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by Patterson Beckwith 


September's Artforum has an article about 

Jean-Michel Basquiat on page 19. In it, 

David Rimanelli writes that the movie is 

director Schnabel's "paean to Romantic 

myths of creativity and alienation." 

Rimanelli says that Schnabel has served up 

a clumsy pastiche of art-house filmmaking, 

and that the problems with the film are 

"not on the level of storytelling, but on 

the level of metaphor and interpretation." 

He says that while the story is easy to 

follow, it is hard to take the director's 

predictably self-conscious artiness. 

Rimanelli says that during the film's 

depictions of supposed artistic rapture or 

beauty, "Suddenly felt like I had 

masochistically decided to catch a few 

underground masterpieces at a Stan Brakhage 

film festival at Anthology Film Archives."

On page 27, Stan Brakhage's name appears 

again. In a one page article by Ben Ratliff 

about a Japanese experimental musician 

named Keiji Haino, whose improvised music 

Ratliff describes as monotonous, long-

winded and compulsive, but important. 

Ratliff says that Haino always wears 

sunglasses and black clothing and that "his 

electric guitar music is to heavy metal 

what Stan Brakhage is to Hollywood." On the 

next page are three more music reviews. One 

is about a band that Sonic Youth's Steve 

Shelley is in called Two Dollar Guitar, and 

the other is a review of a book by the 

British communist art-school collective and 

punk band The Mekons. The band, which has 

been together (with lots of personnel 

changes) for nearly 20 years, has published 

a catalogue called Mekons United, which 

includes a CD, lyrics and excerpts from a 

novel in progress, along with pseudonymous 

letters discussing the Mekons' relationship 

to leftist critical issues, and 

reproductions of paintings by the band. In 

her review Katherine Dieckmann says that 

"everything in the catalogue reads like a 

practical joke," and that "Truly, the 

Mekons are most alive when they dance 

lightly on heady concerns, when their 

considerable humor accompanies the 

dispensing of ideas."

"Hot List," the monthly column by Mark Van 

de Walle about Websites, is about music-

related pages. He lists an Elvis site 

called Disgraceland, a Jazz site called 

Jazz Web and Heavy Metal: Blood, Death 

and Satanic Forces of Evil 


which Van de Walle says focuses on his 

"favorite metal subcultures, black metal 

and death metal" which are respectively 

"music for death-obsessed Satan lovers and 

music for Satan-obsessed death lovers." He 

also mentions something called The 

Ultimate Band List 


which he says lists thousands of bands and 

has links to Websites about them. 

"Proof that art can emanate from a big 

corporation" is what Barney's advertising 

director and art critic Glenn O'Brien says 

about a Diesel jeans catalog in this 

month's "Real Life Rock Top Ten" column, 

which features a reproduction of a Diesel 

print advertisement. The ad is a photograph 

of six pigs sitting on chairs smoking 

cigars and eating at a big table on which 

there is a whole pig with an apple in its 

mouth. "In keeping with big-board esthetic, 

there are no credits or human names" on the 

catalog, but he "happens to know that it 

was ... commissioned by avant-garde Swiss 

executives." He concludes by saying that it 

makes him "think that even in my jobs 

writing fortune cookies or care 

instructions for lingerie I can be an 


On page 35 there is a five-page "Letter 

from Paris," with four short articles about 

French art. The first, by Jean-Pierre 

Criqui, is about Jean Dubuffet, Guy Debord 

and Gerhard Richter. He says that Dubuffet 

"regularly championed art--that is, the 

individual and his subversive capacities--

as opposed to culture, which he viewed as 

an extension of the State." Criqui includes 

a quote from one of the last things the 

artist wrote, where Dubuffet says that he 

doesn't like museums, because they 

indoctrinate people and make them 

unreceptive to artworks presented 

elsewhere, and he hates the word "art," 

because of "the praiseworthiness, 

stuffiness and venerability" that people 

attach to it, which he says is "contrary to 

the spirit of licentious, if not criminal, 

play from which art is inseparable...true 

art," Dubuffet writes, "exists only where 

the word art is not uttered, not yet 

uttered." Criqui says that the attitude of 

Guy Debord was similar to Dubuffet's, and 

the next part of his article includes a 

quote from something Debord wrote in the 

last issue of the news bulletin of the 

French Lettrist International. Writing 

about artists who have become famous for 

destroying art, he says, "With this 

destruction brought to a successful 

conclusion, its perpetrators find 

themselves, of course, incapable of 

realizing the smallest of their heralded 

claims outside esthetic disciplines," and 

that the lesson to be learned is that the 

avant-gardes need to extend their 

activities beyond the field of artistic 

practice and "in relation to a complete 

lifestyle." Criqui concludes--"for those 

who persist in visiting places devoted to 

contemporary art"--by contrasting the ideas 

expressed by Dubuffet and Debord to those 

in a Gerhard Richter exhibition in Nimes. 

