I may be old and I may be cranky, but I can smell rotten cheese from miles away and the art world that I know and love stinks of limburger and dirty socks, because it is getting cheesier and cheesier. Far be it for me to criticize a show I don’t even watch, because I don’t have cable, called Work of Art: all I need to do is read the show’s disclaimer that the judges "consult with the show’s producers and Bravo" before making their decisions. In other words, like all "reality shows," it’s a fix.
Something must be wrong with me, because I don’t sit at home and watch soap operas, so General Hospital’s emergence as the cynosure of artistic excellence has eluded me. But a distinguished curator in New York, and a major museum in Los Angeles and a hot black performance artist are all agreed that an incoherent, passably good-looking guy named James Franco is the new Pablo Picasso.
Twenty years ago, a horror writer named Clive Barker had a cheesy following for his freakazoid drawings, but no one suggested that the Museum of Modern Art give him a solo show. Today, the insipid cartoons of another horror maestro, Tim Burton, set attendance records at the museum. Hard to believe that 20 years ago there was a huge debate over artistic standards being degraded by the "High and Low" exhibition at MoMA (the "Low" part was Jeff Koons!), while Thelma Golden’s "Black Male" at the Whitney was attacked for its alleged vulgarity and violence.
God, I would dance a tango naked on the roof the New Museum, if there was anything close to shows that brilliant in concept, artistic innovation and intellectual stimulation as those two exhibitions, today. Instead a once brilliant mind like Thelma Golden has turned into nothing more than a piece of party candy and the worship of the Low, as in crass, retardataire cultural cheesiness is all the art world wants to do.
It is as if the New York Philharmonic handed all its players kazoos and asked them to perform the Rice-A-Roni theme song ("Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat"). You can buy Rice-A-Roni prepackaged with cheese, just like the art world these days.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).