Robertson Davies tells the story of one Henricus van Meegeren, who was revealed to be an expert forger of Old Masters in 1947.
His masterpiece was The Supper at Emmaus, confirmed by every expert in 1937 to be a Vermeer. Put on trial for his fraud, van Meegeren asked, "Yesterday this picture was worth millions of guilders. Art lovers from around the world paid money to see it. Today it is worth nothing and people would not cross the street to see it for free. It is the same picture. What has changed?"
A critic, Denis Dutton, answered thusly, "The magic has gone out of it."
Today in New York, we are confronted by a similar monstrous fraud. His name is Olafur Eliasson. So complete is his fakery, that he does not even supply the illusion of magic, but a kind of anti-magic which deceives the lemmings of the New York art world into denying their own senses and giving over big chunks of the city to his mediocre and mendacious tunnel vision [see "Let Them Eat Water," Feb. 6, 2008].
They were eating dumplings at the Museum of Modern Art, my fellow art morons, blinded by a urine-colored bank of lights, feeling a pathetic furry wall, watching Kim Cattrall flaunt her round buttocks in front of a pale slide show of dinky pastels. Over at P.S. 1, where the show continues, white rooms and a rotating mirror on the ceiling induce stupefying yawns. Someone told us that Olafur, in all his soulless inferiority, is a star mesmerizer, so we must believe it, even without the bare illusion of taste and sensuality that a master forger, even, would respect us enough to indulge in.
For there is nothing to Eliasson but the wan light of a single bulb in an empty torture chamber. Make no mistake about it, a torturer he is, with his engineering team and phony pretensions and the museofeebs and mayors and tastemakers who shut off their senses to champion his murder of esthetic sensibility. The camp of Eliasson is the camp of anti-concentration, an annihilation of all that is pleasurable, a complete nullification of art. That he is celebrated at all demonstrates that from the Museum of Modern Art to City Hall and beyond, we are ruled by fools.
"Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson," Apr. 20-June 30,m 208, at the Museum of Modern Art and P.S.1, New York City.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).