As he walked from the Museum of Modern Art's black-tie dinner in his honor last Wednesday night into the vestibule of the museum, Andreas Gursky found himself trapped in a live, real-time version of one of his Photoshop-enhanced crowd tableaus.
MoMA's guards halted surging crowds on all floors, on all escalators, for 45 minutes in a futile effort at mob control. Apparently MoMA had sent out 3,000 invitations to the opening (more than usual), including some to graduate students at Yale and other arts programs, forgetting that its construction-besotted garden was unavailable to handle the overflow.
After explaining that he was the artist, Gursky was allowed to navigate a few of his pals up to the third floor, as beautiful women in low-cut gowns begged MoMA's guards to let them up, as well.
MoMA photo czar Peter Galassi was later spotted backslapping and glad-handing the harried guards, who, from this perspective, appeared to aggravate the crowd problem into gridlock.
Paradoxically, the stalemate left the galleries containing Gursky's $300,000 editioned C-prints virtually empty for most of the evening, allowing us an unfettered view of an extremely uneven artist.
Everything Gursky has done that doesn't depict a crowd is instantly forgettable. I guess Matthew Marks deserves some perverse credit for foisting this run-of-the-mill junk on the rich.
In contrast, the Photoshopped throngs at stock exchanges, rock concerts, prize-fight arenas, and sexy piles of candy pack an undeniable instant wallop, which tends to disintegrate upon close examination.
"It's basically Cubism. I think it's a fraud," critic Anthony Haden-Guest commented to all comers.
"Jeffrey Deitch is having great success selling my work to Goldman Sachs and other investment banks," Julian LaVerdiere told us. "I think this work has the same audience."
The idea that the captains of world industry purchase Gursky to confirm their hegemony over the masses appears to have troubled Gursky, too.
The newest pieces in the show depict German corporate directors at stockholders meetings shoehorned into strips of snow-capped peaks as Ashley Bickerton-type corporate logos drift in the air.
Unfortunately, Gursky's computer manipulations in these collages are so inept that ugliness results.
That MoMA would even consider mounting a retrospective of this overpriced, underdeveloped German shutterbug at such an early point in his career signals a troubling loss of perspective.
Tacky corporate guilt and greed rule all in the temple of modernism.
The deliberate impersonality of Gursky's efforts also suck an important element from the art experience: intimacy.
Last Sunday we attended a memorial service for Italian critic Gianfranco Mantegna at the beautifully appointed Emily Harvey Gallery. Scraggly, bedraggled veterans of the Living Theater and Fluxus like Judith Malina, Ira Cohen and John Giorno, proud egomaniacs all, movingly memorialized the modest Mantegna.
Gianfranco came to New York in 1968 after taking politically charged photographs of Prague Spring and revolution in La Paz. He documented the Living Theater in pictures and wrote gentle art criticism for Tema Celeste and Contemporanea. If you praised him or drew attention to his beautiful photos, Gianfranco blushed crimson with self-abnegation.
He was a titled baron from an old Roman family, though few knew it. And he died after fighting two strokes with characteristic bravery.
But there is no memory of him at MoMA -- we have to settle for Andreas Gursky.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).