"More than ever Richter seems to be 

allowing echoes of past painters to enter 

his works...Courbet's landscapes, Degas' 

monotypes...Fragonard, or Ingres. The polar 

opposite of the kind of work advocated by 

Dubuffet, the art here accepts itself as 

such, calls itself by that name, and warmly 

welcomes those memories proper to this 

ancient appellation." 

At the end of the "Letter from Paris," 

Jerome Sans wrote three paragraphs about a 

recently inaugurated museum in a little 

town in France called Blois, called the 

Musee de l'Objet, the collection of which 

is "devoted solely to the object as it appears in 

20th-century art." The museum's collection, 

described by Sans as "eclectic," includes 

work by French Pop artists, Lettrists, 

members of Fluxus, Conceptual artists and 

the generation of English sculptors that 

came of age in the `80s. "Many of the 

artists either make or work with objects," 

Sans says, "others (Joseph Kosuth, Art and 

Language, and so on) advocate their 

complete erasure."

On page 50 there is a half-page 

advertisement for the soundtrack of the 

movie Basquiat, with songs by Public Image 

Limited, David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Tripping 

Daisy and the Toadies. On page 58, there is 

a two-page spread with blurry pictures of 

people wearing turbans and riding horses. 

It is an ad taken out by Philip Morris 

promoting their sponsorship of the Brooklyn 

Academy of Music and in particular the 

BAM's presentation of a horseback dance act 

called Zingaro--"See man and horse combine 

for a thrilling display of magical grace 

and beauty," the ad copy says, "in a 

spectacle of daredevil horsemanship, circus 

artistry, and mysticism." 

On the next page Liz-n-Val have a quarter-

page black-and-white ad with a drawing of 

what looks like a big eyeball. At the 

bottom it says "Liz-n-Val's something from 

nothing art challenge." Beginning on page 

71, there are five pages of advertising for 

the SoHo arts festival, then the next page 

is an ad for the SoHo Grand Hotel, which 

was one of the festival's sponsors. On page 

78 there are two long pieces about Jasper 

Johns, on the occasion of his retrospective 

at the Museum of Modern Art. One is by 

Rosalind Krauss and the other by 

Christopher Knight. On page 86 there is a 

seven-page interview by Artforum editor 

Jack Bankowsky with a filmmaker named 

Christopher Munch. The article is about the 

writer-director's second feature, Color of 

a Brisk and Leaping Day, a black-and-white 

movie about the coming of age of a second-

generation Chinese-American via his quest 

to save a foundering railroad line (his 

family had come to America to build the 

railroad). Michael Stipe appears in the 

movie playing "an introverted railroad man" 

named Skeeter. One of the film stills 

accompanying the interview shows the lead 

singer of REM gazing out from behind a 

train-car window, wearing a blue and white 

striped engineer's hat and wire rim 


On page 97 is Artforum's monthly fashion 

piece, "Flash Track," with photos by Steven 

Klein of clothes by British designer 

Alexander McQueen on one page and a text by 

Bruce Hainley on the other. The photos show 

a topless model wearing McQueen's "bumster" 

pants, which have a really low waist that 

reveals a few inches of the wearer's butt. 

Hainley writes that McQueen is "fashion's 

new naughtiest darling in the tradition of 

Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano...[in 

whose work] as much as is possible, fashion 

conventions--easy class distinctions, 

ugliness/beauty, fantasy/reality--are told 

to go fuck themselves." At the beginning of 

the reviews section at the back of the 

magazine, there is a review of the recent 

Damian Hirst show at Gagosian in SoHo by 

David Rimanelli. He begins by quoting from 

Anthony Haden-Guest's report on the opening 

of the show in the New Yorker: "On opening 

night, there were black velvet cords 

attached to brass stanchions outside the 

gallery. Among the guests were 40-plus 

Britons, who had showed up to support 

Hirst; most of them had flown over 

specially, including the bassist from the 

band Pink Floyd and a member of the 

roasting-hot band Blur." Rimanelli writes 

that this was not just an art opening, but 

"an event, evocative of a dead era of 

capitalist and media expansion within the 

art world." Writing about the art in the 

exhibition, Rimanelli says that rather than a 

"major show, Hirst gave us a sort of mini-

mini-retrospective: a lot of samples of 

past work, old work...which doesn't hold up 

under renewed scrutiny. The spin 

paintings," he continues, "are new, but 

only for Hirst. Walter Robinson did the 

same thing at Metro Pictures a decade ago." 

