After a century of anti-art bullying visual art, visual art bites back!
There are 25 images in this mini-series so far. Above is the first, which I made four years ago, though I didn’t intend at the time to make even one more. Originally I attributed the faux painting to an imaginary artist, Günter Groos, in one of my satirical articles of art criticism. I later attributed the same “painting” to Jürgen Fritz, and even Richard Prince. If you are asking yourself why attribute them to anyone else, the answer is 1) It’s necessary for satire, and 2) nobody will give a shit about it if it’s by me. Oddly, I’m better off attributing it to someone else who nobody has every heard of than to myself.
If you Google “radical new boring shit” all references come back to me, though other people have, without my knowledge, written about the painting I attributed to Richard Prince, and even Günter Groos.
My original motivation was probably just punking the art world, and most likely in reaction to something I found comically ridiculous. But years later I found this same image made me laugh until my sides hurt. I’m sure it has to do with people assembling to admire something that is obviously, or thinly-veiled, boring shit. And so I decided to make more.
Some people might think this series is a little mean. Who am I to declare monuments of contemporary art “boring shit”! Well, it’s not an insult to the tradition, and nobody can really complain. There are two historical facts one must take into consideration.
1) Virtually all the works I parody are the artistic descendants of anti-art, most notably Duchamp, and his punking the art world with his urinal (The Fountain), or his mustachioed Mona Lisa… He pissed on all of art, declared painting washed up and “too retinal”. He famously declared he wanted to kill art as religions had been killed (at least in the minds of the art elite). Thus, to disparage me for punking the art world of today, and taking a shit on it for being too cerebral, and insufficiently visual, is hypocritical. You used to be able to mock and kill art, now you must revere its most ludicrous examples, or YOU are the problem.
2) Boring is not even a problem in contemporary conceptual art parlance. Consider Jeff Koons’ show titled “Banality”. Note that originality is considered impossible, the imagination irrelevant, creativity retrograde, transcendence delusional, beauty anathema, and didactic art illustrating either an obscurantist philosophical point, or seeking to morally edify the viewer, are the recipe of the day. We can say that some people are fascinated by dry, academic arguments writ in props and installations, or fervently believe in the political agenda other works promulgate, but few would deny that much of contemporary conceptual art is on the less passionate, exciting, or sensual end of the spectrum.
Marcel Duchamp himself once remarked that he was pleased that the art audiences of the day went to a gallery in order to be bored.
The point they brought out so well, and an interesting one, is they play for you a play of boredom. It has been… I’m not discovering that, but, it’s very interesting to have used boredom as an aim to attract the public, when the public comes not to be amused, but to be bored. ~ Duchamp.
Yeah, I know in the promotional piece above that Jeff was being ironic (though he changed his tune later and asserted he was giving the people what they really wanted), but how potentially exciting is ironic commentary on banality?
One other thing to consider before being too extreme in your denunciations of yours truly, is that all the images in this series are inescapably self-parodies which declare themselves to be radical new boring shit.
My series is itself conceptual, at least on one level, and while it critiques certain excesses of conceptualism, it does it using the language of conceptualism itself. It is art about art; it is text as art; it encourages dialogue and debate about art; and it even ask the question “What is art?” including in presenting itself as art.
Other than as conceptual art speaking its own language, the series uses a few key elements. Here are three terms that help sum it up.
I traffic a lot in this territory (not just in this series), so here’s a handy definition from Wikipedia:
An inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. It allows the co-mingling of physical reality with virtual reality and human intelligence with artificial intelligence. Individuals may find themselves, for different reasons, more in tune or involved with the hyperreal world and less with the physical real world.
A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. ~ The Free Dictionary.
The most cogent example comes from Lifewire:
A meme is a virally-transmitted photograph that is embellished with text that pokes fun at a cultural symbol or social idea.
The act of using an image software application, especially Adobe Photoshop, to manipulate an image, usually for comedic reason. ~ Urban Dictionary.
All of the images in the series are Photoshopped, incorporate a single meme, and exist within hyperreality.
Boom baby! That’s now perfectly clear. On to some more pics.
Above and below, in the style of Christopher Wool.
Below we are looking through rain splattered glass at a sculpture by Yayoi Kusama.
