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While John Perreault is enjoying the beach on Long Island, the art cops try their hand at art criticism, above...and then, in the second video below, solve an art-world mystery: Why does the art world leave New York City in July and August?

 [Please note there is nothing wrong with the following video. If you look really carefully you can just about see Dominic and Dominic Two, talking and gesturing in their usual manner. This new installment of John Perreault's Art Cops is not meant to be a reference to avant-garde cinema. This is not a radio program.  The single take and the long-distance view is in order to show how the city feels to the Art Cops  in July and August.]

                  ART WORLD MYSTERY SOLVED!

Reference images for first Art Cops video: 

Mark di Suvero, For Buddy, 1993-95

Anthony Caro, After Summer, 1968.


Sol LeWitt, Large Modular Cube, 1969.

Short Subjects:

This summer, outdoor dance out-performed outdoor sculpture. You move around and look at outdoor dance the way you might look at sculpture. And like outdoor sculpture, outdoor dance is primarily a photo opportunity. Nevertheless, Trisha Brown's recreation of her 1971 Roof Piece above and around the High Line park was sublime; Australia's Strange Fruit offered the hilarious The Three Belles at the World Financial Center and The Streb Extreme Action Company, also at the WFC, created a scary Human Fountain out of falling/jumping dancer acrobats. Warning! Don't try any of these dances at home.




Coming Attractions:

"Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life," Grey Art Gallery, N.Y.U. Sept. 9 - Dec. 3, 2011.

Willem de Kooning, A Retrospective, MoMA. Sept. 18 - Jan. 9, 2012.

"Sherrie Levine: Mayhem," Whitney Museum of Art. Opens Nov. 10, 2011. 

Mauricio Cattelan, Guggenheim Museum. Nov. 4 p Jan. 22, 2011.

Cindy Sherman, MoMA. Opens Feb. 26, 2012. 


 John Perreault is on Facebook.

 You can also follow John Perreault on Twitter: johnperreault For Art Cops cartoons and other videos on Youtube: John Perreault Channel

Other links: Artopia Portal    John's Art  
August 14, 2011 5:18 PM |

On his Paris Biennial website, Jean-Baptiste Farkas claims over one trillion new artworks have been made since October 2009. And the clock keeps ticking: 1,685,740 new artworks per day. 

Click here for counter.

What are we going to do with all this art? Why is it being made? Who is making it?

In the fourth installment of the world's first-and-only art criticism, animated cartoon, John Perreault's art cops investigate the art glut and its source. Sort of.








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For Art Cops cartoons and other videos: 

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June 28, 2011 11:36 PM |



Gustav Metzger: Historic Photograph No.1: Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, April 19-28, 1943, 1995/2009/2011



Metzger Rescued from the Footnotes of Art History


Gustav Metzger's first U.S. exhibition ever, the thought-provoking "Historic Photographs," is now at the New Museum (235 Bowery, NYC, to July 3, 2011). All 12 sculptures, forming a set originally made in 1995-96, are exhibited together for the first time.


Ironically, until now we have known these sculptures -- which are "about" photography as well as about the horrific events represented - only through photographs. At the New Mu which I may now be ready to call the New Muse, the two images that make up Terror and Oppression are fully visible, but so large and so intentionally oddly placed that it is difficult to take them in: marching Nazi soldiers, and orderly rows of Hungarian Jews undergoing selection on the Auschwitz Ramp.


Photography needs to be made strange or we do not see it. It is our wallpaper. Gigantic blowups in a narrow space work well here, since the events portrayed are themselves too big to grasp. We want to pull away from the insanity, but here we can't.




Other images in this succinct exhibition require far different methods of defamiliarization. Hitler Youth is welded between two steel plates. Hitler Addressing the Reichstag After the Fall of France is sandwiched between Formica and steel. Both have to be imagined. Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto is partially blocked by rubble. The photo blow-up in Kill the Cars is accompanied by a real automobile that imitates the look of the car being smashed in the picture behind it.



floorsharpened.jpgIf you weren't at the New Museum last Wednesday, you missed the spectacle of yours truly crawling under a yellow tarp that had been laid over a giant photo blow-up of Jews in Vienna being forced to scrub the pavement on their hands and knees: To Crawl Into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938. The condition of viewing the huge news photo mimics the positions of those in the photograph. Yes, one of my silver Crocs was caught in the tarp and I had to be rescued by an attendant. Later, however, I made my way behind the curtain shielding an image of the Temple Mount Massacre without mishap.


Do the various photo-obstructions, framing, or distancing devices represent memory? Forgetfulness? False-consciousness? Censorship imposed by ever-increasing images of horror? The numbness of overexposure?


All of the above. And more. 


You should also know there's another version of To Walk Into - Massacre on the Mount, Jerusalem in the storefront offices of e-flux (41 Essex St., to July 30.) Shown uncovered by a curtain, here the obstruction that makes you "see" the image is purely the placement in a narrow space complete with worker on duty at his desk, surrounded by shelves, files and other office accoutrements.


For further but important dislocation, do not leave without going into the cellar exhibition space and participating in Metzger's MASS MEDIA: Today and Yesterday (2011). A pile of newspapers is in the center of the room. From newspapers on a work table you may cut out news items, photos or headlines according to the categories "credit crunch," "extinction," or "the way we live now," and then affix your choice with magnets to a billboard running along one wall.





Can't see the connection between the "Historic Photographs" sculptures and MASS MEDIA. The first uses blow-ups of newspaper photos; the second uses actual newspapers. Read on. Metzger is a complicated artist.


Things You Need to Know





The 85-year-old Metzger does not offer his work for sale through art galleries. His last gallery exhibition was "Paintings and Drawings 1945-1960" at the Temple Gallery in London in 1960.  


Nor does this London-based artist ship his art. He believes that the air transport of art and of what we in Artopia call artlings ("star-lings" with dollar signs in their eyes) is a waste of nonrenewable fuel. Thus he has founded Reduce Air Flights (RAF). He doesn't think it is proper for any of us to fly to this biennial or that biennial. Or to transport art by jet. This is his latest cause. All of the works at the New Museum were made at a distance through his specifications and instructions and will be destroyed when the show closes. RAF, he says, is also an objection to "the massive commercial growth of the art industry."


Doesn't seem like RAF will cause much of a stir because a recent 848-person poll conducted by 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair reveals that if given a choice, 61% of respondents said it would be easier to do without air travel than give up the internet, compared to the 31% who would sacrifice internet for air travel. But like many artists, Metzger thinks symbolically and acts symbolically. He thinks in four-dimensions; he thinks in contradictions.


Why would any artist be against air travel? Aren't we supposed to be global? And yet this instigator of Auto-Destructive and Auto-Creative Art, light shows, newspaper wall-installations and all things ephemeral at the age of 85 is a hero to some younger artists - a few of whom are jetsetters themselves or would like to be -- because of his commitment to social action and, yes, because of his participatory and time-bound art.


No doubt about it. Metzger is an original. 


Paintings that destroy themselves? Splashing hydrochloric acid on sheets of plastic, the results last less than 20 minutes. Here's a film of him making one of his Auto-Destructive paintings in London in 1965: 





Psychedelia? He also invented what would become the standard decor for rock concerts: Auto-Creative Liquid Crystal projections (1965) became the decor in London in 1967 for the Giant Freak-Out All Night Rave featuring Cream, The Who and The Move.


                                            Metzger: Liquid Crystal Installation,1965 2005. Tate, Liverpool.

Espoused kinetic and computer art.

Was a pioneer of ecological art.



1970.... although not invited Gustav Metzger shows Mobile at the opening of the exhibition Kinetics at the Hayward Gallery. It is an automobile with an (initially transparent) plastic box mounted on its roof into which its own exhaust gasses pass. On September 4, the car is driven to the area around Waterloo Bridge and is parked there. On the following day it is parked in the upper class area around Bond Street.....


                -- "Chronology," Gustav Metzger: History History




Furthermore, Metzger is the most important theorist and proponent of Destruction Art, although as far as I can tell, there were no converts to his own Auto-Destructive/Creative Art specifications. Hmm ... unless you count Peter Townshend of The Who, who in interviews gave Metzger full credit for his own guitar-smashing turn at rock concerts.





I was dismayed to find that British Punk-Neoist Stewart Home, as far back as 1988, called Metzger "a one-person art movement,"  thus beating me to the punch. I was going to use it in my headline. No matter. When no one signed up for Metzger's Art Strike (Years Without Art 1977-1980), he is reported to have concluded that most artists were "disgusting bastards." Could I use that phrase in my headline? Gustav Metzger: Not A Disgusting Bastard!


Let's face it, who could follow through with the implications of this rant from his 1961 Fourth Auto-Destruction Art Manifesto:


Everything everything everything everything

A world on edge of destruction. Objects become precious, matter becomes subject to feeling of reverence. This is an art form for artists. The mass of people appreciate modern art 50 years after its practice. This art form will not be subject to this time lag since it is unlikely that in 50 years time there will be a world in which to practice it.



Metzger's "destruction" did not destroy destruction. Bad stuff still keeps happening. Wars, wars, wars. Genocides. Ecological disasters. If being alive is a test, a school for increased consciousness, when do we graduate?


First Transport.jpg


First Jewish children rescued from Germany by the Kindertransport 1938.

Kindertransport Kid


Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1939 at the age of eight  Metzger was rescued, along with his brother, from certain Nazi torture and death, by the British-sponsored Kindertransport. It was, it turned out, a narrow escape. At some point, he discovered his parents and most of his relatives had been exterminated. That, obviously, is something you do not forget.


In England, he received training in woodworking and later was employed as a gardener. He was a junk dealer. He studied art. And then, enflamed by the postwar nuclear threat, he tried to invent the un-making of art -- or what he called Auto-Destruction Art.



In his Fourth Manifesto (1962) he called for ...


An art of extreme sensibility and consciousness.

We take art out of art galleries and museums.

The artist must destroy art galleries. Capitalist institutions. Boxes of deceit.

Events, happening, Artists cannot compete with reality. The increasing quantity of events, happenings

Artist cannot integrate within himself all the experiences of the present. He cannot render it in painting and sculpture ...


The artist's entire visual field becomes the work of art.

It is a question of a new artistic sensibility. The artist does not want his work to be in the possession of stinking people. He does not want to be indirectly polluted through his work being stared at by people he detests ...


