A central work in next week's contemporary art auctions is Andy Warhol's disturbing 1963 silkscreen painting, Tunafish Disaster, expected to go for around $6 million-$8 million at Christie’s, and the central show that everyone is supposed to be talking about is the Urs Fischer circus at the New Museum. Perhaps we should contrast these two creations as test case in artistic subversion versus the market.
There is something, in spite of the fact that the two Tunafish Disasters have long been owned by, respectively, S.I. Newhouse and Charles Saatchi, deeply alienating about Warhol's deadpan take on two spinsters felled by a can of tuna fish that is antithetical to the market, both the art market and the supermarket. In 1963, there was a spate of such A&P poisonings, including the notorious bad vichyssoise deaths on Long Island, which struck fear into every housewife on the East Coast. Even today, looking at an image of Tunafish Disaster makes me cringe.
Then, add the delicious, yet rancid layers of Warhol's jaundiced experience: he was living with his mother who served him lunch from a can and, of course, canned soup was Andy's Mona Lisa, and you have a whole roster of Oedipal desires, insouciant fears and general resentment against the interface between old ladies and industry that is still deeply communicated in Tunafish Disaster today. That is radical and persistently transgressive, still.
Contrast it with the aluminum blobs and one liners of Urs Fischer, whose whole existence is a standup act in the door of perception. The Fischer show is nothing but market driven, specifically by one collector with a heavy position in Fischer who has contributed mightily to the cost of the show and will handsomely reap the awards at future auctions. This is why Fischer provides the gullible, conformist art crowd with a whole floor of shiny boxes bedecked with consumer images, that is nothing more than a dull rehash of Andy's Brillo boxes.
Do you see the difference in subversive mojo between a jarring one-off like Tunafish Disaster, which continues to project real dread and uncertainty, and a charlatan like Fischer regurgitating the Duchampian template for the cynical purpose of market domination? It's not that difficult, pass me a spare rib.
"Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty," Oct 21, 2009-Feb. 7, 2010, at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, N.Y. 10002.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).