Friday, October 03, 2014

How Small It Actually Is. Alex Zafiris interviews Ben Davis

Lots of good ideas over here at:

October 1, 2014
The art critic and activist discusses the power structures of the art empire, the drive to present artists as heroes, and the idea that art practice is middle-class labor.
Book cover art by William Powhida
I liked this line, 

"I actually think we are in a pretty disorienting time. Yes, art writing is often kind of abstract, and people often write about art as if their real audience is a professional society of Deleuze scholars, or the keepers of some kind of Skull-and-Bones-like secret faith of “true painting.” That’s not purely innocent: this stuff sells for big money because wealthy and often very unsavory people think it buys them into the smart set, so a certain level of vague seriousness suits that agenda."

...And this one. Could this apply to the new MCA David Bowie show? 

"One major contemporary trend in art is away from difficulty, toward really big objects, toward fashion: splashy gestures that go down easy. The old charge that museums are “elitist” doesn’t really feel totally right to me. MoMA’s doing a Björk show. The big institutions have found that buzz and long lines can replace intellectual cachet at a certain level, for the purpose of pleasing funders."

Oh and this too:

"I disagree with the characterization of Koons as “elitist.” I mean, they are big, shiny, mirrored things. He has a pop-culture following. In some ways, he embodies the weird moment that we are living in that I mentioned earlier, where the art world is both kind of cut off from the rest of the world and also increasingly freeing itself of a need to have anything really to say besides providing a mirrored surface to take a selfie in.

Critically, the conversation is more or less frozen: the critique of Koons is always pretty much that the work is brainless, rich-guy populism, and it gets tiresome to repeat that over and over. In the essay you mention, I talk about a particular text at the current Whitney Museum about Koons’s famous sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. The wall label quotes Koons as saying that he loves how Jackson lightened his skin to appeal to “more middle-class white audiences.” And that’s just such a weird, tone-deaf statement—and particularly because the Whitney had just passed through this controversy about how white the Whitney Biennial was, with artists in the show even protesting, it is stunning that the museum let that through without even seeming to be critical at all.
It just makes a point that there is a subtext to the universalizing of Koons’s message about turning off the critical mind and just embracing what makes you happy. You really realize that you can only get away with it as a white guy, because people are only willing to read the kinds of simple pleasures you are into as universal if you are coded as universal yourself. And you particularly realize that fact because you see that some of the early work, “Equilibrium” and “Luxury and Degradation,” actually has a subtext about race. The “Equilibrium” works, the basketballs in the tanks, are presented all the time without the accompanying posters of black athletes, or Koons’s confused statements critiquing how basketball culture seduces inner-city black youth. "

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