On the other hand, this list from his 1960 manifesto is decidedly inclusive and exhilaratingly, alphabetically inclusive:



Materials and techniques used in creating auto-destructive art include:


Acid, Adhesives, Ballistics, Canvas, Casting, Clay, Combustion, Compression, Concrete, Corrosion, Cybernetics, Drop, Elasticity, Electricity, Electrolysis, Electronics, Explosives, Feed-back, Glass, Heat, Human Energy, Ice, Jet, Light Load, Mass-production, Metal, Motion, Motion Picture, Natural Forces, Nuclear energy, Paint, Paper, Photography, Plaster, Plastics, Pressure, Radiation, Sand, Solar Energy, Sound, Steam, Stress, Terracotta, Vibration, Water, Welding, Wire, Wood.





Metzger: Untitled, 1961. Hydrochloric acid on three layers of  plastic. 20 minutes.

Metzger Rediscovered!

So far Metzger has had two retrospectives: one at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 2009 and before that at the Generali Foundation in Vienna in 2005. The catalog for the latter is essential for all Metzgerphiles, offering a detailed chronology and reprints of his manifestos and other writings. Not too long ago I found it for sale on the remainder table at the St. Mark's Bookshop in the East Village.


Bet it is no longer remaindered anywhere; once-expensive hardbound copies have long since been scooped up by punks and anarchists of every stripe.


Nowadays in interviews Metzger appears a bit wizened and excruciatingly benign. Grasping his art is another matter. What unifies the sweep of his interests? Where does his art fit? And if you read the manifestos all at once, the bottom falls out. It is as if in 1960 he arrived from another planet. No more preconceptions about art. No more lies.


For a long time, however, Metzger's art was hidden under the Destruction Art umbrella, which included the Vienna Action Group, some parts of Fluxus, some Happenings (where it lurked rather than was subsumed). He did indeed conceptualize and organize the legendary Destruction in Art Symposium held in London in 1966. Some participants in the DIAS were: Jean Tinguely, George Macunias, John Latham, Hermann Nitsch, Ralph Ortiz, Al Hansen, Wolf Vostell, Yoko Ono. Aside from Tinguely's frantically kinetic machines, destruction artists did not exactly produce immediately saleable stuff, which was partially the point. One can proclaim, however, that Latham's masticated copy of Clement Greenberg's Art and Culture is finally justly celebrated, as is Yoko Ono's scary but classic Cut performance piece. This is the best and purest video of Cut I have found:




History Is Slippery



Just when you thought art was safe from politics, Metzger has reemerged front and center. No longer a secret favorite of only avant-garde specialists, the artist and his vision will have to be reckoned with. Not only was he an early antinuke activist and what was once called a peacenik of the worst sort (he actually earned jail time), he was quite early on aware of the ecology crisis and didn't keep quiet about it, as already indicated.  His 1970 effort to make auto emissions visible  - see above -- has grown to multi-auto installations. 100 cars were used for Mobbile at the 2007 Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates.







We hunger for art heroes. We are so desperate we will adjust to whatever ambiguities come with the package. Having had our own struggles, we do not denigrate the need to make a living. Not everyone is born wealthy. Or marries money, although there are several ways to do that. Teaching is another solution, but there are more worthy artists than there are teaching jobs, and teaching can dilute or even destroy one's creativity.


But when making a living is transformed into making a killing, we must question and question again. Yes, art is an investment -- an investment in the soul and in the future of humanity. Metzger, through his community work and Big Cause activism -- and because of the deep subject matter of his art -- has been waving that tattered flag for over half a century. And, dear Artopians, it still must be waved.


There's a catch-22. Antimarket art is difficult to access. Can art exist outside the market-driven venues of auction houses, galleries, museums, magazines, art history tomes? Where's the profit? If your Antimarket art is suddenly embraced, you have failed. Unless, unless. Unless your art functions metaphorically as a double agent.


Of course, Destruction Art in all its forms is a no-no. It's ... too destructive. Even in Artopia we like to accentuate the positive. There's already enough doom in every room. Does Metzger's homeopathy work? Will small doses of destruction cure us of the disease?

Sometimes, however, the will to completion takes the upper hand, current concerns seek precedence, and/or the coverup needs a new paint job. Thus may great art sneak in, under the tent flaps of the circus and past the guardians of the art prison, perhaps to confront its own destruction as it too turns into dead matter, expensive souvenirs, investment opportunities, images with price tags, pedigrees, and wall labels.

The current interest in participatory art, performance and reperformance, and even in what is called Relational Aesthetics has opened the field to an appreciation of Metzger's previously marginalized art. There is a swell paradox here. The precedent or the antecedent has become the succedent.

To conclude on a happy note, I will end with the text for the handout for Metzger's 1970 talk entitled "The Artist in Technological Art and Social Responsibility" at the Slade School, London:


Do you Eat?


Where does the money come from? 


(a) Private funds  

(b) State funds

c) Sale of work  

(d) Through being employed.


Does it matter where your money comes from?


Do you feel responsible towards society?


(a) Are you doing anything about it now?


If so, what is it that you are doing?


(b) Do you plan to affect society at some time in the future?


If so, will it be in the field of the arts?








John Perreault is on Facebook.


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For Art Cops cartoons and other videos: 

                    YouTube: John Perreault .


June 6, 2011 7:40 AM |
        MOCA-LA             Banksy            Graffiti Art     KEITH HARING       Jeffrey Deitch

                              Street Art        Eli Broad                Art in the Streets



 Related Artopia essays:                                                


Who's Afraid of Eli Broad?

Banksy Loses Bid for Oscar



Reminder: Interview with John Perreault, cover story of Art Experience N.Y.C.


John Perreault Interviewed: Art, Social Criticism and Mass Media... 

"Searching has been replaced by being searched, by surveillance. We are niches. Instead of information seekers, we are the information sought.........Unless analysis leads to action, analysis is paralysis.........Art does not survive as object, but as publicity...."






John Perreault is on Facebook.


You can also follow John Perreault on Twitter: johnperreault

For previous Art Cops cartoons and other videos: 

                                                   YouTube: John Perreault Channel.

May 24, 2011 9:15 AM |





































After Minimalism


Richard Serra was never burdened with the Minimalist strictures offered up by Donald Judd (or Dan Flavin or that old devil Ad Reinhardt) and certainly not by the lesser lights of Minimalism, who, let's face it, did not even have beauty, strength, or expression on their side.  


Serra has never been one to kowtow to good taste. His anti-form rubber-and-neon wall pieces and his molten-lead splash pieces beguiled, and so did the few films he made. The one I like best is of his hand trying to catch falling pieces of lead -- Hand Catching Lead (1968). Shocking too, it was. The artist's hand? What do hands have to do with sculpture? But then the prop pieces came along -- e.g., a metal rectangle held up on the wall by a singular, angled "buttress." Gravity rather than gravitas was his theme, although as was his proclivity there was plenty of the latter to go around. Serra is always tough.


Not even the Tilted Arc (1981-1989) fracas stopped him. The sculpture was a COR-TEN steel demonstration of a lovely curve that supposedly ruined Federal Plaza in downtown NYC -- a mingy, windswept place in front of an ugly modern office building that, I thought, cried out to be ruined. Was this an example of artistic hubris or of public stupidity? Office workers in the building were whipped into a frenzy. It blocked their view! Of what? Taxi cabs? If it looked like an anti-tank fortification, it was ahead of its time.


What would the judges, lawyers, and clerks have preferred? A statue? Benches? When was good public art ever selected by plebiscite? After court battles, the piece was removed; i.e., destroyed. That's what happens when a sculpture is site-specific and almost everyone hates it. However, it was the office building that should have been torn down.


Gigantic, torqued metal slabs became Serra's signature. And eventually all bowed down to Serra's greatness when a show of these heavy-duty works opened the newly expanded MoMA in 2007. Fortunately the floors had been designed for the load. Theatrical? Another nail in critic Clement Greenberg's coffin!


Weight and gravity and those torqued curves. Subtle, but manly. And, of course, the dialogue with architecture. Not a joke in sight. And because Cubism has been finally been totally denied to sculpture, Serra's sculpture are more Tony Smith than anything proposed by timid Anthony Caro, Greenberg's fair-haired boy. Nothing wrong with Caro's sprawling Cubist sculptures, but major they are not..


Uncle Clem, who saw sculpture only as a line from Picasso to David Smith to Caro, must still be turning over in his grave. Talk about linear thinking! Of course, the sad thing is that sculpture has been abandoned. Who thinks about abstract sculpture now? Instead, we delight in mockery -- oh, yes, me too. We prefer giant balloon-dogs rather than blockades or cubes. And Serra is better off indoors or in front of museums, protected from uneducated, anti-art mobs and the demagogues that can so easily stir them up.


 Serra Tilted Arc.jpg                               

Serra: Tilted Arc (destroyed)









What Next?                                 


Never one to foist-off unearned surprises, Serra has just conquered the usually backward Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Met is now a participant in The Game, in a way that their summer sculpture shows on the roof did not portend: Oldenburg, Koons, and the Starn Twins. Only the Koons jokes lived up to the potentially festive site.


Who can best Serra? After sealing off abstract sculpture and claiming ownership of its final phase, he now owns drawing -- and destroys that, too. We don't need such categories unless they are still useful to work against. Categories are for retrieval and nothing else. Classification is pacification.


In the meantime, here is a truism that is not true, this one from Shakespeare: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Wrong! If you call something a drawing it will not necessarily smell like a drawing. A sculpture by any other name is not a sculpture.


MoMA recently showcased a well-received exploration of drawing that expanded the usual definitions to include drawing in space (drawing as sculpture) and other novelties. Even dance. Drawing then might be defined by line, unless we are thinking of Seurat's dots, or all the smudges on paper that are not really linear.


The only thing the curator left out was my thoughts, because my thoughts are drawings too: if I think before I act, those thoughts are drawings. Or maybe my neurons when they connect are drawings of a sort. And if you leave out intention, the Internet is a great big drawing; in a smaller scale, so are spider webs and snail and slug trails on the panes of my cold-frame. The latter are my favorites, along with worm trails on the underside of bark from Australian trees. Truly, drawings are not a closed category under one strict definition, demanding traits that are necessary and sufficient. Family resemblance is the key.


The MoMA show was fine, but it did not prepare us for the "retrospective" of Serra "drawings" ("Richard Serra: Drawing," Metropolitan Museum, to Aug. 28, 2011). Note that the official title includes the word drawing without the s to emphasize the process nature of the work -- as if process, visible or not, were not part and parcel of most artworks. Well, it's all a matter of emphasis. 