It’s two images, one of rained-on glass, and the other of one of Kusama’s polka-dot pumpkin sculptures, which are soooo fashionable and soooo easy to like. Making all your work around dots is not that much more sophisticated, or perhaps less, than making all your work around a meme (and it’s not all my work, just in this mini-series).
I know, I know, she’s a Japanese woman, and thus a, er, protected class, while it’s open season on my biological type. True, true, and I could feel it was a little harsh, if I hadn’t come across this (which is NOT a parody or Photoshopped):
If I need to explain what the problem is here, that proves my point.
Above is just purely invented art, spreading the meme. Following is more along the hyperreality groove, and perhaps you can guess why.
Any fans of “Better Call Saul” reading this? This is a screenshot from one of the episodes where Kim Wexler is in a bank, and putting up sticky notes of potential clients to solicit for business. As I was watching the show, I thought I could make this into a gallery image. There’s a merging of the imagined reality of the show, the implied real art-world, and my conjured third world where an art event takes place in that hybrid world.
Many of you will recognize the pic above, which is my favorite work by Jenny Holzer, and that’s because it isn’t just text, but someone wearing a T-shirt with the text on it, which originally said, “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE”. Jenny Holzer is just too thin of gruel to satisfy my appetite for some sort of visual content in visual art. Only the photo of the girl had enough palpable humanity in it to appeal to my sensitivity. I tend to like the more human, gooey, emotional, sensual, and aesthetically rich side of art. I like my coffee with milk and sugar.
Note that I made the girl smile using Faceapp for my more humorous version.
Above is another Holzer, and I probably made this look easy. I developed a whole system for making LCD text just for doing this image. It’s not a font.
If you’re wondering what my beef is with text art, it’s just this: if you change the message it completely falls apart. Just put in a conservative message and the art becomes repugnant in the art world. Imagine, for example, “GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE. PEOPLE DO.” All of a sudden, coming up with slogans to put in text in all the different conventional, commercial ways of doing so, utterly fails. The ugly truth here, folks, is that real art succeeds completely independent or irrespective of its politics.
You could say that Jenny Holzer made other contributions, such as turning LCD signs into art — that great transmogrification in which anything an artist puts in the gallery becomes art [also known as “curation”] — but, we must admit that we wouldn’t take such a contribution (which I think had been done before anyway) at all seriously if we didn’t agree with the messages they presented.
I kinda’ like Lichtenstein (well, I kinda’ like all these artists), but he is an appropriationist, and this was a rather tantalizing opportunity to slap my phrase in there.
If you don’t know my art criticism, my problem isn’t so much with conceptual art, but rather with its problem with visual art. Rather than existing alongside visual art, much of conceptual art and the theory that supports it rests on the underlying premise that conceptual art supersedes and replaces visual art. One genre does not replace another, and a genre that gives us little or nothing to look at does not replace one focused on the visual experience.
But wait, there’s more. You get not one or two, but three more images based on this Lichtenstein painting:
This reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent, in which he argued:
what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.
Here I quite literally modified past works, but, alas, I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily “the new (the really new) work of art”. But you get the idea.
This kind of shit gets called “iconic”, and I read somewhere that Warhol had the brilliant strategy of using items which were already familiar and iconic in his work in order to instantly make his work familiar and iconic. It worked! My definition of “iconic” is now: something that gets branded on your forehead.
While I was making this I was reading an infamous article by philosopher Arthur Danto titled, The End of Art. His whole theory is based on his grappling with what makes Warhol’s Brillo Box art, and not the virtually indistinguishable box of soap pads in the grocery store. Warhol’s Brillo Box represents for him a kind of apotheosis of contemporary art, in which art finally became aware of itself, which is apparent in making art the subject of art. I take serious issue with the theory in an article I wrote immediately after reading Danto’s essay. You can say that this is another refutation of the essay, in visual form. And you could say that it’s visual art backslapping conceptual art for presuming to have defeated it.
A little aside. I would say that the core of visual art is the still image, and each of these pieces is that, though they are almost all also appropriations (the bread and butter of postmodern, conceptual art).
Are we allowed to be at all critical of Andy Warhol yet? What sacrilege! Blaspheme I tell you! Well, honestly, if you like art that gives you something to look at, like you like music you can sit down and really listen to, Warhol doesn’t offer shit. The thinking is that if you look at commercial pap with the right eyes than it becomes worth looking at. The counter is that with so much of the best visual art you can thoroughly enjoy it without having to hypnotize yourself first to enjoy whatever is put before you.
