Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Quasi-Warholism" is Fun To Say

(Edited from a Facebook thread.) Dare one suggest that Warholistic Pop turned out to be a nihilistic embrace of corporate culture, hostile and even bullying to curiosity, emotion, craft, individuality, visual poetry and in some ways basic humanism? That its fallout has pushed a generation of artists into a fear of expressing something suspicously personal, ambitious, moral and beautiful?  On "The Curse of Warholism" at The New Republic.

    DeWitt Cheng     One dares, forsooth! Maybe 2-3 generations, even.
    Janet Norris         One could dare, and one could be correct.
    Jamie Bollenbach     My perception is that this Quasi-Warholism, I phrase I coin because it's fun to say, peaked for artists a few years ago; many of my friends long since became exasperated with it, and worse for whatever future influence it might have, rather bored. 
    However, the institutional inertia is still cranking it up. It's hold on some curators defies belief, except that it's a perfect art philospohy for bureaucrats: bloodsuckingly safe, pseudo-serious, and slightly popular. It's aesthetics are also perfect for the blizzard of digital graphics: flat, pat, cold, and detached.
        Janet Norris     Quasiwarholism, the enemy within. I agree, Jamie, one sees the inertia in countless institutional settings. One has become accustomed to shoulder shrugging while one continues to be on the lookout for authenticity.
    DeWitt Cheng     Well said, Jamie and Janet. Neoretinalists, arise! Trample the referencers into the dust!

    Jamie Bollenbach
    Neoretinalists...How about "Lookers"?   
    Janet Norris         DeWitt is using big words; uhoh, pull him off that podium!
    DeWitt Cheng     Wait, I'm standing on a Brillo box! That's art!
    DeWitt Cheng     Manic lexiphanicism — I'm waiting for disease of the week TV show. In Wm. F. Buckley's immortal words, Eschew obfuscation!
    Jamie Bollenbach     Notice how much Buckley and Warhol looked alike... Coincidence? Yes. But still.
    DeWitt Cheng     Did anyone ever see them together? Hmmmm. Of course Warhol did hire stand-ins.
    Jamie Bollenbach     Not to mention they shared a philosophy of the primacy of business.
    DeWitt Cheng     Yes. WFB remained a Catholic; AW worshiped consumerism.
    Janet Norris         I'm still catching up to the Celtic harlot, who was not Bouboulina, definitely. I had to go eat with people yesterday so I'm late for important ideas needing bashing.
    Jamie Bollenbach     Speaking of shopping, at Target, you may see a perfect expression of Quasi-Warholism: hanging pictures of Manhattan-stylish models, exuding "playful indifference but artsy design," so large, flat and slick that they completely over-dominate any accidental view of the actual people shopping there.
    DeWitt Cheng     Thou shalt shop til thou droppest. Go, buy some individuality!
    Jamie Bollenbach     To round this back.. we get plenty of Warhol at Target. Do we need it at every museum in America?
    DeWitt Cheng     I remember a critic of Vietnam War asking, When did we become the redcoats? Maybe avant-gardists could ask, When did we become a nation of hipsters?
    Jamie Bollenbach     The moment big companies realized there was big money in it.
    Lauren Horn         Warhol does not control me, and his greatest influence is my preference for John Cale's version of "Halllelujah." Is it so unfair to expect that artists have strong enough will and thick enough skins to ignore him and say what they want to say?
    Todd Keeling         The push or pull of playing the oposite, in an artistic movement...a reaction, a re-reaction. It gets attention. Provocations are stimulating and if an idea, or anti-idea steam rolls another, what does that say about the people paying attention to it? If anything.
    DeWitt Cheng     Any idea, any movement can yield great or terrible — or ho-hum art. Novelty is as bad s criterion as antiquity. Art lives (or dies) in the eternal present that Picasso described

  Jamie Bollenbach     Formless political centrism, the persistent, seeming reasonableness of equivalency works by a kind of nihilism, not just drawing commonalities between beliefs, but by erasing their importance. (A classic example is global warming deniers, cynically overstating ambiguities to argue that we can make no conclusions and take no expensive actions that might threaten company proftis.)
    For Art, that is in many ways what Warhol did. Mao and Marilyn Monroe are just mechanical object-images, exactly like all others, distinguished in his work only by the accidental physics of paint on a silk screen. In Warhol's work, the image of a man being beaten and hosed by the police in a civil rights struggle is more or less the same thing as a set of iterations of images of Elvis. I find it among the most repulsive, and least interesting, view among modern artists.
    And this isn't a rejection of Pop aesthetics, exactly. Lichetenstein's ironic wit, for example, never erased the joy of what he was reproducing, or his visual interest in his subjects. He was, in a way, making landscapes of comic strips. Warhol's work looks like he wants to erase all the emotions and hopes and internal lives of human beings.
    Modern, institutional quasi-warholism, is a strange elevation of what Andy Warhol acutally did, and unlike reams of papers making tenuous threads connecting this to critical politics, it has exactly nothing to do with progressive politics. Quite, I argue, the opposite; the elevation of the banal means to reduce all of us to blank consumers, distracted by nothing but shiny, falsely certain, antiseptically clean-edged surfaces. (For a great example, look at your computer screen right now.)
    The modern version, this Quasi-warholism, is, I think, almost a social movement of hostility to meaning, to human feeling, clothed in cool detachment, beloved of those who find thought and power and love and hate and loss and glory and the heavy, grand, dazzling beauty and ugliness of the world hateful and unsettling. Just like politics, the problem is that the substance of ideas matter, aesthetics matter, and to those of us working in the arts, just like any career, institutional power matters.