Nevertheless, Serra has made the Met safe for contemporary art. The space for his "drawing" is generous; the installation nearly perfect. You can't stick contemporary art in a small gallery off a major corridor, which is what happened to the "Pictures Generation" survey last year. Of course, not even a bigger space and a better installation could have saved that show. The thesis was wrong. There really was no Pictures Generation, was there? Which I suppose the exhibition inadvertently proved. So we should be grateful for getting that bad idea out of the way at long last. There were a few good artists, and the category Neo-Pop would have served much better. No artist, however, really wants to be "neo" anything. "Neo" is so old hat. Even Pop didn't come into it's own until Brit critic Lawrence Alloway's Pop Art triumphed over the term Neo-Dada, used for Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.




portrait.jpgDrawing As Installation


Not all of the gigantic Serra "drawings" on display are great, but most of them are. The all-black oil stick "drawings" or "drawing installations" are the ones that open your eyes. I liked that someone had the clever thought of including four of Serra's early films. The hand, yes. But, to be super-critical for a moment, I was troubled by the term "retrospective," which predetermined or justified less interesting works: those that look like standard drawings and relate more to the sculptures. Those include the drawing notebooks, which only experts might need to examine. And drawings of sculptures after the fact seem on the dull side. Serra, whether he is working on paper, linen or chunky handmade paper, is not very good at making curves on a flat surface. Curved sculptures, yes; curves on paper, no way.


These efforts could have been avoided if someone had had the sense to drop the term and the concept "retrospective." But how else do you signal to the prospective customers that this is a big, important exhibition? An even bigger banner on the front of the museum? The smaller works are useful, but not particularly extraordinary, whereas the "installation drawings" on linen are indeed exceptional. The more traditional drawings would have found a market on their own. Would "Richard Serra: Installation Drawings" bring in the crowds?


The large linen rectangles sculpt the rooms. There, I said it. Although technically they are marks on a flat surface, those marks are not linear, and in fact are of such a density that they are only perceived subliminally as marks. Also, since linen is not paper, you could also say the "drawings" are unstretched paintings. Some of the artworks face each other; some go from floor to ceiling. They are attached directly to the walls; no frames, no fuss. The surfaces, having been done by hand, are deep and rich. The installation drawings play with the architectural integrity of the specially built rooms, which I suppose is a paradox. Do you build a room to adjust to the art or do you adjust the art to the room?


One large drawing early on seems to indicate that Serra is confronting Malevich not Reinhardt. Both artists presented black in one way or another; both were mystics of a sort. Malevich was taken with theosophy and Reinhardt harkened to Buddhism. Thus both are ultimately alien to Serra's outlook, save perhaps in terms of the such-ness of things, as in Zen.


But the real secret, the most significant subtext, is the dialogue between Serra's "installation drawings" and Sol LeWitt's "wall-drawings." LeWitt's "drawings" are light and airy and have nothing to do with the artist's touch or anyone else's. What is most interesting about them now is how and when they made the transition from "wall drawings" to out-and-out murals (which, by the way, they are never called). Offhand, I would say when color trumped line.


In contrast, Serra's "installation drawings" are heavy -- but without being heavy-handed. You see black as weight, as a substance, certainly not as an illusionistic hole in the wall. Like the LeWitt's they are all surface, but we either sense or imagine the artist's own hand. Somehow the energy is encapsuled as aura. These are artworks, like Serra's best sculptures, that you feel with your whole body.


Just as Serra has put an end to sculpture -- if by sculpture we mean abstract, three-dimensional art -- so he has put an end to drawing. The old categories no longer apply.


It's about time.


Unlike a great deal of art, Serra's sculptures and installation drawings can only be hinted at by the use of  two-dimensional images. You can identify the artworks, but you cannot experience them this way, any more than you can experience a roller-coaster by looking at a picture of one. The sculptures, of course, are photogenic -- which is now the bare minimum of what we demand of art -- and artists. The installation drawings are also camera-ready, but the images that result have even less to do with the art. If there is to be any holdout against the digital,  works such as these are precisely what the future demands: art that needs to be seen firsthand. In this regard, Serra's installation drawings may be both the first and the last of their kind.


There will be little pockets of resistance, and we will have to reserve special tombs for the art that was actually meant to be directly perceived in physical space. Otherwise, we will want and will be allowed the art that has no scale, no place, no time. No texture, no weight, no mass, no space. And will be everywhere and nowhere all at once.


Where are the artists who will play that hand?






New! Interview with John Perreault, cover story of Art Experience N.Y.C.


John Perreault Interviewed: Art, Social Criticism and Mass Media... 

"Searching has been replaced by being searched, by surveillance. We are niches. Instead of information seekers, we are the information sought.........Unless analysis leads to action, analysis is paralysis.........Art does not survive as object, but as publicity...."






John Perreault is on Facebook.


You can also follow John Perreault on Twitter: johnperreault

See my art here:
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May 9, 2011 3:39 PM |

Links to more thoughts on Fluxus in Artopia:
                 Fluxus Redux               Ken Friedman

April 26, 2011 7:39 AM |




Ben Patterson, String Music, 1960. Getty Research Institute. 

Benjamin Patterson's Variations for Double Bass, 1961. The concert was part of the exhibition Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUX/us November 6, 2010 - January 23, 2011 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

By all accounts Ben Patterson is a Fluxus pioneer. Even George Maciunas [ma-Chew-nis], the Andre Breton of Fluxus, places him at the beginnings of Fluxus.  See here one of  Maciunas' obsessive diagrams.



MACIUNASCHART.jpgDiagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and Other 4 Dimensional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms. Click on link to enlarge: Maciunas

Patterson, who had started out as a double-bassist in various Canadian symphony orchestras(1956-1960) tried his home country later and was rejected by 20 conductors, probably because he was African-American. He moved from the U.S. to Cologne. And after that kind of rejection, who wouldn't? He somehow came across John Cage and began working in what would become the Fluxus manner. He was a pre-Fluxus Fluxian. Two years later, he was in the first Fluxus Festival, in Wiesbaden in 1962.


In '65, he took leave of art and returned to the U.S. where, in order to support his family, he became  an arts administrator in New York City, working at one point for the Department of Cultural Affairs.  This is why in Artopia we always say: Be kind to everyone, even arts administrators. You never know if he or she is an artist in disguise.


Then, obligations over, Patterson officially returned to art in 1988 at the age of 56 with his first one-person show at the Emily Harvey Gallery in Chelsea.


Skimmed from the retrospective of nearly the same name that debuted late last year at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, "Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUXUS/us: Scores"  (Studio Museum in Harlem, to June 26 ) is a half-hearted affair. It turns out to be one of those casework exhibits, in this case, scores and ephemera arranged under glass, in a small space above the main event: Stephen Burks: Man Made, an exercise in the exploitation of Senegalese basket weavers. Lots of educational opportunities, but little in the way of art.


The Ben Patterson show is housed in what amount to a dark balcony, although to be fair --- in Artopia we are fair to a fault --- there's a tiny reading room on the way to the video room (which has no Patterson videos) that makes available a copy of The Black and White File ("A Primary Collection of Scores and Instructions for his music, events, operas, performances and other projects: 1958-1998"). Unfortunately the blare from the video offerings makes reading the Patterson File nearly impossible.


YouTube comes to the rescue. The following videos are not in the Studio Museum show, and should give you a better idea of Patterson's too long neglected art than an accumulation of scores and ephemera.



Fluxus East exhibition opening: Paper concert by Ben Patterson, Geoff Hendricks and others (Berlin, 26.09.2007).





And then there is this ultra-Fluxus use of words, toys, and noisemakers:



Performance of Simple Opera (?), Saturday, June 20, 2009, The Museum in the Park, Portofino, Italy at the party in honor of the artist Ben Patterson for the celebration of his 75th birthday.


Sideways, as above, must be a new trend, in hearing as well as seeing. Read the following from the notes to the resplendent recording of Alessandro Striggio's long lost but recently rediscovered, heavenly Mass in 40 Parts (1566). In at least one of its incarnations, there is evidence that the various "voices" were deployed vertically on five levels of "cloud machines" in the Florence cathedral....but the writers confess.....


Unfortunately, neither stereo nor surround-sound [a second disc is a DVD offering surround-sound version expanded to 60 Parts] reproduction conveys height well...Listeners unwilling to forgo the original Pillar-Of-Cloud Experience could switch to a second pair of vertically aligned speakers for this item, while the less technically minded could try lying on their sides.


                    Conductor Robert Hollingworth and Hugh Keyte, Nov. 2010.



Back in March, the Studio Museum did offer one Patterson performance along with a discussion with the Houston curator. Was one performance enough? I don't think so. Another Patterson Piece was also performed at Third Streaming in Soho, not at  the Studio Museumthe Fluxus classic, Please Wash Your Face.


Contained in a small plastic box was a paper towel, a small bar of soap, and the instruction 'Please wash your face,'" Patterson explains. "As far as I know, this will be the first performance of the piece with total audience participation. People will come to the stage -- or optionally, to the bathroom -- and wash their face. Afterward, there will be a moderated discussion on the subject: 'How is washing your face in public a work of art?'
My work during these last 50 years has always directly engaged the public,  generally with success......For example: In 1963, I presented 'A Very Lawful Dance for Ennis' at Times Square. Simply stated, the instructions asked the performer to cross the street, backward and forward, again and again, obeying the traffic signals. We began the performance on this evening with a group of about 10 friends. However, within 15 minutes we were joined by at least 100 random passerby and other local Time Square habitués, who apparently thought it was a good thing to do!


                                                         ... courtesy   

No sign of this at the Studio Museum and no sign of Patterson's 1997 Blame it on Pittsburgh; or, Why I Became an Artist which was in the Houston show. Luckily I found a cheeky Texas online site called 29-95 (the latitude and longitude of Houston) that had an informative  review by their regular writer, Douglas Britt.
In 1997, he created the most interactive work on view, an installation that grew out of 26 sessions with a psychotherapist that Patterson recorded, later silkscreening fragments of the narratives onto Plexiglas along with photos and ephemera from his youth.
Hanging from the ceiling in a pitch-dark room, the Plexiglas sheets form a maze viewers navigate with flashlights. Among other things, they encounter memories of Patterson's awkward high school love life -- or lack thereof -- during a time when interracial dating was taboo and the only black girl in his class thought he was weird....It's like being inside Patterson's subconscious, which is fitting since just after the show opened Patterson erected a sculpture that he designated Annex No. 3 of The Museum of the Subconscious. (The original site is in Namibia; there are two other annexes in Israel and Argentina.) CAMH has forms you can fill out to donate your subconscious after you die.