The sky-writing is all Photoshop.
Can you name the artist above? Hint, this isn’t one of his pieces, but a pic of a group of people including him made into one of his pieces, then parodied.
I think Banksy’s publicity stunt was so successful (whether or not Sotheby’s was involved and it was staged or not) that lots of people know exactly what the above is. I wrote an article critical of the stunt, in which I pointed out that Banksy had 750 similar fine art “limited editions” of the same print for sale, starting at $50,000 each. In such a case, it was difficult to take him seriously as an outsider fighting up against the art institution. That article so pissed off a mod at the contemporary_art subreddit that he censored it and wrote me a nasty note telling me that he and the other mods universally objected to most everything I had to say about art. Additionally, he tried to launch a counter-argument against my article. I rebutted his arguments here. Recently I was banned from participation in the contemporary art subreddit for sharing another of my articles. Note that I am also banned from art_theory. This is a case of the kitchen not being able to stand the heat of me staying in it. In other words, they couldn’t parlay my arguments, and if you can’t beat ’em, ban ’em!
The original image of the above was one of Hirst’s dot paintings. I’m not even going to mince my words. Those paintings are shit. The real achievement wasn’t the paintings themselves, but rather selling them to a gullible art market.
The colors I used are the innocuous colors of his dots. If you don’t know about these, there were hundreds of these formulaic paintings, painted by assistants, and last I checked they were selling for small fortunes each. Let’s just say that any one of those clinically boring spectacles sells for more than 99% of what living artists will make in their entire lives.
The version above has Hirst himself in it. I just looked up how many of the spot paintings were made in his name, and it’s 1,365, and selling on average for between $53,000 and $1.7,000,000 (some for over three million). Even I can do that math, and this series of super easy, formulaic, poorly-paid-assistant produced derivative Minimalist paintings would, if nearly all sold, make a billion dollars. Respect the sheer audacity of unbridled avarice, I guess!
Imagine spending a million dollars for one of over a thousand thematically and technically indistinguishable patterned pieces of wall paper on canvas. Making that sale was the real achievement, to be sure.
And as I made this parody, it occurred to me that if the right person really made my satirical canvases, with the same text, there would be people who would still buy into it, and buy it. Note that it’s not hard at all to make if someone wants to pay me a million dollars for a one-of-a-kind original.
In the movie Spinal Tap a critic summed up the band’s, Shark Sandwich album thusly: Shit Sandwich. We can be even more succinct with Koons: Koons. Like Vanilla Ice, or perhaps Fabio, the name Koons itself will likely stand as a historical indictment, emblematic of the most outrageous excesses of super-rich artists making ostentatious baubles and other gaudy art for the super rich.
And one more.
That bunny recently sold for over $90,000,000. Not all of the images in this series make me laugh, but this one does. I think it’s funniest when people are admiring the work in question.
And the last one is another hyperreal image made from a screenshot from “Better Call Saul”:
People who’ve seen the series would probably find this image familiar, even if they didn’t know why. I’ll just go dig up the original. Did you get why it’s Barry Moon gallery?
It’s a spoonerism for Mary Boone. Not bad Photoshopping here, either, though people who do this professionally on a daily basis might find some shortcomings. Eh, I’m not putting forward this body of work, mostly knocked out in a month or so, as astounding achievement in Photoshop, but as a comic, conceptual group of images that lampoon the more outrageous examples of contemporary conceptual art, and the art world, and the rhetoric that bolsters it.
There’s no special connection here between Better Call Saul and this series. I just happened to be watching it at the time, and naturally certain environments suggest possibilities to me. I like to infuse an element of my personal existence, as well. And on top of that, I rather think that some of the best TV series are now as good or better than the best of high art, which is also true of the best popular music of the late 60’s to early 70’s. The people that disagree with me are the pretentious snobs.
I may make more of these images in the future, but that’s all for now. I can consider this series some sort of mild success when people see a new work of conceptual art, or an old one, and ask themselves if it’s radical new boring shit.
Maybe one day there will be more Google search results for the phrase that lead somewhere besides just to me. At very least I got some good laughs out of this, and brushed up on my more conventional Photoshop skills.
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