I walked into the Patti Smith opening at the Robert Miller Gallery last Wednesday night and immediately encountered an assortment of folks from my past: Anthony Haden-Guest chatting with legendary Studio 54 dancer Bobby Watlington, Gramercy Art Fair director Tom Delavan, Rupert Smith's assistant in screening all things Warhol Donald Sheridan.
Then I looked at the walls and saw a vast bric-a-brac of Patti Smith's past and influences, artworks plus a yard-sale’s worth of her possessions: a photo of a life mask of William Blake, an image of Rimbaud's watch, Robert Mapplethorpe's bicycle, a pic of a battered suitcase with Patti Smith Group tour stickers all over it. Ah yes, the whole experience didn't amount to anything as art, but the idea of reaching a certain age and rearranging the furniture of your life is everywhere these days. For example, I was watching the BCS championship between Alabama and Texas on ABC and all the pre-game graphics were done in the style of Jack Pierson's thrift store wall reliefs of mismatched letters. Take that, Bear Bryant.
My (and our) love for Patti Smith prevents me from being cynical, but there are a lot of forgettable photographs in the Miller show, many of which are either collaborations with or done solely by Steven Sebring, director of the recent Smith biopic Dream of Life. There's a pointless snapshot of an old Kodak camera and another of some sort of gun. The prices are all over the place, something here for $500, something there (to do with the Blake mask) for $20,000. I hope Patti doesn't need the money, but something about the way this slipshod, no account show is arranged tells me that she must.
Rock is dead and seeping like sediment into all the cracks of our culture: Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers was backing Josh Groban on the National Anthem at the Bama-Texas tilt, for example. And just like those Pierson knock-off graphics, art is dying and seeping into any cultural crevice it can find. It's nice that art galleries will soon be holding fire sales for rock icons before they shuffle of the old mortal coil. If King Tut had done it, there would have been nothing in the tomb.
"Patti Smith and Steven Sebring: Objects of Life," Jan. 6-Feb. 6, 2010, at Robert Miller Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).