0a1aaapatterson.JPGPattersonDetail of Blame It on Pittsburgh; or, Why I Became an Artist. Silkscreen on Plexiglas. Courtesy the artist and the Emily Harvey Foundation, New York/Venice Photo: Douglas Britt/Staff




The Houston catalog is not available until the show closes. Publication date is June 30. We have our fingers crossed. Why is it so late? Don't art venue's know about print-on-demand publishing? Never mind. Just keep quiet and pre-order the catalog on Amazon. It will include a CD of Patterson's sound pieces.


Couldn't more  performances and concerts have been commissioned by the Studio Museum? And if budget was the problem, why not videos? Never mind. I surmise that the show was simply not taken seriously enough. The exhibition is another sop to the Fluxus revival. Which brings up an important question. 













Why the Fluxus Ruckus?


MoMA, you may have discerned, now has an important Fluxus collection, and little exhibits on the premises have been drawn from it. And even performances by the likes of Alison Knowles have surfaced. Yoko Ono's great Scream Piece was presented in the Atrium. Everyone including yours truly had a chance to scream into an open microphone. You would think that all of this was part of the current effort by galleries and museums to nail down art from 1945 to about 1980, filling in all the blanks once and for all. I have come to a different conclusion: we are making sure that everything saleable can be accounted for.


The little dips into Fluxus here and there, however, are meant to destroy it. Or at least to announce that Fluxus wasn't so avant-garde after all, because here we have it by the tail and you see how easily it fits into museum collections, museum display, and sanctified art history? Nothing to worry about, friends. Fluxus was a minor fling, and art has been made safe again.


Here are some pros and cons:




What Was Bad about Fluxus


When whimsy rears its cute little head, Fluxus fails. Whimsy is not humor, whimsy is cute. Whimsy is not an Artopian characteristic, whereas sarcasm is. Recently I read that an inability to detect sarcasm is a sign of Alzheimer's. I propose that a foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to whimsy is a sign of maturity and superior intelligence, don't you agree?


What exactly is whimsy? According to one source: 1. An odd or fanciful idea; a whim. 2. A quaint or fanciful quality. Hello, Do you not know about Hello Kitty Hell, my favorite website?


Actually it is far worse. You know it when you see it. It sickens you and makes even kind persons reach for their fly-swatters, their spitballs, their rubberband slingshots, and even their b-b guns. It smells like artificially-flavored and artificially-sweetened bad candy.


Examples? Why not start at the top.


We adore Saint Yoko, but when she fails in her instruction pieces or her Tweets it is smack down on the whimsy bed-of-nails. I am sickened every time she Tweets "Love your Mom". Or "It is Mother's day in Costa Rico." Yoko, get over it! Several times I have been tempted to unfollow her on Twitter, but then she posts something really wonderful.
















More controversial than the whimsy charge against Fluxus is the queasiness evoked by George Maciunas, not all of it metaphysical. Was he as maniacal and self-serving as it now appears? When I said above that he was the Fluxus Breton I did not mean it as a complement.


Take a look at another of his patented diagrams also available on the extremely useful George Maciunas website..



bestdiagramGM-jpg.jpgLike poet Breton,  Lithuanian-born Maciunas, whose background was graphic design and architecture, became quite a little dictator and art-packager. Apparently he did coin the word Fluxus, but like Breton, who excommunicated Salvador Dali, but also Andred Masson, Max Ernst, and our very own Brion Gysin, Maciunas may have been on a power trip. He didn't "excommunicate" but he was no stranger to spite.


Maciunas' Expanded Arts Diagram is his "masterpiece", if a diagram can be a masterpiece. And why not?  By way of explanation he delineates categories of Fluxians, from: "individuals active in similar activities prior to formation of fluxus collective, then becoming active within fluxus and still active to the present day, (only George Brecht and Ben Vautier fill this category)" the most telling category...




Individuals active within fluxus since the formation of fluxus but having since then detached themselves on following motivations:

a)    anti-collective attitude excessive individualism, desire for personal glory, prima dona complex (MacLow, Schmit, Williams, Nam Jun Paik, Dick Higgins, Kosugi),

b)    opportunism, joining rival groups offering greater publicity. (Paik, Kosugi)

c)    competitive attitude, forming rival operations (Higgins, Knowles, Paik).



I will also point my finger at the Flux- boxes he instigated and promoted -- twee containers made by one and all, in editions, meant for sale. Commercialization meets whimsy. Even though I can't find any evidence of a Fluxus or Maciunasian anti-object stance, this was such an awful move that we do not even have to go into George's pioneering effort (via grants from the Kaplan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts) to turn empty factory buildings into artist lofts in what would be called SoHo, now some of the most expensive housing in the Big Apple. Nor need we mention his dull architectural proposals that are so neo-Bauhaus they make long-winded Bucky Fuller seem like the genius he thought he was.  




cage.jpg  John  Cage, Fontana Mix, 1958.



What Is Still Difficult About Fluxus?


What remains difficult about Fluxus is the music part.  Music historians simply did not get it. To this day they only grudgingly deal with John Cage, if at all. Cage was the grandfather of both Happenings and Fluxus but most visual arts critics and historians don't know how to deal with music; after all, you can't see it. Although scores sometimes have a graphic interest, they are not the main event. And theater has been attacked over and over again by art formalists, probably because it is difficult to experience Pollock and the dreary Jules Olitski without thinking of backdrops and scenery. And, to settle an old score, theater had to be denied, not out of some resurgence of Puritanism, but in order to reaffirm the saleable object, the art commodity which, alas, is now the coin of the realm.  


Could the Fluxsters themselves conceptualize the breakdown of  rigid arts categories? Fluxian Dick Higgins coined the term intermedia for Fluxus but it didn't stick because, when you think of it, Hollywood movies could be called intermedia too through the marriage of sound and moving images. And, my goodness, opera. Or Broadway musicals or military parades. Or Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts with cloud machines and costumes as it was originally performed?




A Modest Proposal


I now hypothesize that all the recent lukewarm stabs at Fluxus such as the Patterson show of scores -- rather than the retrospective from which it was culled -- are really  attempts to get the best of Fluxus, in the second sense of the term: a knock-out punch.   Fluxus is a threat. We can destroy it by trivializing it, which is a long and painful death for everyone involved, viewers included. Or we can  destroy it once and for all.


We can finally rid ourselves of Fluxus by mounting a major survey exhibition. It could be at MoMA - and might be best there --- but actually it could be anywhere. Cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Kansas City could gain great glory, as long as the exhibition was definitive, had a gigantic catalog full of horrendous documentation and "scholarly" essays (no art criticism please!) and a  vast restaging and recording of Fluxus events, Fluxus music. Thus, absorbed by the academic apparatus, Fluxus would finally sink. It would stop being the fly in the ointment, the mouse in the room, the nagging voice. Fully dissected and dissembled it would stop being so annoyingly life-affirming and so stupidly jolly.







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April 20, 2011 10:41 AM |




Talking About Relational Aesthetics by John Perreault 2011




What Is Relational Aesthetics?


Formulated by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud to explain the work of his favored artists, Relational Aesthetics is difficult to pin down. Maybe it's like jazz. When Louis Armstrong was asked what jazz was, he answered, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." But Armstrong was not a French intellectual steeped, stewed or pickled in "theory."


In 1996, Bourriaud encapsuled his flight of fancy as:


"...a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."




I would say instead that Relational Art consists of convivial, socializing, interactive, non-object, artist-audience collaborations. Sort of.


No blood. And if there's meat, it's cooked.


Bourriaud offers some insights in his short collection of essays called Relational Aesthetics: (1.) Paired objects are stand-ins for gay relationships in the work of Félix González-Torres. (2.) Unlike the other arts, visual art allows viewer conversations during perception. Never mind that Elizabethan theater had vocal audiences, as did burlesque and kiddie movie matinees. Nevertheless, you may want to read his essays to feel out the warp of contemporary art-discourse. We ourselves, as you may have noted, are not opposed to elliptical exposition, but if you want a bigger dose, access a section from Bourriaud's book here.



Rirkrit Tiravaija: Fear Eats The Soul. (detail: gallery alteration) photo: John Perreault.




Not the Death of Art, but the Death of the Artist


Critic Hal Foster warned in the mid-1990s that "the institution may overshadow the work that it otherwise highlights: it becomes the spectacle, it collects the cultural capital, and the director-curator becomes the star." Was he predicting Relational Aesthetics? 


Well, 15 years later, Hal, it hasn't really happened -- has it? And besides, director-curators have always had a profile of sorts, if not exactly stardom on the level of Andy Warhol. But, like most artists, they fade.


Wasn't Henry Geldzahler a star? What about art dealers? Wasn't Leo Castelli more famous than some of his artists? In the '60s, a young, very, very rich collector in Miami Beach once announced to me that Leo Castelli was her god. Art dealers would kill for customers like that.


But to the quick. Whether he wants to be or not, Rirkrit Tiravanija is a star; curator Nicholas Bourriaud, who formulated Relational Aesthetics, is not.




 Eat This Art 


A few weeks ago, as I was finishing my delicious bowl of coconut-chicken soup at Tiravanija's exhibition ("Fear Eats the Soul" at Gavin Brown's enterprise, 620 Greenwich St., at Leroy,  to April 16) the artist himself made an appearance in the salon/lunchroom part of the exhibition.


I include the cross-street of the address, because you should know that this venue is definitely outside Chelsea. Yes, there is art outside of Chelsea, even though you might have to take a cab or walk 20 blocks crosstown through quaint Greenwich Village nearly to the Hudson.


Here's a soup I am sorry I missed:



MENU - Thursday March 17


Tempermental (sic)  Pumpkin Soup


Pumpkins (roasted and pureed)


Vegetable Stock


Coconut milk

Chipotle peppers (in adobe sauce)

Curry powder (Indian)


Sea salt


Mint (fresh)


In a big stockpot saute onions till caramelized

Add curry powder

Blend chipotle peppers and garlic, add to onion mixture

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil

Add coconut milk

Add pureed pumpkin and cinnamon

Season with salt and a bit of honey to taste

Reduce heat and let soup simmer till flavors are well integrated

Garnish with fresh chopped mint (optional)


Click here for other soups served and a short history of soup.




