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Philip Hermogenes Calderon
St. Elizabeth of Hungary's Great Act of Renunciation
1891
in "Exposed: The Victorian Nude"
at the Brooklyn Museum of Art



Jasper Johns
Savarin
1982
Whitney Museum of American Art



"Ferus" at Gagosian Gallery, with works (from left) by Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Ed Ruscha


Justine Kurland
Circle Garden
2001
at Gorney Bravin & Lee



Justine Kurland
Kale and Cabbage
2002
at Gorney Bravin & Lee



Maria Marshall
Still from Playground
2001-02
at Team Gallery



Maria Marshall
Still from Playground
2001-02
at Team Gallery
It Is Time, Once Again, To Kill The Past
by Charlie Finch


On Sept. 11, the New York Times culture section, always about 30 paces behind the curve, published a desultory article, "The Past Never Looked So Good," a nod to nostalgia by dinosaurs like film critic Roger Ebert and NPR's Susan Stamberg.

To which Jesus of Nazareth responded, "Let the dead bury the dead."

For the last ten years, astonishingly enough, contemporary art has been the vanguard of youthful expression in the arts. Look no further than the unprecedented, extraordinary, fructive number of shows now opening in the New York art world, post Sept. 11.

The Victorian nudes at the Brooklyn Museum this fall may be titillating, but let's remember they were annihilated by the Fauves.

In 2002, nobody gives a shit if you were once insulted by Barbara Kruger. She is old hat, and so is the star system of art which arose in the past 40 years of the last millennium.

Today what matters is the individual artwork of a thousand different young artists, not the pantheon which forced the aging board of the Whitney Museum to recently exult on the front page of the Times in buying 17 ratty old prints by Jasper Johns.

Private Jasper, Jasper the Elite doesn't matter anymore. Jasper sucks -- let a new generation violate his anal retentive maidenhead again and again.

Just go to Gagosian Gallery and tour its commendable tribute to California's Ferus Gallery, a revolutionary space 40 years ago. What do you see? Physically dirty Lichtensteins, fey little soup cans, Stella's dull protractor paintings, Ruscha's hackneyed little joke about burning the L.A. County Museum.

You are looking at Miss Havisham in her wedding dress, and you come away with the bizarre, if unknowable, impression that, 50 years hence, none of this Pop art will even be remembered!

Then walk two blocks north to 26th Street and peruse Justine Kurland's harmonic prints of a nudist camp at Gorney Bravin & Lee and Maria Marshall's haunting video of her son kicking the shadow of a soccer ball against a pristine white church.

Just as in the case of their coterminous shows of March 2001, Justine and Maria provide the perfect seesaw of arcadia and anxiety across 26th Street, permeating their generation of artists.

And both visually and conceptually, their new work blows the "classic" Pop stuff at Gagosian away.

Trust me, back in the '60s, we didn't evolve by venerating John Wayne and Greta Garbo -- for better or worse the birds of creation found their own way. Now, we're surrounded by aging baby boomer culture vultures, who should know better!

It's a helluva task for the young artists of the new millennium, male, female, black, white, red, yellow, brown and green to find their own way through Postmodern hell.

These artists are burdened by the peculiar intersection of rapid media copulating with individual identity. Cool media allows the young to project themselves onto the universe with spark and ease while robbing these same souls of their mortal essence.

For artist and viewer alike, subjective feeling disappears from the new art in a way that would make the starkest '60s conceptualist drool with envy.

Justine Kurland and her subjects create a pocket paradise that is physically nowhere, while Maria Marshall describes the dread of being a mother to the two boys who are also her subjects as "frightening and threatening."

Both of these young artists, like all their compatriots from Damien Hirst to Damien Loeb, have been stripped by the Postmodern matrix to their very nerves.

To provide them succor, what's needed is a complete breakdown, and recreation, of the art universe as we know it.

What does this mean, particularly, to artists? The star system is stacked against your individual success -- to critics, the curatorial establishment and, above all, rich collectors. You are just another log on their fire, enhancing their amour propre.

What's needed is a new museum of the mind, a new gallery of the soul. Designing custom spaces in Chelsea won't do it -- what will is a seizure of the means of exhibition by the artists themselves, which will be very, very painful.

It is time to reject the wealthy, to spit on corporate patronage, to stop making giveaway art for benefits by, say, the Drawing Center or Studio in a School, with the same well-meaning morons named on their invitations year after year.

Artists must reject the trickle-down inequities of the rich which demand that they compete among themselves for favor, for "star" status, and for their very supplies and bread.

Once again, as with the Fauves, the work, the experience must be all. Only then will the dead be buried with the dead, and this talented generation truly live for itself.

What the young artists need is exile: get out of New York, get out of London, get out of Berlin, find your own place, eccentricity: push the envelope, no matter how difficult, to the max, exultation: cream over yourself and your personal circle, without hungering for validation from above, extinction: kill the past, kill the Postmodern, kill the referential, exhale: live, live live.

None of you, under the present system, will be Jasper, even though most of you are far more talented and visionary than he is, unless you destroy Jasper first.

Amen.


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



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