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Cecily Brown
The Quarrel
2004
Gagosian Gallery



Yasumasa Morimura at Luhring Augustine


Gavin Turk self-portraits as Elvis and Che (2005) at Sean Kelly Gallery


Henry Taylor at Daniel Reich Gallery


Jean-Michel Basquiat
Tuxedo
1983
Cheim & Read



Jean-Michel Basquiat
Tuxedo (detail)
1983
Cheim & Read


Toothpaste
by Charlie Finch


Collector Charlotte Ford asked us at Creative Time's party for Jeremy Blake what we thought of Cecily Brown's recent show at Gagosian.

"It's a noble effort," we replied evenly.

"That's good, because my husband and I were lucky enough to get one."

This has been the attitude for some time now: well-heeled collectors grateful to be A-listed by dealers who play them like a string section.

But three or four visits to the Cecily effort and half a dozen other current shows have left us dubious. We are living in an opulent era of mannerist, reactionary creation, in which gobs of art materialize to chase gobs of money. How long will this go on?

There's a word for this fecund, unnecessary art -- toothpaste. How many carved, kitschy gothic forests by Aaron Spangler at Zach Feuer Gallery, for example, can collectors stand? How many disappointing Goya-in-Fairyland turns by the formerly formidable Yasumasa Morimura at Luhring Augustine?

There is some ho-hum sludge by Cal Arts grad Henry Taylor mimicking Outsider legend Bill Traylor at Daniel Reich Gallery. Max Henry loved this stuff in Time Out. We don't think so.

For the lowest reading on the kitschometer, check out Gavin Turk's abominable Warholian self-portraits at Sean Kelly Gallery. It is embarrassing just to be in the room with them.

Ten years ago, before the current boom spawned, artists might confine themselves to a single talentless piece -- now cube upon white cube of bad art screams, "Show me the money!"

When will collectors wise up, stop frenetically competing among themselves and withdraw from games of dealer three-card monte? When they fill their abodes with John Currins adorning Assume Vivid Astro Focus wallpaper, as in Tobias Meyer's and Mark Fletcher's Time Warner Building apartment, featured in the current W magazine? Perhaps an Aaron Spangler would look fine atop a Morimura?

When they exhaust themselves through the 20-page list of parties and events at next month's Armory Show? When the dollar collapses? When overstocked collectors seek to trade paintings with each other like baseball cards because no one will pay cash?

David Cohen remarked in the New York Sun that Cecily Brown can't draw. This is manifestly untrue, as anyone who has examined her sketchbooks knows.

The problem is that Cecily doesn't want to draw, she wants to make toothpaste. Unfortunately, all the lyrical passages in motel green and lemon yellow which sprout on her canvases do not add up to a unified whole. That's sad, but lucrative.

For a tonic to toothpaste, visit the austere, monumental Jean-Michel Basquiat show at Cheim & Read of previously unseen text pieces from the artist's estate.

One discovers a black Rosetta Stone of Basquiat's romanticism that takes hours to digest, language worthy of a black Wittgenstein. Every stroke and gesture is achingly essential and existential, in stark contrast to the mouldy junk proffered in other Chelsea galleries.

Go to Cheim & Read and go there solely, to no other place, to see what art was, however tragic, and what it won't be again until the toothpaste leaves the tube.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).