How about a little joie de vivre in art? Why do we need Richard Serra’s black stuff? Black bile, black death. Kandinsky: “Black has an inner sound of nothingness bereft of possibilities, a dead nothingness as if the sun had become extinct, an eternal silence without future, without hope.”
So has the Metropolitan Museum become hopeless? Maybe it’s just signaling that modern art is over. Maybe it’s signaling that it has stopped dead in its tracks. It should stick to traditional art, which it knows better.
Shallowness with a grudge: that’s Richard Prince’s art. He appropriates images the way a sand crab appropriates empty shells, making himself at home in them in lieu of having any home of his own.
An appropriation artist takes over another artist’s identity because he has no identity of his own. He adds a decorative touch to it, usually his name, shamelessly “making his name,” which doesn’t mean he’s made art.
The artist’s signature is not the most imaginative thing in his art, however much it may be the most significant thing for those who don’t know much about art. Prince’s signature is the most interesting thing about his art, because it shows how uninteresting it is.
There’s an air of terrible ennui about the images he appropriates, the ennui of a shallow popular culture desperate to have an effect. It does: a deadening effect. That’s something Prince has mastered.
Ellsworth Kelly looks so boring, so tedious, so narrow: like Serra, another dead-end, a refinement of abstraction to meaningless presence (which is what Minimalism is). I go to see Thomas Rowlandson’s cartoons at the Loeb Art Center at Vassar. What a relief! Nothing like satire to clear the stale art air.
We need a Rowlandson to deal with artworld types, especially rich collectors placing bets on art, coldblooded sharks moving in for the art kill. (Is Damien Hirst’s pickled shark one of them? Give credit where credit is due, even if there’s not much artistic credibility to the work, however much it has acquired, incredibly, museum credentials.)
I’m desperate for fun; I miss the old Fun Gallery. Where is the new Rowlandson? Where is the new Grosz? The streets and galleries of New York are waiting for both of you.
I guess I shall have to sulk in my tent with my sisters. There are three of us, all with hissing serpents instead of hair, boars’ tusks instead of teeth, and hands of brass, but also wings of gold: we are glorious as well as monsters.
We are the three graces, transformed into fiends by madness. We are hateful, which is why we love art. We are ugly, but it makes us feel beautiful. Our glance turns it into stone, preserving it forever. Thus the miraculous power of a critical eye.
GORGON writes about culture.