The show also included a giant ashtray with 

real butts, which Rimanelli says is "so 

painfully obvious in its Oldenburgian 

reference...that one sniffs out a bit of 

contempt on Hirst's part for an audience 

willing to swallow it." He quotes the 

artist from an interview published in the 

show's catalog, "I like the idea of rich 

people buying my burnt-out fag ends." 

Rimanelli identifies this as "a filmy gauze 

of institutional critique comique," and 

concludes, "One leaves Hirst's show with a 

mounting sense of disappointment, and the 

show's impact quickly fades."

The September issue of Art in America has 

two articles about the Museum of 

Contemporary Art in Chicago. One article is 

about their new building, which opened in 

July. The second article is about their 

inaugural exhibition, "Negotiating 

Rapture," which explores spiritual themes 

in art by 11 postwar artists--among them 

Bill Viola, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt and 

Anselm Keifer. On page 39, there is another 

article about Julian Schnabel's Basquiat, 

by Brooks Adams. Adams says that Basquiat's 

a "quite wonderful film," but that Schnabel 

made the movie about himself as much as 

Basquiat. "Right from the outset Schnabel 

the director and writer is cooking up a 

rich iconographic brew of allusions, 

associations and sources that subtly 

reaffirm his own art...[the movie] can be 

seen as a huge, lurking self portrait of 

the artist--Schnabel, not Basquiat." A 

scene where Warhol (David Bowie) and 

Basquiat are making a collaborative 

painting is presided over by a giant Warhol 

portrait of Schnabel, and there is a 

character in the film played by Gary Oldman 

called Albert Milo who is supposed to be 

Schnabel, and whose parents are played by 

Schnabel's parents. Milo dispenses advice 

to the young Basquiat like, "Put a little 

more pink in that painting." The paintings 

that Jeffrey Wright, who plays the artist, 

works on in the film aren't actually 

Basquiat's, because the estate refused to 

let any of Basquiat's work in the film, and 

Adams writes that they were actually made 

by Schnabel and his assistants, and are 

"remarkably successful evocations of that 

artist's work," if more "Twomblyesque and 

more monumental in scale than Basquiat's 

actual paintings."

On page 51, there is a two-page review by 

Eleanor Heartney of a show called 

"Mediascape," an "exhibition of multimedia 

and interactive art which inaugurates the 

downtown Guggenheim's new partnership with 

the telecommunications giant Deutsche 

Telekom". Heartney says that the various 

pieces and installations in the show (by 

Nam June Paik, Jeffrey Shaw, Bill Viola, 

Bruce Nauman and others) "are presented in 

a manner that is uncritical and 

celebratory, with occasional tribute to the 

democratic potential of interactivity and 

multimedia." Where interactivity is 

concerned, however, Heartney doesn't see the 

point--"The programmed randomness of the 

computer and the arbitrary choices of the 

viewer who pushes random buttons and clicks 

a mouse yield remarkably similar interactive is it, really, if 

human choice is just another means of 

achieving random juxtapositions?" She says 

that many of the works "share a deliberate 

flight from constructed meaning, which is 

normally one of the goals of human 

creativity." Heartney continues, 

"Interactivity is supposed to draw viewers 

in, providing what is essentially an 

illusion of participation through selection 

from a set of predetermined choices...but 

thus far few artists have figured out how 

to turn the new possibilities into art 

works which use the technology to say 

something that could not be said any other 


On page 76, there is an eight-page article 

by Trevor Fairbrother about the 

collaborative paintings that Andy Warhol 

and Jean-Michel Basquiat did together in 

the mid-'80s. Fairbrother says that 

although the two "certainly differed with 

respect to age, race, class, sexuality and 

artistic training," they both "perfected 

outlandish personas for themselves 

involving big hair: Warhol donned screwy 

wigs and Basquiat fashioned Medusa dreads." 

The article is full of revealing quotes 

from the Warhol Diaries about the 

collaboration and Warhol's relationship 

with Basquiat, some of which Fairbrother 

says are "ambivalent and sometimes racist." 

Warhol says, "The paintings we're doing 

together are much better when you can't 

tell who did which parts," and worries that 

Basquiat will "one day come up and say, "I 

hate all these paintings, Rip them up."" 