The Tiravanija hangout, replete with neo-Expressionist paintings by the uncredited Dutch artist who originally made the space as his own salon, has been transferred  from Amsterdam. Tiravanija in the past has done similar transplants -- once his own East Village apartment.


Even midweek his funky cafeteria was packed with arty, chatty soup-slurpers, leaving the stripped-down, ripped-open showrooms next door bare and beautiful. He has also done architectural strip-downs before. Here, window frames are artfully leaning here and there against the walls, and the space is wide open, as if to remember its garage origin. The word FEAR takes up one long wall. Yes, "Fear Eats the Soul" refers to the Fassbinder film. And in the midst of it all is a locked, free-standing cubicle replicating Tiravanija's first show with Gavin Brown: chromed versions of various Warhol sculpture, described in the press release as follows:


In 1994, Tiravanija made/curated a two-person show with his other half, Andy Warhol. It was a hybrid retrospective of sorts for each artist. Tiravanija created a binary setup of three pairs of work, with one work by each artist in each pair: A Mao and a stack of beer bottles; a Brillo box and a wok; a bed and a pile of books and movies. Each pair created a metaphysical and cultural bridge across time and space from one world to another. Each side looking at the other in the mirror and being disgusted at themselves. One side surface and mediated, the other dirty and touched, but both steeped in melancholia and necrophilia.  







Who would have guessed the artist would soon cook up a storm?


Eats Opening_Ruthie Abel-7.JPG 























Tiravanija: Fear Eats The Soul , opening reception (in the soup kitchen).




And there's another free-standing cubicle where you can buy t-shirts ($20) with various "mottos" stenciled on them, to order if need be.




teesfixed.jpgMy shirt was printed by a young man who kept saying he would have to close for awhile because he was starving. I had FEAR EATS THE SOUL made up for my Jeff because he liked the movie so much and often wears the Empire (State Building) t-shirt I brought him from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.


Artopia aims to be of service. You can order the T-shirts online. And while you are at it, read a history of t-shirts.










After the charming schoolgirls with pencils and pads were through interviewing Tiravanija, I introduced myself. I had met him in '88, when he was collaborating with artist Bob Roberts on an exhibition at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop. I asked him if he still had his apartment a block from mine on East 7th Street. He did. But, of course, I know he also works in Berlin and is an art nomad like many artists now: Japan, Minneapolis, wherever. He is a natural post-national. He is Thai, but was born in Buenos Aires, and because his father was a diplomat, he lived in many places as a child.


"I hope you won't be upset," I said, "but I have to ask you how it feels to be identified all the time as the Relational Aesthetics poster boy."


"Naked," he answered.





Tiravanija's food art is now part of the international art vocabulary. Although he has done outdoor movie projections, videos, room alterations and realist drawings of newspaper photos of political demonstrations (seen at the Drawing Center not too long ago), he is still best known for his temporary kitchens in which food is cooked and offered to visitors. When you listen to him speak, you might get the feeling that Bourriaud lifted all of his ideas from him. Unlike Bourriaud, however, Tiravanija is a utopian. Read what he recently said about his project at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and then take a look at the video below. The interview takes awhile to get going, but stick with it.



The situation is not about looking at art. It is about being in the space, participating to an activity. The nature of the visit has shifted to emphasize on the gallery as a space for social interaction. The transfer of such activities as cooking, eating or sleeping into the realm of the exhibition space put visitors into very intimate if unexpected contact; the displacement creates an acute awareness of the notion of public and private, the installations function like scientific experiments: the displacement becomes a tool and exposes the way scientific thought processes are constructed. The visitor becomes a participant in that experiment.'





The Short List


Bourriaud's Relational Art candidates are mostly artists he has dealt with as a curator, first at CAPC Bordeaux in his 1996 groundbreaking show "Traffic," then as co-director of Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 



Dominique Gonzalez-Foerister -- who last year showed dioramas with old books dumped into them at the abandoned quarters of the New-York Historical Society under the aegis of the Museum of Hispanic Art, sponsored by the Dia Foundation. She designed a Balenciaga shop in L.A., too.


Douglas Gordon -- famous, and rightly so, for his 24-Hour Psycho (Hitchcock's film slowed down so it takes a full day and night to see the whole thing).


Félix González-Torres -- neo-Minimal, gay, brilliant and, alas, dead. Piles of wrapped candy, yours for the taking.


Rirkrit Tiravanija -- Mr. Relational Aesthetics, and with good reason.


Jorge Pardo -- recycles midcentury design to no account that I can see. Ruined the floors of the lobby of the old Dia building with "colorful" tile-work.


Pierre Huyghe --- can't get a handle on him yet.


Vanessa Beecroft - masses of naked women.


Liam Gillick --- like his neo-Judd sculptures, but...


Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian comedian. Can we ever forget his sculpture of Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite?


Later additions: Gabriel Orozco -- a few oranges and a Volkswagen joke at MoMA.  But Andrea Zittel with her usable sculptures is less of a problem.


                                                *     *     *


Although at the time Bourriaud claimed that Relational Art was the art of the '90s, -- which continues to inspire the phrase "It's so '90s!" - curator Nancy Spector's "theanyspacewhatever" show - yes, it was really called that -- at the Guggenheim in '08, finally confirmed the avant-garde credentials of Relational Aesthetics by being roundly attacked from all sides. Many, perhaps too many, of the artists were from Bourriaud's list. It was a sleeper, but not in the way you might first think. You could make reservations, fork over some dough, and sleep all night in Carsten Höller's Revolving Hotel Room. Now, there are single-room "hotels" sprouting up as art projects all over the place: London, Singapore. But the show was so boring it put most viewers to sleep, even while on their feet.


It proved once again that artists don't always know what they are doing. New Museum founder Marcia Tucker once went down the road of extreme artist-input and eventually learned her lesson. But wisdom does not get passed from museum to museum. Shockingly, "theanyspacewhatever" took four years of meetings with the artists. Spector thought that the artists should make all the major decisions about the exhibition. And what did this stellar group of international collaborators decide? Brand new, individual artworks by each of them!



In Artopia, we truly believe that everyone is an artist (Beuys) and everyone is a star (Warhol), including directors/curators, critics and even dealers. In art there is no dark side. Or, as some would have it, all art is ultimately on the dark side, since art as it is now practiced tends to separate people from social action and from each other.


Well, so what? So do all the other major religions.





















Maurizio Cattelan: Pope John Paul II.




All Families Art the Same 


Dear Reader, perhaps you are still staring at the Relational Art shortlist above and wondering how it can make any sense. Perhaps out of curiosity you have even Googled the names. I stared at the lineup for quite awhile too until I came up with the solution.


Unless there is a poet-dictator in charge, like Marinetti or Pope André Breton, most art movements consist of artists who do not follow rules from above -- or from the side. At best, artists in an art movement bear a family resemblance. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used games for his brilliant formulation of his anti-Aristotelian family resemblance trope. We can use Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art as examples. In regard to AE, neither kingmaker Clement Greenberg nor Harold Rosenberg could make his rules stick. Greenberg merely said that the art that didn't fit his rule wasn't worth looking at. Think about this: what do de Kooning and Pollock have in common and what do the two have in common with Rothko or Newman? There's a family resemblance. Same for the art grouped as Pop.


One big family; each member different, but somehow related. I have my father's steel-blue eyes, but my mother's taste in food. My sister is blond like Mom, but I am not; more reddish like my father's aunt Blanche. And none of my nephews look like me at all.


This has some interesting philosophical ramifications, but never mind about that. I don't want to be accused again of solving problems you didn't know you had. Suffice it to say that a Wittgensteinian family is formed by horizontal relationships of shared traits that are not universal within each item in the set. No characteristics are necessary and sufficient. Think sociogram or rhizomes rather than royal or Roman Catholic hierarchy.


However, the above only proves Perreault's Paradox: Qualifications in the name of clarification lead to obfuscation. Or as Alfred Jarry might have said: clarity is opaque.


However, so Francocentric and so beholden to "theory" is Bourriaud that he himself hasn't noticed the problem we have just solved for him. And for free. His artists don't look like they belong together. His group makes Douglas Crimp's Pictures Generation and the YBAs (Young British Artists) -- both exhibition-generated, curator-concocted classifications ---  appear completely rational in retrospect.


We now face something new. Whether we think of art-movement proposals as made up of ranks, families, or even political parties, it is difficult to tell them apart.


Alas, Bourriaud has other problems even I can't solve. He actually claims that Relational Art is the first art movement/style since Conceptual Art that is not a revival, which, like many of his points, once you tease them from the text, does give pause. Is it true? Only relatively.


Even Conceptual Art was not super-new or too new. We who knew Duchamp already had a roadmap.


There are so many precedents for Relational Art that it is more accurately seen as a continuation or mash-up of Fluxus, Happenings, environments,  Performance Art, Situational Art, and, yes, Conceptual Art, rather than anything revelatory or game-changing. Relational Art is only one of many modes or forms that artists feel free to use. Focus is now too easily read as appeasing the art market. The interactive is attractive, but each artist is now the producer of his own group show.


Maybe that's the best we can do without kicking out the jams.





Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul




The October Trials


In his favor, many of Bourriaud's points have been attacked by the October gang. See here Claire Bishop's "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics."


In this October screed, Bishop describes the work of Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, not so much to attack them or rip apart the thin fabric of Bourriaud's "argument," but ultimately to promote in contrast two of her own favorites: Thomas Hirschhorn and Santiago Sierra. The first is still a mystery to me, but Sierra is now an official art-world Bad Boy. In 2000, his work Ten People Paid to Masturbate was exactly that; and in 2001 he produced Persons Paid To Have Their Hair Dyed Blond for the Venice Biennale. And then, whether they are faked or not, there's his intentionally notorious penetration pieces -- pictures of groups of black men penetrating white men, white men penetrating white men and the reverse, and black men penetrating white woman. An attack on the commodification of sex, or itself an example of same? You tell me.


If I were teaching now, I would assign Bishop's essay and ask the students to identify the main subject of her bottom-heavy, heavily footnoted essay. I would fail any who said it was about Relational Aesthetics.


Her artists are somehow more pure because they contest or reveal capitalist relations, or at least she thinks they do. Or is it because Relational artists smell utopian and her pets do not?


