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THE EMPERORS OF ART
by Charlie Finch
 
There is no new China.
-- Ai Weiwei

In his memoir Burning the Days, James Salter relates an old Chinese fable. For years, a mandarin stood by a river, fishing, not with a hook at the end of his line, but a straight pin. News of his strange behavior reached the emperor, who went out and questioned the mandarin. "What can you achieve by fishing this way? What are you fishing for?"

The mandarin answered, "For you, my emperor."

Mimicking the hypermaterialism of today from Fifth Avenue to Dubai to Beijing, the most successful artists, architects and designers see themselves as meritocratic royalty. Mockingly, George Grosz called such artists, besotted with grandeur and power, "blownup frogs."

Art dealers abet such vanity, of course. During the Korean War, the dealer Georges Wildenstein, when asked if there would be a nuclear war, demurred, "I know the way Stalin thinks. In many ways, we are the same person." The crushing weight of autocracy is everywhere in our world. It is a conflagration in slow motion, obliterating the soul, while leaving the body to barely breathe an atmosphere dirty with gold.

Outside Midas’ palace, the anonymous artist fishes with nothing, not even a pin. Yet the hope of the world lies with that artist, who has no name, whose work cannot yet be described or purchased. Unknownness and unknowingness have become, by necessity, the last refuge of creation, the breeze blowing through a crack underneath the solid diamond doors, to build a museum out of air.

Oh, that we could rest there awhile!


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).



 



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