The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader whose allure, arrogance and ambition enraged the cowards who killed her, reminds us of the fragile contract between the charismatic individual and the throngs who suck her stardust. Barack Obama, his boyish confidence and winning ways with people evident to all, already has the aura of potential martyrdom around him, for those old enough to remember the Kennedys and Dr. King.
I bring this up because the art world is the black hole of charisma, sucking magic in from the outside world until it disappears. Picasso, he who could make love to a woman with his gaze alone, was the last truly charismatic figure in our esthetic crater. Warhol, the anti-charismatic, began the suckage process, feeding off Elvis, Marilyn and Jackie. Martyrdom fed his output, even after he almost became a martyr himself.
Artists, mimicking Warholism, wallow in a dark bath of their own wretched parasitism on the wider charismatic culture. Terence Koh’s comparing himself to Naomi Campbell is a recent pathetic example. Howdy Doody Koons, Death Mask Damien, Barney the Vaseline Dinosaur: a trio of dick-diddling neurotics who couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in Peoria.
Time was that the artist competed with kings and princesses for public adoration, Delacroix and his tigers, Whistler and his babes. American artists killed off these pretensions of the shaman, the Hopper blues and ordinary Rockwell, descending into the illiterate mumbles of a somber Pollock spraying his urine over the ashes of the grand. It became the art that counted, as if a dry legislation were all that mattered in politics.
For all the money, glad handing, high living and secrecy, the art world is a desultory place these days with no real claim upon the public’s imagination. At least its denizens will die in their beds and not by an assassin’s bullets.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).