lamb -- would have agreed with everything I've written here. If he were alive today, he'd take one look at this statue and say: "Popeye? Are you fucking kidding?"
I tend to view Koons as more a performance than a visual artist -- or, perhaps more accurately, as a performance artist who draws upon visual art tropes for his work. Essentially, he's Warhol -- only far less interesting.

Another way to think of it, is that Koons is the personification of Marx's theory of history as applied to the art world. The Surrealists, et al., realized just how permeable the membrane between Art and Life can be; for many, Life became a second medium in which they could reflect and reinforce the beliefs that underlay their primary art. The classic example, of course, is Dali: While the spectacle that was his life ultimately proved a distraction from and diminution of his work, throughout it all, he resolutely remained, above all else, a visual artist.

If Dali represents the tragedy of the boundary-free artist (do boundary-free artists lay better-tasting eggs?), then Koons is its repetition as farce: What one gets when an artist pursues a life intended to reflect and reinforce the beliefs underlying his work... when there *aren't* any.
maz, I hear you. I used to think Dali's shtick was hilarious -- and I particularly appreciated the fact that he, like Lord Buckley, lived his act on a 24/7 basis.

But now that I'm older, I'm inclining to the view that Dali's act, like all acts, reached a point where it got tiring. Besides, his politics could be kind of vile. I think he adopted his Crazyman persona because it allowed him to avoid justifying his political beliefs.

But in the end...every time I go to the National Gallery, I look at Dali's "Last Supper," and I think: "God DAMN, but that fucker could really paint." That's what counts. He could paint.

Nobody is ever going to say that about anything Koons ever did (or paid some poor shlub 14 bucks an hour to do).

(Here's a fun fact: Dali, in one of his few completely lucid moments, sang the praises of a then-obscure Belgian paintmaker called Blockx. The company's still in business and they charge an OBSCENE amount of money for their art materials -- and they owe it all to Dali's recommendation. Must be good stuff, because every Dali painting I've ever seen still looks brand new.

If Koons ever recommended a maker of art supplies, most "real" artists would stop buying that brand.)
Well, by rubbing the head of a magic chicken, the Whifflehen, Popeye became the first comics hero with superpowers. But $28 million? Down is up and up is down. Maybe it's a comment on the times that the statue in question is a character created during the beginning of the Great Depression.
Joseph, if you ever need to get the blood pressure up, here's Sotheby's promotional video:
Joe -

Last month, while my 91-year-old mother was visiting her sister in central Florida, I urged them to visit the Dali museum in Clearwater. I'd gone there with an ex 15 or so years ago and had my opinion of Dali completely rewritten. What I had never realized was that a number of his more popular, 'dorm room' pieces -- "The Three Ages" or "Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire," for instance -- are often reproduced larger than actual size; in the original, they and a number of lesser-known works are almost Vermeer-like in their painterly-ness (to use an unpleasant but appropriate neologism). On the other end of the spectrum, there's no way to appreciate any of the so-called 'masterworks,' such as the "Last Supper," in reproduction: 7- to 15-feet tall, often a year or more in their creation, they truly reward extended contemplation. Of the 18 masterworks, 7 (or 8; sources vary) are in Clearwater. Now, as a similarly underemployed gentleman of a like age, I realize in many ways Clearwater might as well be Barcelona, but as you *are* at least in the same time zone these days, if you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it. Who knows? Maybe you'll get to meet Mom...
maz, I'd love to go. I have got to see that stuff.

I've seen some other Dalis back in L.A., and you're right -- they are often more compact and dainty than the books might lead you to think.

Man, you are right about that Last Supper. It looks good in reproduction, but "in the paint" -- it just glows. There's something about it. Also, the National Gallery now has it at the end of a long dark passage, and that's exactly the right way to present nearly ANY painting.
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