Is Mike Bidlo ready for his auction moment? One might think so now that Aby Rosen has installed a stack of Mike's Brillo Box knockoffs in the Lever House lobby under the direction of curator Richard Marshall. Since performance is part of everything these days, intentionally or (better) not, a group of anti-Zionist rabbis showed up at the opening to protest Aby Rosen's construction of a hotel in Israel, ostensibly on religious grounds, brandishing rather flattering posters of Aby on the picket line.
Collector Rosen has slimmed down to tennis-playing weight and happily welcomed Arthur Danto, author of Beyond the Brillo Box, to the champagne vernissage, which also included veteran friends of Bidlo such as Carolee Schneemann, Barbara MacAdam and Elizabeth C. Baker. Richard Marshall neatly summarizes every appropriation association in the show's press release: Bidlo works only from photographs, these Brillo boxes were fabricated with the help of Rutgers students in 2005, Lever House has long been associated with Lever detergent products such as Surf, Dove and Wisk (though not specifically Brillo), so what's left?
What's left is, of course, the six degrees of separation needed to scrub away all the appropriated references, such as Richard Prince has accomplished with his cowboys and nurses, to the Nirvana of auction millions. Sherrie Levine, joined at the hip with Brancusi, and Richard Pettibone, the forever doppelganger of Andy, have so far not quite been able to discard their secondhand clothes for the ballroom attire of the evening sales. Bidlo, relatively speaking, is still a hobo on the street.
The reason for this, in my view, begins with Bidlo's huge drawing project a few years back featuring hundreds of Rorschach urinals, a subject that has been pissed away once too often, and goes back further to the long-forgotten, two decades old controversy surrounding Mike's unbelievable "Not Picasso" show at Castelli Gallery. Working from photographs and claiming that he had never actually seen the authentic Picassos which he was appropriating, Bidlo installed a huge survey of sham Picassos, whose aura was so authentic that it evoked the monumental and comprehensive 1981 Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
Peter Schjeldahl viciously attacked Bidlo for his presumptuousness and, frankly, Mike's career never fully recovered. Yet Bidlo's argument, that the idea of Picasso had so seeped into bourgeois consciousness that we had all become "Picasso appropriators" in our minds, is, with the surfeit of Picasso exhibitions now abounding, more valid than ever. Thus, a Bidlo re-appreciation must commence with a remounting of his Picassoids in a museum context. Paging Richard Marshall!
"Mike Bidlo, Not Warhol (Brillo Boxes, 1964)" (2005), July 1-Sept. 11, 2010, at 2005, at the Lever House, 390 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).