There are even two quotes from the diaries 

about Basquiat's penis; "Jean-Michel is 

half Haitian and he really does have the 

biggest one.", and, "He was up front by the 

phones with a big hard-on, like a baseball 

bat in his pants." Fairbrother says that 

bad reviews of a show of the collaborative 

work were the reason the two did not work 

together again. Fairbrother ends the 

article by reviewing the coverage Basquiat 

received in the New York Times, his 

obituary and two art reviews, both by 

Vivien Raynor--one for a solo show at Mary 

Boone and another for the Warhol/Basquiat 

paintings at Tony Shafrazi. Fairbrother 

points out the use of the word "mascot" in 

all three articles. Raynor wrote that 

Basquiat "is a very promising painter, who 

has a chance of becoming a good one, as 

long as he can withstand the forces that 

would make him an art-world mascot." The 

obituary reported that Basquiat cooled his 

relationship with Warhol "partly out of 

fear that he was being viewed as Mr. 

Warhol's mascot." "Thus, having broadcast 

the mascot analogy at least twice before," 

Fairbrother writes, "the Times used it 

again to end it's account of the 'ill-

starred' black artist."

Robert Taplin has a four-page article on 

page 84 about Charles Le Dray's miniature 

sculptural objects. This article is about 

the same show that Jeff Weinstein wrote 

about in last month's Freize. Le Dray began 

his career sewing doll clothes and teddy 

bears and has more recently been hand-

throwing and glazing thousands of tiny 

porcelain pots, which Weinstein said 

confirms Le Dray's belief in the humanity 

of work, and that his art "is a textbook 

affirmation of the survival of unalienated 

labor." Taplin says that "the most 

astonishing object in LeDray's exhibition 

[is] "Milk and Honey (1994-96) a cabinet 

containing approximately 2,000 tiny hand-

thrown pots, jars and vases of every 

description, all glazed a shiny porcelain 

white...the pots are miracles of dollhouse 

craft [and] in their multiplicity they 

evoke the infinite and the individual...the 

microcosm and the macrocosm in confluence."

He continues to describe the rest of the 

show: "There were other striking 

pieces...though none quite such a tour de 

force as Milk and Honey". One of those was 

Mother of Pearl (1996), "a gorgeous little 

carving of two guys happily 

screwing...carved directly into the 

interior of a large oyster shell." Taplin 

writes that "Much fuss has been made over 

the obsessive quality of LeDray's 

production, which interests me not a whit. 

What makes him more than just a highly 

skilled maker of miniatures is the density 

of personal and cultural anxieties and 

elations that he puts into his best 

work...public eroticism, the power of the 

handmade in a machine-made world...a gothic 

display of pain, guilt and anger, the 

wonder of a cosmos without a providential 

deity--all of these things are part of our 

moment," and, Taplin says, "LeDray is 

packing them into his objects."

On page 88, there is a six-page article by 

Richard Kalina called "Measure for Measure" 

about Mel Bochner's conceptual art as seen 

in a retrospective at Yale University 

called "Mel Bochner: Thought Made Visible 

1966-1973." The article has descriptions of 

a dozen of his early conceptual works from 

the exhibition, like To Count : 

Intransitive, which is numbers written by 

hand in order on a soaped-out window, and

Actual Size (Hand), a black-and-white 

photograph of the artist's hand and arm 

taken next to a line that has a 12-inch 

segment marked and labeled on it. Kalina 

explains: "He then had the photograph 

enlarged so that the 12-inch line visible 

in the photograph again measured 12 inches. 

In this deadpan documentary work, Bochner 

manipulated the photographic process to 

give an image an accurate, one-to-one 

relationship to reality, something 

photography is naively assumed to establish 

by itself." Another work Kalina writes 

about is Language Is Not Transparent, which 

consists of that phrase, as Kalina 

describes it, "written in block letters 

with white chalk on a patch of black paint. 

The top and side edges of the painted area 

are straight, but the bottom ends in ragged 

brushstrokes and drips. In an overt 

challenge to other language-based 

conceptual artists such as Lawrence Weiner 

or Art & Language," Kalina says, "who 

approached language as a neutral (or 

"transparent") medium, Language Is Not 

Transparent  demonstrates the truth of what 

it refutes the notion that 

language is just a neutral conveyer of 

information and ideas." 

Patterson Beckwith is an artist who lives

and works in New York.

Be sure to go to your newsstand and buy resal-world copies 

of Artforum and Art in America to display 

on your coffee table