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NOUGHT FOR THE AUGHTS
by Charlie Finch
 
Perhaps you cannot hang an event on the wall, only a picture. But this is a problem for the picture more than it is for events.
-- Harold Rosenberg

As we come to the end of the first decade of the 21st century, one clumsily dubbed "the aughts" (as in zeros), it is difficult to summarize exactly what happened in the art world of the last 10 years.

It was a decade of unprecedented cultural diversity, economic speculation and continuing spectacle. Everything artwise seemed bigger, gaudier and more outrageous, yet the sum of creative innovation was essentially a reworking of previous themes from previous decades. The dominant duo of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons continued to work the memes of mortality and anxiety into desirable objects, with Hirst's diamond skull the signature of excess and meaninglessness which continues to define this art era. Dreamy, indistinct, formally conservative painting asserted itself in the marketplace, as Doig, Rauch, Tuymans and Dumas played with figures in a neo-romantic style reminiscent of Klimt and Schiele. These were easy pictures to market to the rich, but, ultimately, very minor points on the historical arc of painting.

As photography became technologically easier through digitalization, it paradoxically began to fall apart as art. Gursky's photoshopping raised questions of authenticity and sincerity, Ruff's charged rape of internet content invited anybody to become an instant artist and even Cindy Sherman traded visual richness for the ease of the digital. The elaborate use of sets, money and celebrities in complex tableaux by everyone from Gregory Crewdson to Matthew Barney simply collapsed from the weight of its own tiresome excess.

Conversely, the possibilities of a warm colorful surrealism resurrected psychedelia in Pipilotti Rist's Pour Your Body Out and Cao Fei's gorgeous collective experiments within the virtual world of Second Life. Indeed the mark of maturity, a lifetime's experimentation in the studio, showed that the values of craft and imagination are as true a measure of pictorial genius as ever. Thus, I think, future generations will recognize Chris Ofili for his incomparably subtle drawing, Cecily Brown for the pushing and pulling of sensual paint, Kara Walker for the precision of design conveying the confusion of her desires, Inka Essenhigh for her deep ocean of fantastic figures and Lisa Ruyter for the bright hyperrealism envisioning a more harmonious world.

The art elites used the decade now ending to carve out a dependable caravan of pleasure from Miami to the Armory Show to the spring auctions to Basel, then FIAC and Frieze, the autumn sales and back to Florida. This circuit, so far seems immunized from the concerns of the world, so that, just as Larry Gagosian and Jeff Koons depart a high-end fair in Abu Dhabi, another emirate, Dubai, defaults on its debt in the hope that Abu Dhabi will bail it out as UK banks tremble under a mountain of bad obligations.

It's a nice trick to always leave town with some booty before the sheriff arrives. Let's see if it continues.


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



 



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