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    The Roving Eye
by Anthony Haden-Guest
 
     
 
"It's a perfectly logical development,
if you think about it."
New York Observer
 
Jennifer Lopez and Sean "Puffy" Combs
at the Met
 
Aerin Lauder, Tommy Hilfiger
and Anna Wintour at the Met.
 
Jessica Sklar and Jerry Seinfeld
at the Met.
 
Dan Asher
Untitled #10
1999
 
Dan Asher
Untitled (Bird)
1999
 
Dan Asher
 
Mike Cockrill
Trophies
1999
at Kim Foster
 
Mike Cockrill
Mercy Killing
1999
at Kim Foster
 
Mike Cockrill
Yellow Hair Girl
1996
at Kim Foster
By a quirk of timing, "Rock Style," a show co-organized by the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute and Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, opened the very day that the New York Times published "Art, Money and Control," a front-page story examining how the "Sensation" show was put together at the Brooklyn Museum.

The quirk is this. "Rock Style" was largely financed by Tommy Hilfiger and to a lesser extent by Estée Lauder and Condé Nast. No secrets here -- far from it. The press kit includes jubilant releases from all interested parties and Tommy Hilfiger's name is writ as large on the show as it is on the gear that gave him the wherewithal to back it.

It has, of course, been a different story at Brooklyn. The Times report cites documents handed over by the museum during the discovery part of its legal face-off with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. As to the overlapping deals, involving Charles Saatchi, Christie's et alia, they are defensible -- maybe inevitable -- in a time with little public funding.

As for the charge that putting an artist's work in a museum makes it more valuable -- well, so what? It would be very peculiar if it didn't. But the under-the-counterish proceedings revealed by the Times, the whiff of mendacity, make for depressing reading.

So back to the Met. As everyone must know by now, the swells who showed up at the museum for the "Rock Style" opening on Monday night included a hefty contingent from music, as one would expect -- including such performers as Mary J. Blige, Debbie Harry, Liz Phair, Li'l Kim and Steve Tyler.

The show is pretty swell, too, though everybody will, of course, find their own Significant Absences (In my case, the Who. How can you do a show about rock style and not feature the Who, for Pete's sake?).

David Bowie is featured to the max, though not the dress he wore to be interviewed by a Brit TV host, Russell Harty. The fashion dialogue ran, if memory serves, more or less as follows.

Harty: Um, David. Why are you wearing a woman's dress?

Bowie: It's not a woman's dress, Russell. It's a man's dress.

The dress, regrettably, is not in the Met.

*     *     *

Dan Asher is an anomaly in today's cool, careerist art world. He is an old-fangled bohemian -- a late model beat or unreconstructed hippie. He has traveled that whole road, going from Berkeley to run wild in Mexico, being chucked out of the Chelsea Hotel, spending the Summer of Love in San Francisco and working for an organic food cult in California, staying in bed for eight months to decode Alice In Wonderland, surviving by taking pictures of Patti Smith, hanging out with a doctor in Kansas and with William Burroughs in New York.

Okay. Let's be blunt. It sounds like the makings of a very pretentious artist. Correct? Wrong. Dan Asher, who lives in New York, makes intense, strange drawings and luminously beautiful photographs. Earlier this fall he had a show of his photographs -- mostly taken in Antarctica -- at Grant Selwyn on 57th Street in New York. Now they’re at the Galerie de Expedite, Amsterdam.

AHG: How did the Antarctica venture happen?

Asher: I took a one-day trip to Greenland. It's very, very depressing, the people are super-alcoholics. But I just got completely enamored of icebergs. Obsessed. I just thought they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my life. Then I wanted to see more icebergs. And, according to most people, the best icebergs are in Antarctica.

So I called up one of these tour companies from Canada. I had only taken a few landscape photos. And it was very rough there. Winds were 80 to 100 miles an hour, and there were these huge waves and stuff. So I was very surprised that the photos came out that well.

No one owns Antarctica. No country can own it. That's one thing. It was … otherworldly. It was really like you're on another planet or you're high on a drug that hasn't been invented yet. And it's very addictive. The people who run those ships, they don't get paid much, but they get off on it so much that they go back and back and back. I'm going back in February.

*     *     *

Mike Cockrill really does not understand the politics of the art world. Number one, you do not sue a fellow artist. Right? Well, Cockrill first came to attention back in 1984 when he sued David Salle. Cockrill charged that Salle had "borrowed" an image from The White Papers, a comic-book he produced with his then-partner, an artist and writer by the name of Judge Hughes. Cockrill’s lawsuit was doubly ridiculous, since the image in question -- Lee Harvey Oswald at the moment he was shot by Jack Ruby -- had been copied from the famous newspaper photograph.

This comic book, by the way, made violent, sexually explicit fun of the assassinations of JFK and John Lennon. Another no-no.

A few years ago, one might mention, Cockrill caused more severe discomfort with some deft paintings of pubescent girls in their underwear.

In "Make Me Laugh," Cockrill’s current show at the Kim Foster Gallery in New York’s Chelsea art district, the cute little girls are back. They are painted with a loose, sure hand, and share picture-space with some equally lovable clowns. The little girls are executing the clowns. Just what is going on here?

Mike Cockrill: As bad as the cartoon paintings (of JFK, Lennon and other cultural icons) were, they were clearly cartoons … clearly satirical … they offended people's sensibilities. But they were nothing compared to my paintings of little girls … looking at the viewer … sometimes naked … they are defiant. I think they are defiant.

AHG: What drew you to the subject matter?

MC: I was thinking about paint. Now I'm into painting, and letting it drip … the icon is just the girl. But the 1994 show of paintings of girls was boycotted … picketed … the attorney-general came, and the news crews.

AHG: You say it's just about the paint. But you could paint bowls of fruit.

MC: I think Balthus and even Bacon had the same thing with the subject matter question. Balthus refuses to talk about the erotic content of his work. He denies it. And Bacon denied the violence of his paintings. He said, no, it's just about paint.

Some people say that's disingenuous. But I totally understand what he's saying. It really is just about painting. Some mothers come up to me and say, "You have painted my daughter! That is my daughter -- all the way. She is exactly like that." And other women say that my paintings are the most outrageously disgusting thing they have ever seen.

I think I did it for the shock value, a little bit. I really wanted to see what the viewer would think.

AHG: Why the clowns?

MC: My mother had these two beautiful watercolors by a local artist who painted clowns. They were very charming. I asked myself, what do I like looking at? Well, I like looking at those clowns. People, regular people, not intellectuals, are still suckers for clowns, and big-eyed children, and sentimentality.

But at some point I realized that those little girls had to be part of it. If I paint a soldier shooting a civilian, which to me is the most horrific image of the 20th century, it has no effect because we've all become numb to it. But if I draw an adorable child in her Sunday dress, with a military rifle, shooting a clown. Okay, the girl must have a reason! So now you're siding with the authority with the rifle. I present something that's unacceptable and then they just sit there and wrestle with it. I think that's basically what I do.

Contact us at: mail@therovingeye.com

ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST is a writer, reporter and cartoonist. He is currently at work on Famous: Some Journeys through Celebrity Worlds (William Morrow).