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Sen. Roman Hruska

Kramer celebrating Festivus

Robert Wilson as Carmen at Water Mill Center, 2002

Walter Darby Bannard
collection Dr. Harold F. Daum

Kermit the Frog
A Wallow in the Hollow
by Charlie Finch

Some years ago, Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska defended Richard Nixon's doomed nomination of G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court by opining, "Even mediocrities need representation on the high court."

Subsequently, Judge Carswell had an unfortunate encounter with an undercover cop in a Florida men's room, refreshingly proving that even the mediocre can be kinky.

Always most enticing at her most vituperative, Roberta Smith recently railed at length in the New York Times against what she dubbed "The New Hollowness," citing the "Festivalism" (a term, by the way, Roberta, coined by Peter Schjeldahl via Larry David, who invented "Festivus," the imaginary holiday of the Costanza family) infecting the international curatorial weltanschauung.

While reluctant to discourage the recent grumpiness permeating the views of Ms. Smith, Mr. Schjeldahl and Artnet Magazine colleague Jerry Saltz, which rivals Hilton Kramer in vinegar if not esthetic wrongheadedness, one must ask the question, "How many Salieris does it take to tip over the boat and drown one Mozart?"

The answer, of course, is one to infinity. Pace Senator Hruska, mediocrities will always be with us, precisely because they protect and encourage each other.

One need look no further than a recent fawning examination of Robert Wilson, probably the single most mediocre art producer alive today other than Jennifer Bartlett, published in Artnet Magazine by my dear friend, the usually astute Phyllis Tuchman.

Just the words "Stations of the Cross by Robert Wilson at Mass MOCA" send any perceptive critic screaming to Lourdes for healing. Critics on the left and right have derided Wilson, ever since his one true success, Einstein of the Beach, three decades ago, for being obscure, vain, humorless, boring and lugubrious, and, especially, not a visual artist, all to no avail.

Why? Because Wilson's grotesque claque, led by chic, glamorous Paula Cooper and most of the Hamptons old guard, sees the critical brickbats as confirmation of their special insight into Wilson's "genius."

In the land of the Whitney Museum, only the truly blind can be king.

And, beyond the gates of the kingdom, peasants Smith, Saltz and Schjeldahl scream for bread.

We've been battering away for 15 years, and, of course, it never gets any easier.

Far, far greater observers than this corner have ultimately succumbed to the brown cloud of mediocrity, notably Clement Greenberg, who spent his dotage trying to revive the careers of Walter Darby Bannard and Larry Poons. On the other hand, Hilton Kramer, who edits a truly beautiful magazine, The New Criterion, has never praised a show that wasn't mediocre.

Yes, as Kermit the Frog would remind us, it's not easy being a critic, but then that comes with the territory, doesn't it?

Past giants of critique, such as Lucy Lippard, John Perrault, Max Kozloff and Phil Lieder have chosen to retire at the top of their game and leave town for a cool bath in obscurity (a relative term critically . . . has anyone heard from Barbara Rose lately?).

In Renaissance terms, the critical humours build up inside and it's time to purge, purge, purge.

Winston Churchill advised, "Never give up, never give up, never give up."

Give up.

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