Saturday, March 22, 2014

Painted Pornography and Visual Sadomascochism: The Art of the One Percent

Jean-Leon Jerome "At the Slave Market"

The visual is the artist's language. It is how we communicate in whatever form we choose to use. It is many things; our survival, our identity- we use and abuse it, jockeying for recognition, to be loved and for money. Few artists today are painting for the sheer joy of making something exquisite, sublime, that represents a flower of mankind's achievement, a gift - everything is a joke- or so it would seem, or they are not being reviewed by the major news organs or exhibited in the blue chip galleries. There is little concern with the preciousness of our planet and even those who  manage it, often do it in a self serving, pontificating manner. Honesty in art is going the way of the big mammal in Africa- straight to extinction. Search for the words, sublime, tender, ravishing, exquisite in The New York Times in the Arts section and you generally find only listings of work  that is at least  50 years old or more- and most often antiquities.

Since the 1930's through the early 1950's, the trajectory of modern abstract art has changed from one of honest exploration- to selfie art. Look at ME! Look at how clever I AM.  A good book to read about this is Jed Perls "New Art City".
Even one of my favorite art villains, Duchamp posed an interesting intellectual roadblock with his readymades. At least he was thinking of ways forward, out or up. Since then it had been a 100 car pile up of detritus with few restrictions on quality or vacuousness. Any idea, any frivolous piece of garbage that can be put over on the public in the name of "epater la bourgeoisie'- essentially the 'superior man' the  artist, showing the decadent middle class 'what's what' for society's own good no less. This trope has been carrying on for over 150 years when artists like Gerome  and the other artists of the French Academy needed a good goosing- however  the goosers were superior artist like Manet, Renoir, Manet etc. Today's fledgling goslings can barely make a recognizable doodle and the gooses are goosing the gooses. Every material conceivable from urine to feces- is fair game- nothing is sacred. Every point of view as well. The artist remade as a con man- strip-mining our culture- an artist reviewed in the New York Times recently is doing homages to the artist of the last 50 years including recoloring and silk-screening Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup cans. Richard Prince, that robber baron of artists took Patrick Cariou's striking pictures of Rastafarians and turned them into dirty jokes. The hip euphemism is 'appropriation'.
Our art culture is bankrupt.

However the reigning example of this bottom feeding is the titillating explosion of painted pornography. In the Victorian age-the art goer got his jollies off with painting of naked slave girls in extremis. Harem picture were artistic de rigueur.  They were at least well painted. Erotica is older than the Seven Hills of Rome.  I saw an antique portfolio of miniature Persian erotic painting decades ago, quite graphic and crude . However in no other culture has it been the dominant art form until our current age.. -The modern concept of pornography did not exist until the Victorian era. (Wikipedia) Pornography is the subjugation of  the powerless- women, children and animals. It is the appropriate art for the world's robber barons, among them America's oligarchs who enjoy the frisson of financial  and sexual subjugation albeit disguised in the form of high art.  John Currin tries his 'old master's  touch' in repainting sleazy  pages from porno magazines. Currin's work has now the strange look of the favored style of Adolphe Hitler.

Approved Nazi Art

Kara Walker rewards her viewers big-time- they are metaphorically whipped with depictions of slavery's horrors and flattered into believing that this experience shows their oneness with the black experience.  The juicy sexual content, acts of  fellatio, etc., is an added bonus. Go Kara!   Big time museums and patrons are doling out huge sums of money for this visual sadomasochism and this duo is providing it to them in spectacular fashion. This work is our culture's endtime painting.

A review by Jerry Saltz in "The Vulture".
3) This low was a high for at least one person involved. At Greene Naftali, the outstanding Austrian collective Gelitin had all its members blindfolded, then enlisted local artists to help them make sculpture on-site. When I was there, I watched a woman artist I know bending down in front of one nearly naked Gelitin-ite, whose penis was bobbing directly in her face, from under his garter belt. Suddenly he announced to another group member, “Hans, come here. Give me a blow job.” Hans did, as the woman watched from inches away. We both just started laughing. Austrians!

These are but a few examples, there are many more, ie Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle- but it is too depressing to completely annotate this essay with the massive amounts of 'work' that is out there.

There IS some beautiful and life affirming work being done. It gets little recognition, but survives, marginally in the backwaters and eddies of our culture. There is no Paris, no New York anymore.

An amazing interview by Robert Hughes interviewing the one percent collector- fabulous!

I have had this entry on the back-burner for along time until Ian Warburton pointed out this article by James Cromwell in Cultural Weekly. I felt rather alone in the wilderness.

“To hold the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” is today an act of insurrection. In our drug addicted, violence prone, greed induced and celebrity besotted culture, where the one tenth of one percent have a stranglehold on the organs of communication, it is imperative to raise our collective voice in resistance.  


The Painted Sky said...

Thanks for the cryptic question, I have no idea what you are on about?

email me on



Sharon Knettell said...

Hi Jim!

Saw your stuff on the net- thought I would say hello to the wabbit.