Truly Tasteless Art
by Jerry Saltz
I have a soft spot for art that, in terms of subject matter and material, is in bad taste. Itís art that pushes against psychological and social expectations, that tries to transform decay into something generative, that is replicative in a baroque way, that isnít about progress and wants to -- as Walt Whitman put it -- "contain multitudes." I am not talking about messiness, schlock, theatricality or ambition. I am thinking of Paul McCarthyís excremental installations, Peter Saulís twisted painted figures penetrating one another, Kara Walkerís race wars of sex and violence, and the Nazis in hell of Jake and Dinos Chapman, art that almost seems too much to take or even to look at, that resists esthetic metabolism, that exudes a sort of poetics of apotheosis. Itís the way Andrea Fraser slept with a collector on camera, calling it art, and somehow the work escaped being silly academic nonsense or brainy porn. Many artists work with bad taste, but they do so in such conventional ways that their art ends up being predictable and gratuitous but little else. As for pornography, if it isnít made in a particular way, it doesnít do what itís supposed to do; in this way porn is almost like Egyptian art, in that it hardly ever changes. What shocked the art world about Jeff Koonsí porn work was that he so fully and bizarrely crawled into its conventions that it seemed to sprout new conventions.