I see that in two New York art shows Jenny Holzer and the rest have taken some kind of lesson from the Aztecs. “Death hangs in the air,” NY Times art critic Roberta Smith writes. “Or, more accurately, on the walls.” But to be frank about it, the art of Holzer et al. is put to shame by the death-obsessed thingies on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence: The other day I was at the museum, where this stunning Aztec skull caught my attention. (How could it not?) No encrusted diamonds per Damien Hirst, but a helluva lot more expressive. (There were plenty of other masterly pre-Columbian thingies, so many Aztec, Olmec, Mayan and Teotihuac thingies that it was hard to stop taking pictures.)
Meanwhile, now that I’m back from Mex City, I also had a chance to look in again on the show of collages by Mary Beach and Claude Pelieu. (Scheduled to close yesterday, it’s been extended through November.) So here’s another coincidence: Beach put pants on a diamond-encrusted skull way back in 2001. On paper, of course, but six years before Hirst’s full-fledged encrustation.
Postscript: A reader writes:
Damien Hirst is the kind of guy who could have been a great artist if he’d pre-existed the mass media. I think he has decent ideas but he deploys them in the most superficial way possible (without thereby attaining the depth of Warhol — a paradox that would take me half the morning to try to explain).
Every morning when I come to work, I pass by a teaching skeleton that’s been tossed on a cart. It’s half broken and somebody has hung a blue hair net over a protruding bit of backbone. This ignominious figure probably has more to teach about death than Hirst and co: in death we’re discarded and quite likely mocked as well.
They have a certain je ne sais quoi. Nyet? And, I might add, the title of the show is very William S. Burroughs.