                                                      *     *      *


I see Relational Aesthetics as utopian. Oddly enough, Bourriaud himself is a knee-jerk anti-utopian, which you have to be if you have read Foucault and not been aware that he once confessed that his life-long influence had been life-long Nazi Martin Heidegger. Bad poetry is sometimes seductive. Wouldn't you choose Being instead of industrialization? But blood, soil, and the volk? Maybe like others, Foucault did not know that Heidegger wasn't really de-Nazified, as claimed. Not even Heidegger's ex-girlfriend Hannah Arendt seemed to know. Sartre spoke up for him too.


Furthermore, did Bourriaud not remember Joseph Beuys' concept of social sculpture? Had he forgotten the Situationalists? Oops. No excuse. They were French!


Why was he so late in coming to Marcel Duchamp's famous lecture called The Creative Act:  "...The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."


Theory is rhetoric. 


My theory is that "theory" - so impenetrable, so inbred -- is the reason there have been so few important French artists since the School of Nice. And since the rise of the October gang in the U.S., we have not been doing so well ourselves, have we? Theory cramps art; thought does not.


The French are amazing, particularly when they try to catch up. It is as if the French language and its product, French theory, automatically screen out anything that happens on this side of the Atlantic. Tiravanija himself gives full credit to Gordon Matta-Clark as represented by that artist's short-lived, artist-run restaurant Food, and I would think his architectural interventions.


Bourriaud needs to study the Artopia theory of art history. Nothing ever goes away; everything always comes back -- like the strands in a braid. Or, as I like to say, history, particularly art history, is twisted. There is not even the Nietchzean Eternal Return. There is only a knot, and all knots are braids.



                                              *   *   *


The correct answers to our word-art quiz last time around:

Thumbnail image for Robert Barry .jpg







                           A.   Lawrence Weiner                       

images (4).jpg

B.    Aram Saroyan    




C. Joseph Kosuth 



                            D. Henry Flynt        

images (3).jpg

                                            E. John Giorno    



                         F.  On Kawara                                                  



                                G.    Jenny Holzer          


                            H. Yoko Ono   


                         I. Glenn Ligon                       






                         J. Barbara Kruger                       



Thumbnail image for Camnitzer Mirror.jpg


   K. Luis Camnitzer                          

No one identified all of the authors. Does this mean context is all? True, two of the authors are poets. True, Kosuth is not known for putting words on plastic cubes.

On the other hand, why didn't anyone know Henry Flynt, generally considered to be the Fluxus genius or Luis Camnitzer who is currently being honored by a retrospective at El Museo del Barrio?







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See my art here:
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Preview: THE, A Novel by John Perreault.




April 4, 2011 12:15 PM |


Thumbnail image for



Words or Music?

If you assume poetry and art are far apart, think again. If you think poetry is made of words and art not, well, as the 19th century joke-phrase had it, you have another think coming. think? Thing? Judas Priest! Let's call the whole think off.

Some artists have written credible poems -- Michelangelo, Picasso, Arp, Schwitters, even Marsden Hartley. Poets like Baudelaire, Apollinaire, and even the slightly lesser light Frank O'Hara helped to create the art they wrote about as critics. In the latter case, would there have been a Larry Rivers without the inspiration, bedtime, and connections O'Hara neatly supplied? Pity they ever met, some would say, although probably not I, if forced to decide. But that is not the issue.

We are also willing to pass over the bad art made by novelists such as D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. Only novelist and poet Victor Hugo (Les Miserable, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and yours truly go against that sorry rule that the path between art and literature is a one-way street. In regard to Hugo, he produced over 4000 works on paper, mostly from 1848-51 when he gave up writing to concentrate on republican (in the original sense) politics, in his artworks sometimes using techniques not employed  again until the Surrealists and then the Abstract Expressionists. Like yours truly he sometimes used coffee as paint.

Once paper, pen-and-ink-well have been brought to the table, Victor Hugo sits down and without making a preliminary sketch, without any apparent preconception, sets about drawing with an extraordinarily sure hand not the landscape as a whole but any old detail. He will begin his forest with the branch of a tree, his town with a gable, his gable with a weathervane, and little by little, the entire composition will emerge from the blank paper with the precision and clarity of a photographic negative subjected to the chemical preparation that brings out the picture. That done, the draftsman will ask for a cup and will finish off his landscape with a light shower of black coffee. The result is a unexpected and powerful drawing that is often strange, always personal, and recalls the etchings of Rembrandt and Piranesi.                                                                                

                                          -- Charles Hugo


Victor Hugo, Untitled,
c. 1848-51.

Also on the positive side, we cannot omit the scholar-artists or literati of Sung and Ming China and then, later, Japan, who created a synthesis of calligraphy, poetry and painting, often using poems they themselves had composed. You are probably sick of hearing about them on Artopia time, those multitalented layabouts, those devious anti-Moguls, those Zen laymen.


And then there is the problem of the wordy Glenn Ligon, whose midcareer retrospective titled "Glenn Ligon: AMERICA," is now at the Whitney (to June 6). It is well-selected - use Google Images to find some of the weaker artworks that were not included. I do, however, like his online Dia piece that's not in the Whitney show. It's a page turner; a photo-album of personal and flea market family snapshots.


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 Glenn Ligon: Mirror, 2002.

"AMERICA" is beautifully installed and certainly worth seeing, but mostly because it inadvertently asks:


 1. Is Conceptual Art just another style?

Answer: No. It has become a language.


2. When is an art movement over?

Answer: Analytical Cubism lasted three years, two months, six days, and five hours, or something like that. Surrealism fell apart even before it began. Dada, of course, is eternal, but Pop was best in 1961. And Abstract Expressionism endured from 1945 to 1955, a relatively long time. I don't mean to say that artists didn't continue to mine -- or perhaps mind -- the fields they had uncovered, but once the train is on the track and up to speed, it takes another, faster train to get the old train out of the way. Neo-Expressionism was supposed to bump off Conceptual Art; it didn't. It only made it stronger.


3. Why is it that Ligon's survey, consisting of painted words, neon, texts of various sorts, photomurals, and other individualized variants of recent art, doesn't look like a group show?

Answers: A: The presentation is uniformly spacious and cool. B: Intelligence and irony prevail, although Zora Neale Hurston's phrase "I am not tragically colored" and Dream Book appropriations are certainly poignant, as well as complex. C: We now accept artists working in many genres -- sampling whatever is around, referring to previous art -- rather than repeating over and over a signature format, a branded style. Instead, artists now are taught to offer a plethora of products, the way GM offered not only Buicks, Chevys, and Cadillacs, but also station wagons, convertibles, and trucks. All GM, all different, all aimed at different uses and different market segments.


4. Is it possible to present direct social content in serious art?

Answer: Yes, if it is ironic and cool and beautifully presented. This in itself is ironic. Social content is no big deal, and no one even from the suburbs will blink an eye at Ligon's black and gay subjects. Some progress has been made. But poet e.e. cummings was wrong. Progress is not a comfortable disease. It can be won only by persistence and nerve.




Marsden Hartley: Portrait of a German Officer, 1914.

How Much Do You Need to Know?


Rifling today through the piles and folders of things that still serve as my voluminous collected works, in search of ... well, never mind, that's off-subject. I found instead a Xerox (!) of a piece I wrote for Artforum in November, 1980. I called it "Gay Art: The Critic Interviews Himself." It would be pretty tame stuff now -- except that I did make a distinction between homosexual and gay art.


But for the record I typed the following above the footnotes: "Originally published with the editor's ambiguous title: I'm Asking -- Does It Exist? What Is It? Who Is It For? Neither the editor (a big-time lesbian) nor the publisher (then in the closet) asked me or even warned me. It just appeared ... and thus my essay was conveniently buried.


Just as you really have to know that Marsden Hartley, gay as a coot, was in love with a German soldier who died at the front to understand that his "German" paintings were not pro- Kaiser but pro-love, you do have to know that Ligon is gay to discern the full meaning of his piece about Robert Mapplethorpe's infamous "objectifying" photos of black-male nudes. Theoretically, gay is not a problem anymore. At least in the art world, and certainly not a problem in art history. Formal analysis was never enough. You also need to know that Ligon is black and Mapplethorpe was not. But black is not a problem anymore, is it?


Which leads me to:


In regard to the neon Negro Sunshine on the front of the Whitney, passersby might know it is art because of where it is, but probably not know the artist's name or that the artist himself is black. You would need to know the latter to understand that the sign is not racist but ironic. And it would help to know that "Negro Sunshine" is a phrase from Gertrude Stein, giving it a high modernist pedigree.

This does not mean that the phrase coming out of Stein's typewriter early in the last century was not racist. Smiling, happy darkies? Oh, Gertrude! Will persons walking past the Whitney on their way to lunch get this? Does the man running the hotdog stand understand? Will the German-speaking or the Swedish-speaking tourists coming to the Whitney be able to follow this nuance?


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Joseph Kosuth: Untitled (Art as Idea as Idea), 1967.

Poetry Is Not Limited to Words.


A conceptualist at the dawn of Conceptual Art, who was using words instead of paint and otherwise quite literate, confessed to me he never read  poetry: too sentimental! He professed to have read Ludwig Wittgenstein, but didn't seem to know that Philosophical Investigations is as much poetry as it is philosophy.


Is there anything sentimental about Lautréament's "chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table"? Or Allen Ginsberg's


    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by 
              madness, starving hysterical naked, 
       dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn 
              looking for an angry fix, 
       angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly 
              connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery
              of night...


There have been songs without words. Please save us from Mendelssohn's six volumes of such! But are there poems without words?


In the late '60s, a number of poets, some of whom were also art critics, jettisoned words and created what we called performance art, making in effect poems without words, whether by perpetuating a motionless one-man dance to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (yours truly) or following some stranger in the street (Vito Acconci), or trying to meet up with someone of the same name. Hannah Weiner the poet never actually met up with Dr. Hannah Weiner, the psychiatrist. That was probably an omen, for not too long after, Hannah began seeing words on people's foreheads and hearing voices, which threw her back into writing poetry again -- and that turned out great.



Hannah Weiner: Weiner's Wieners, 1969. (2008 reperformance  at the Lab, Belmar, Co.)

So we poets and writers were invading sacred territory, that of art. It seemed only fair. Artists were using words and little else to make what is now generally called Conceptual Art. Justice demanded that poets retaliate.


And then there was the problem too of Aram Saroyan, the publisher of my first book of poems. Some Conceptual Art that began to appear looked rather like his notorious minimalist poems. He even "published" a book that was merely an unopened ream of paper.


