Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jed Perl's review of the Koons Retrospective in "The New York Review of Books"

Jed Perl continues his quixotic tilting at wind mills in his latest review of the Koons phenomenon.That something must be said to deflate this conflation of art and global finance goes without saying.There is a slightly queasy sensation when we behold  the commercial event surrounding the work but also the work itself, an emotion that the early critics felt spoke to Koons being an artist that they had yet to come to terms with.The notion of the avant-garde that keeps pulling the rug out from under the complacent Bourgeoisie is the paradigm they use to justify his historical significance.Weren't the French academicians appalled by Cezanne and Van Gogh; the New York press by the Armory show?

Anxious to be on the right side of history the apologists go to no end to convince us that Koons is the latest turn in the on-going dialectic toward perfect self-consciousness, bringing us closer to our inner essence, which they stupidly imagine to be a love of kitsch. If you look at the work dialectically it does not in any way serve as a heightening of self-consciousness that counters any synthesis as did the work of Cezanne, for example, but rather represents a collapse of any tension between the individual and society. In my review of a show at the MFA in Boston, that placed the work of the Impressionists side by side with the work of the Academy, I demonstrated that  artists like Monet were more in touch with the scientific tradition of optics that had informed the work of someone like Chardin, than the academicians who painted in a fatigued version of chiaroscuro and were unable to take the next step toward color perception in painting. If you assume that the essence of the Impressionists and for that matter Matisse was to paint crudely and assume that any time you witness that crudeness in art it is a sure sign that the artist is the next Matisse, you are putting the cart before the horse and in fact create a perverse paradigm that only bad taste can assure that an artist's work is of enduring value. Monet was studying color theory, bringing painting back to the perceptual roots of the Renaissance and the Baroque and Van Gogh was searching in the tradition of the Christian saints for a way to overcome not just the spiritual smugness of his time but to make his life more meaningful. They were both reactionaries,i.e. backward looking, in their attempts to move painting forward. They were more self-conscious than their contemporaries and more aware of the the traditions that shaped European painting.

Look at Cabanel and Bouguereau if you want to see  precedents of Koons. They too leave you with a queasy feeling in your stomach. Unctuous, syrupy, cloying. In some sort of intellectual legerdemain, the contemporary critics imagine Koons to be cutting edge but as Perl says there is no way he can be put in the same category as the ascetic Duchamp, whose leap out of the visual still remains hard to process today. He is rather the protege of Warhol who saw the individual as merged into the commercial.That abandonment of the self into the commercial is the goal of all the rich businesspeople who buy Koons' work. They make their billions by seeing the masses as Play-Doh, just material to exploit. If we are as emotionally devoid of seriousness as Koons proclaims, we are ripe to enter a strange sort of paradise of the end times where we surround ourselves with kitschy possessions and kitschy emotions and dissolve our lives into some sort of colorful puddle. Are we at the end of history where Hegel's Absolute is the media and the tension between the heft of the individual and the media is erased.

.Just as the academicians were a symptom of the decadent Bourgeoisie of the 19thc, whose pseudo- classical vision of mankind had no relation to the facticity of the lives of real people so Koons is the wet dream of the class of global kleptocrats who envision the masses  acquiescing absolutely to their drive to sell us more and more things. I agree with Perl that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and quote Shakespeare's  quintessential paragon of self-consciousness:Hamlet:

"Oh God I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space-were it not that I  have bad dreams."

(In my article on the topos of modern culture I place Koons in the context of Western Nihilism)

I can be followed on twitter @mugar49

Friday, September 5, 2014

Response to 'theory and matter' in AIA
(with a much appreciated acknowledgement of my role in coining zombie formalism in paragraph 19)

I finally got around to reading the article by Rubinstein. I thought problematic his idea that American artists should take the lead of the French and apply more theory to their work. It could be helpful but there is something anti-American about it. I recall Bataille's observation of swaggering American soldiers in Paris after the war who seemed to embody the immanence of the ideal in the real. don't separate the ideal from the real, so that we can achieve the ideal only through action.

lt has been said that to understand the Deconstructionist mindset you have to understand the context within which it was created.i.e. French culture, which is Cartesian, hierarchical and oriented around the power of the State from Louis XIV to Hollande. It is hard to just break away and live the nomadic lifestyle that Deleuze and Guattari set off against the hierarchical; you are only allowed to intellectually deconstruct it. I remember the shock of leaving the squalor of New York of the Seventies for Paris, where I lived or should I say scrounged for three years, which, although it suffered from the same economic malaise never let it show.The streets were clean, the parks beautifully maintained.The State made sure that the raw energy of economics, as it waned or waxed, did not spoil the transcendent beauty of their city. Maybe we spontaneously deconstruct on a constant basis; there is something nomadic at the heart of the American experience, whereas the French turn nomadism into an intellectual game until everything blows up as in '68 or the French Revolution.

For the poet and dreamer Paris is seductive with its overlay of history and hedonism. I remember the poet Ralph from Nebraska whom I met at the Chez Michel in Montmartre, whose owner, a retired actor wore a Stetson hat. Ralph conjured up ghosts of Paris past wherever he wandered. It were as though he needed a lifetime to recover from the pragmatic plains of the Midwest. Was it any different for Henry Miller who left the raw utilitarian life of Brooklyn or Thomas Merton who yearned for a sweetness that he seemed to recall from his youth in France? He thought it embodied in the well-behaved school children dressed in uniforms. So different from the French youth of the banlieues of today saturated in American hip-hop culture.