Fluxus? Mostly words!


Street Art? Graffiti means writing.


Well, it is all about intention and all about context. A wall is not a page; a page is not a wall. But some Conceptual Art took the form of books. Artists using language as their material gave a new, counter-intuitive meaning to the therapeutic motto that proclaims "a word is not a thing."



It's Only Words, or Is It the Word?


When I was trying to figure out how to come to grips with the Ligon survey, I actually considered producing an all-image, or nearly all-image, Artopia post. If artists can get away with words, then why can't art critics (or poets) get away with images? In the multimedia essay you are now reading, you can discern pentimenti of my struggle. The Image Portfolio of words in art you see below  -- with artists and titles added --- gives you an inkling of what my all-image post might have been.


But I slept on it.


Refreshed, I thought: No, this is unfair to the artist. I would be counting on the irony of my presentation, since explanations would not be possible in an all-image display. It might look as if I were trying to say that Ligon was entirely derivative, which is not what I had in mind for this witty switcheroo, this subversive sleight-of-hand.


Should I cast this entry as a poem? No. Not such a good idea. But I may do that some day, when I want to give all my secrets of composition away. When I want to torture you again with my braid theory of art and art history, of writing, of time, and of life.


The question boiled down to this: Would showing the precedents for Ligon's use of words validate or devalue his art?


I wanted to enrich the responses to the art, locate it, and suggest Ligon's originality in the changes he has rung. But for that, alas - or, I suppose, thank goodness -- we really do need words. In the meantime....





                                                       Kasmir Malevich: Aviator, 1914.

How Words Wormed Their Way Back Into Art


Medieval European art sometimes had word-ribbons floating about. But something more outrageous was about to happen in the 20th century. Russian Constructivists and the Cubists wanted the jazzy and everyday to be reflected in art, as painting otherwise veered toward total abstraction. Otherwise, art might be too mystical (as both Kandinsky and Mondrian, on another front, hoped). So typeface decorated the face of art. Words from posters, newspapers, magazines, labels on wine bottles and cleaning products. Juan Gris was particularly handy with the type-fonts.

The Surrealist displayed another tactic. Below his amended Mona Lisa, Duchamp could scrawl letters that, when pronounced, made a French pun proclaiming, "I have a hot behind." Magritte could include on the canvas itself the instructive words "This is not a pipe" below a painted image of a pipe. De Chirico was good at titling, too. Titles are, as it were, mostly off-screen. But if titles are part and parcel of a painting (I think they are!), then certainly the zany names for paintings of Max Ernst (Two Children Menaced by Nightingales, 1925), Salvador Dalí (Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to Blind Horse Biting a Telephone, 1938 ) and Roberto Matta (The Vertigo of Eros, 1944) are good examples of the marriage of poetry and art. One wit once remarked that Dalí was better at titles than making paintings.


Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone1938.jpg



In all of these cases, if we change the title, we change the image; we change the meanings. Try it. Change the Ernst title to The Triumph of Capitalism as Seen by an Hermaphrodite. Look at the Dalí as if it is titled How I Spent My Day at the Beach, Mom, or call the Matta Explosion of a Printing Plant Near Pluto.


And out of Cubism, Stuart Davis. And from Davis, Pop and Roy Lichtenstein's cartoon balloons.   And certainly Jasper Johns used a few words here and there.  And we then had to learn to put up with Robert Indiana's Love logo, in various sizes, colors, and even as sculpture. Or postage stamps. And on the West Coast we had William T. Wiley, who sometimes incorporated long texts in his Funky paintings. Ed Rucha in L.A. used and still sometimes uses floating, banal words.

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Stuart Davis: Owh in Sau Pau, 1951.



                                    Jasper Johns: False Start, 1959.


                                                           Roy Lichtenstein: Drowning Girl, 1961.

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                                  Robert Indiana: Love, c. 1965.

But the Conceptualists were out to use words plain and simple, transparently and not visually. The words were just there, a way of privileging ideas above objecthood. They claimed.


Why then is it so difficult, without labels or captions, to tell one Conceptual artwork from another? Is it any more difficult than telling apart Picasso, Gris, Braque in their Analytical Cubism period?


The Artopia Quiz 

Announcing the first Artopia contest. Identify the artist or poet who made each of the the works shown below. Send you answers to by midnight Eastern Standard Time, March 8. The first one correctly to identify the makers of all the works will have an image of his or her artwork published in Artopia. All other winners will be announced on the next Artopia post! 

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                                    *   *   *



No More Neon!

Ligon's four neon pieces are fine indeed, but in terms of neon in general, we have had quite enough. The only thing that could kill it off is a full-blown museum survey. Neon, of course, brings in commerce and Las Vegas. And if I select the word neon as my word-art piece, guess which will be both more fetching and fetch more money, the word neon stenciled on a wall or canvas or the word neon executed in functioning neon tubing? Which is more eye-catching, decorative, declarative, fun, and casts a new light on its surroundings? At least one of Ligon's "America" neon signs is painted black.



Bruce Nauman: The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967

Toward a Future Without Words?

So words and neon have already been done by many, many  artists, most of them Ligon's elders. Words and/or neon are art media in their own right, to be used when appropriate, the way artists feel free to use photography, video, and paint-on-canvas. Ligon, however, bends these conventions --- for that is what they rapidly became - towards more direct social content. As attractive as his word paintings are, he is not an innovator of forms. He is to Conceptual Art what Synthetic Cubism was to its predecessor Analytical Cubism. He is less abstract. In other words he is more like Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger than Lawrence Weiner.


                                   *   *   *


* Alternative Titles ----

                             Glenn Ligon: Fighting Words


    Genn Ligon: It's Only Words   


                                           Glenn Ligon: Paint It Black



                    Glenn Ligon: Words Are Swords



      Glenn Ligon: The Painted Word









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Preview: THE, A Novel by John Perreault.



March 21, 2011 8:56 AM |


                                                                                   BANKSY street art  KILROY

                                                                                   Mr. Brainwash

                                                                                   JAMES FRANCO

                                                                                   graffiti KEITH HARING






         There are four basic human needs: food, sleep, sex and revenge.


                                                                                                 -- Banksy



Banksy Pranksy  


Even a great satirist would be hard pressed to think this one up: Famous British street artist is nominated for an Oscar for best documentary, a film that exposes the herd instinct of the public and the gullibility of the art world.


The movie is called Exit From the Gift Shop, a film by Banksy.                    


When Banksy is on screen, he wears a hoody that artfully obscures his face, and his voice is altered. Why the latter? Does he have an identifiable accent like maybe from Bristol, England, or thereabouts? Or a squeaky voice?





More questions:


Is Exit a joke? A hoax? A mockumentary? An exercise in the self-reflexive?

A po-mo promo?


Above, I first typed Exist Through the Gift Shop. Typos are auguries.


Whether the film was scripted in advance or improvised or even discovered during the editing process is irrelevant; it is still a pretty funny film. You will always be reminded of it when you are leaving the Guggenheim Museum in New York and you actually have to exit through the gift shop, one of the most annoying tricks ever played on the museum-going public. 


Why not enter through the gift shop, save admission, and just look at the souvenirs -- which are sometimes better than the actual art? I routinely check out gift shops -- posters, cards, jigsaw puzzles, placemats, calendars and all such souvenirs of iconic artworks -- on my way out to make sure I have not missed any warhorses, because once or twice in museums other than the Guggenheim, I have, and had to circle back.


Actual art tends to be too big and far too grubby, right? Posters, cards, jigsaw puzzles, placemats, and calendars are neat, clean and useful as gifts.




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Thierry Guetta, L.A. rag-merchant, cinematographer, aka  Mr. Brainwash. From: Exit from the Gift Shop



From Rags to Riches


Last week I noticed Exit Through the Gift Shop was available on Netflix instant-streaming. With the Academy Awards coming up, how could I resist? I approached it with trepidation.


Turns out I loved it, love the way it suddenly (spoilers! spoilers!) turns around and turns upside-down two-thirds through.


Exit begins as if amateur filmmaker and artist-stalker Thierry Guetta's footage -- and the footage of him shooting his footage -- is going to be all there is to the film. We start with Guetta's Parisian "cousin," the real-life Space Invader who specializes in hit-and-run mosaics.




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And then on to other fabulously famous street artists like Shepard Fairey (celebrated for his Obama "Hope" poster).



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But the elusive Banksy, who in a possibly self-serving twist of self-imagining portrays himself as the ultimate goal of Quetta's quest, insists that he see some of the footage amassed by his fan, his sycophant.  We are offered a brief sample of the first cut of Guetta's Live Remote Control. Quetta has been shooting himself in the foot. It looks like a parody of an art film. Bruce Connor takes on street art? Fast cuts; but unlike Connor, no guts.


When Banksy urges Guetta to become a street artist instead of a filmmaker, he surrenders his footage to Banksy and reinvents himself as Mr. Brainwash. The film we are watching, now overtly by Banksy, is suddenly all about a goofy,  cartoon-French, used-clothing mogul living in L.A. who suddenly becomes a Street art celebrity through Banksy-type stencils of himself wielding a camera.


Very droll.




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Thierry Guetta becoming Mr. Brainwash. 



Cover of L.A. Weekly? Well, why not?


I checked it out in that rag's online archive. Yes, indeed. Here's a pic.
























And, yes, like Banksy's self-produced "Barely Legal" '06 mega-exhibition in L.A., someone going by the name of Mr. Brainwash pulled off the same in '08, but called it "Life Is Beautiful." 


Here's a blogger's description of the '06 Banksy show with lots of pictures.




















                                                  Banksy's stenciled elephant from "Barely Legal," 2006.



Rumors now in circulation:



Banksy is Guetta.


Banksy, adding "comic actor" to his talents as artist and filmmaker, plays both Guetta and himself in the movie.


The real-live Guetta is the real-life Banksy, a Frenchman based in L.A.


Banksy, not Mr. Brainwash, is the faux artiste. Or....


Both were created by Jeffrey Deitch, ex-dealer from N.Y.C. and now director of MOCA-LA, in an effort to publicize his forthcoming "Art in the Streets" exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary.


Banksy is Brad Pitt, the art collector.


Banksy is James Franco, another multi-talented artist --- the smiling co-host of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. He was nominated for best actor, and also lost.


Exit is a remake of Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (Porter/Edison, 1906, not 1903) or was actually made by Christopher Guest, the mockumentary genius.
















Art on the Run                                                                                        


No doubt about it, Banksy, whoever he is, is famous. He may be the "former public schoolboy from middle-class suburbia" as claimed by the Daily Mail.




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Or he may be a collective. But why should anyone care? Because many in high and in low places are taken with the Banksy brand.


What exactly is the Banksy product that has established willy-nilly or perhaps quite self-consciously the Banksy brand?


You can go to his website or, at least, what seems to be his website (everything is in doubt) and see some outdoor art, indoor art, and some souvenirs. The style is identifiable: relatively realistic stenciled figures up to something or another, usually no good. And it's all quite sarcastic. .


The stenciled images are ephemeral, except in those instances in which aggressive collectors have purchased entire walls or buildings in order to own (and surely later sell) authentic Banksy artworks.


Banksy is the new Damien Hirst. The new Andy Warhol. Let's hope he's not the new Salvador Dalí .




Banksy Portfolio:              










































































































But where did it all begin? 




A Brief History of Graffiti (Part One): Kilroy Was Here                          


Although vandalistic graffiti is ephemeral, it is in some ways eternal - or at least perennial. What is there about a flat surface in public that cries out for...speech. The impulse to leave your mark or to advertise yourself, taunt, or deface is apparently universal. Unsolicited additions to walls go back to ancient Egypt, to Rome and Pompeii, or to World War II.



























Graffiti on walls of Kom Ombo Temple, Ptolemaic Dynasty, Egypt,350-30BC





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             Graffiti from city of Leukaspis, N.D.





























Graffiti on wall in Pompeii













                                                                           G.I. graffiti, W.W. II, Europe




A Brief History of Graffiti (Part Two): It's All About Love



Oh, yes. I remember modern graffiti. According to most accounts -- some of them quite academic -- it started in Philadelphia, c. 1966. Philadelphia has a lot to answer for, and not just the invention of solitary confinement at Eastern State Penitentiary. What became graffiti art was called "bombing" then, and Cornbread (Darryl McCray) and Cool Earl were the stars. Cornbread himself on his website dates his invention of graffiti to his love-starved youth. He was trying to impress a girl he was interested in. Cornbread was McCray's nickname in an unidentified "juvenile institution." But when he got out ...



I met this girl in school named Cynthia. I used to like Cynthia a lot. I would walk her home from school everyday 'cause I was trying to be her boyfriend. I started writing "Cornbread loves Cynthia" all over the neighbourhood (sic) She didn't know Cornbread and I were the same person, she just knew me as Darryl. It played on my mind 'cause Cornbread seemed to get more attention from her than I did. One day many months later, she saw "Cornbread loves Cynthia" written on my school book and she realized who I was. That's when she fell in love with me.


  But b





































A Brief History of Graffiti (Part Three): From Philly to the BMT


Suddenly "tags" by TAKI 183 began to appear in New York City. Did this happen spontaneously, or is there a special land bridge from Philly to New York as there once was from Siberia to North America?


First TAKI 183. Then whole subway cars got "tagged" by spray-can art. Styles proliferated at a breakneck speed. Writing went crazy:  Wild style, Throw-Up, Blockbuster, Broadway, Bubble,  WigglesB boy, Flava Wildstyle, Shadow, Chinese, Puzzle. Was it art? George Kubler once said if a group of things laid out chronologically exhibited rapid and nonfunctional modifications, we were probably looking at art of some sort. So much for the eternally transcendent.


In 1974, Norman Mailer, that champion of great art, published The Faith of Graffiti.


I have a soft spot for calligraphy -- Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic and, if you remember, pseudo-calligraphy in all traditions including the paintings of Brion Gysin  --- but this guerrilla "writing" in New York was a nuisance. It was flamboyantly decorative; possibly territorial; and best seen as a new kind of urban folk art.


Spray-can graffiti spread like a weird fungus among us, from the BMT and the IRT to drainage ditches, elevated-roadway underbellies ("heaven"), rooftops, and walls. Hundreds of walls. Savvy art dealers began bringing it indoors. And I began to rue the day I had not ripped off the beautiful chalk drawings that Keith Haring did on the black surfaces of unrented advertising rectangles on subway platforms. Oh, that howling wolf. And the radiant baby.




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Bear in mind, however, that the kind of street art I was officially interested in -- we called it Street Works in 1969, in order to parody Earthworks -- was performance-based. A poet roller-skated down Fifth Avenue; a male artist walked 14th Street in drag. A soon-to-be-mad poet commandeered her own hotdog stand. Your truly made phone calls from phone booth to phone booth in Midtown, hanging up before the phones were answered. Street Works V, the final extravaganza, had 500 or so artist and poet participants. Although there was sometimes litter (Arakawa), the litter could be swept away. And although stencils were sometimes employed by the likes of maverick Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, his rats and his words have  eluded art history.


Art history is interested only in what is up for auction. "Object Art" stenciled on the street-level wall of the Whitney moat is the Lanigan-Schmidt contribution to guerrilla art I remember most. Then again, he did stenciled rats everywhere, knowing them firsthand in his Lower East hovel, which was wildly decorated with cellophane and permanent Xmas lights...and rats made out of aluminum foil. 


It's the rats that are up for auction. thomas L-S.jpg 








And the writings-on-the-wall? Graffiti of the '80s is so yesterday; Haring was the best. But the rest, as they came in from the cold and had gallery shows? Nada. Even Haring was better outside. Will the same be true of Banksy? We cannot even bear to look at the paintings of poor, dead Jean-Michel Basquiat, in spite of the film about him. But maybe it's because of the Warhol collaborations, which are as if Duchamp were playing catch-up, ripping off some handsome, drug-addled teenager who had just come in out of the rain.



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Basquiet graffiti






























Bansky taking Haring dog for walk.....




Is Classification Pacification?


The "street art" entry on Wikipedia offers this definition: "Typically, the term street art or the more specific post-graffiti is used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti, vandalism, and corporate art."


But it goes on to cite a 1981 exhibition at the Washington Project for the Arts in D.C. called "Street Art." The first use of street art as a term? When I checked it on the WPA site, it seems the exhibition was actually called "Streetworks"!


In any case, street art now is intended as art, whereas I would bet that the early graffiti artists -- before art-school dropouts took over -- did not think of their murals as having anything to do with Picasso or Diego Rivera.


But wait a minute. Weren't the graffiti loners and crews extremely competitive, just like real artists? Didn't they call their biggest works "pieces," which is short for "masterpieces"?


Here's a reference to street art that can be verified. The Tate Modern in 2008 had an exhibition called "Street Art." Blu, Faile, JR, Nunca, Os Gemeos, and Sexeart created murals on the Tate's river façade. Because the murals were legal and sanctioned, I don't think they were street art. But to give credit where credit is due, they were about street art. Got the words right; got the art wrong.


Have there been any earlier uses of the term? Scholars, please get to work. Confirmed sources only.



                                                    *   *   *


Whatever the date of origin, Street art  fits the bill. Alternate terms such as post-graffiti and neo-graffiti don't really seem to work. Graffiti etymologically screams out words, yells out writing. And because of media exposure is identified with spray-can paint. Graffiti  is not a large enough term to encompass the various kinds of unofficial, unsanctified art that continue to take place in the streets all over the world. Words, yes. But also images (stenciled, pasted, or whatever), objects (Banksy's bent booth), and various performance-based manifestations including flash mobbing. We needed a bigger term. A new term. And Street Art it is.


We can classify it but can we bring it indoors? Can it be saved?


Changing the context changes the meaning. Saving the art destroys it. Brackets betray. The way things are done now, hanging something on a white wall makes it art. But those very same white walls may do the reverse for street art, draining energy, canceling surprise, setting up unfair comparisons with art actually made for white walls (or at least posh living rooms).


The institutionalization of street art is the destruction of street art. If you like it, you will have to save it from being painted over or scrubbed away. You have to put a fence around it, own it, or bring it indoors. To save it, you have to kill it. 


It almost goes without saying that if graffiti is institutionalized as transplanted walls or turned into translations of images onto stretched canvas or paper (i.e., drawings and prints), then all its deep aura is stripped away. The aurafication of contemplative display is no match for the rawness of illegal art. Street art must be a criminal act or it is just murals-as-usual. Also, beyond ghetto bravado -- which initially was enough - street art needs to have a message. Territorialization is not enough.


Banksy's images of a Royal Guard or a mutt peeing on a wall are funny and smart because they give away the territorial aspect of street art and certainly of graffiti before it was subsumed.   He quotes Keith Haring. He appropriates Monty Python graphics. He pisses on everything. Banksy claims all walls. Banksy grabs street art for himself.





















Flim-Flam or Meta-Film?


In the movie, Banksy's disdainful dismissal of the arty Guetta edit disguises the fact that Exit Through the Gift Shop is itself quite arty. The structure is more important than the subject. The structure is the content. Is this also a parody? Is this a criticism of the self-reflexive trope, so beloved by all in including the proprietor of Artopia? But also a criticism of the cupidity and complicity of artists, not only his alter ego (?) Mr. Brainwash, but even himself?


Well, maybe not that, or at least not blatantly, for how can you criticize an artist  who gets into the limelight by staying out of the limelight, has a healthy secondary market, has good politics - I think --- and seems to be slamming both the art world, and casting doubts upon every other Street artist in the universe.


Mr. Brainwash's "Life Is Beautiful" had no painted live elephant like Banksy's breakthrough show, but looks as if it was jammed with Banksy rejects. Or as Banksy says: "Mr. Brainwash is a force of nature; he's a phenomenon. And I don't mean that in a good way."


Banksy is always quotable. He inherited the Warhol quotability quotient: 



The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages


Nevertheless, I smell an infinite regress. You have to make a lot of money to make a film satirizing making a lot of money. Hey, come on, even artists have to eat, and because Banksy is anonymous we do not know exactly how much he is worth.


To be fair, maybe all the money is being made by Banksy's collectors. However, on the evidence of his art, Bansky travels far and wide, and that costs money. It is also very expensive to remain anonymous. How much, by the way, would it cost to rent a former CBS studio to mount your own art show? To do it twice, the second time to make a faux-doc?








John Perreault is on Facebook.


You can also follow John Perreault on Twitter: johnperreault

See my art here:
John Perreault's reactivated website:

Preview: THE, A Novel by John Perreault.







February 28, 2011 11:08 AM |


Examples of John Perreault's art and his biography: John Perreault is on Facebook and Twitter.
John Perreault interviewed on WPS1 

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