What Morley Safer Got Right About Contemporary Art
What Morley Safer Got Right about Contemporary Art
By Barry Kostrinsky
It was odd watching the pre-memorial segment on 60 minutes a week ago about a soon to die Morley Safer. It felt like a Monty Python sketch and I expected Morley to blurt out, " I'm not dead yet." However low and behold he was dead a week later. Pneumonia is often the last breathe before death. For all his reporting and significant exposes Morley is best known in the art world as El Diablo for his lambasting of the contemporary scene. Was he right or wrong?
Jeff Koon's 1985 "Three Ball total Equilibrium Tank," on the left, makes me wary of titles in art work. Of course Jeff is a rookie in comparison to an elaborately titled meaningless work by Damian Hirst-aka Shark boy. Richard Princes Instagram rip-off on the right. I am not sure who he is ripping off, the photographer he stole the image from or the collector that buys it.
Critical thinking and an over emphasis on thinking about the meaningless with a heroic tone in the contemporary art world are de rigueur. For a group of thinkers and creators, artists, that are meant to shine the away to the future , to hold a light to a new enlightenment, are often just capitalist production houses gathering wealth for their own mass consumption and deception. It is hard not to feel like you are missing the polluted punch if you don't get the contemporary art scene. What is everyone drinking?
Ideas have had rule of the art world since Duchamp, the current champ, quit the game the last 10 years of his life. Did he realize the box he had opened was a Pandorian Nightmare? The conceptual revival in the 60's was a reaction to the moneyed art world and one of the goals was to produce an art of ideas, un-purchasable, un-collectable and independent of a capitalist system of art. Fast forward to the now and well, everyone has sold out, Yves Kline has a color, Koon's a bridge to come, a limited edition crème and I-phone case and there is a Prince stealing Instagram images for his wallet, yes with a neatly packaged conceptual overlay.
Kazimir Malevich's 1915 " Suprematism With Eight Rectangles," on the left is a seminal work in the history of art loaded with conceptual meaning and content worth reading about. Ad Reinhardt's 1952 painting from his red series has quite a different underlying meaning, maybe not worth the rhetorical bull. Is it a brake through or meaningless mimicry of older thoughts recapitulated? Most Contemporary minimal conceptual art harkens back to these Suprematist works and yet offers little of the substance Malevich does. Considering it is over 100 years old, it makes you wonder what new ground has been gained by contemporary derivatives.
Any image can be imbued with aesthetic bull. 50 different stories can be told to explain an all black painting or a pure white paining. When do words explain and open up a work of art and when do the words support the art and when do the words act as the substance of the art? At the core is the art and like an artichoke the contemporary art world's core leaves a lot to be desired. In the end, it's all about the dip and you get little to chew on for sustenance.
Now everyone in the contemporary scene is all in on this. The collectors have dipped into the sauce, drunk the punch and they are on the boards of the major museums. The collectors groups of the museums buy the works their board members are collecting, yielding a nice windfall for the early to buy board members.
But is the contemporary art world to blame? Or is this just a reflection of our Mcdonald's culture? We are our times and our art is a reflection of what's right and wrong with our current zeitgeist. That does not make our times or our art worthy.
Gazoo, a fond memory from my salad days and an apt critic of dumb dumbs. Warhol, by the great photographer Robert Mapplethrope.
Warhol is as much to blame as Duchamp. Indeed, Warhol was either a genius or a dumb dumb like Fred Flintstone as decried by Gazoo. Maybe he was both. His works are moving, he entered many worlds of thoughts, images and sensations. I like Warhol but I hate him too. Why was Andy so evasive like the Prince in the lawsuit for his Instagram steals? It's obvious, like most of the art world he knew a definitive statement would be bland, meaningless and exposure the surface of his intentions, if he had any at all. So he was best to let you imagine the monster or the giant without showing it to you so you could build his scariness and greatness.
Botticelli's Birth of Venus from 1486 does not need words to open her up. Yes, her history will add to the work but the image will take you further. Maurizio Cattelan's piece on the right sold for $17 Million recently. Need I say anymore about art and culture in the present day.
We know what Art is. Art is the highest expression of people in a culture. It is the law of the lands aesthetic, its moral concerns and biases and expression of the highest goals and aspiration of a culture. Where does a vacuum cleaner or a basketball fit into this? Nowhere, except the Whitney and the walls of empty collectors.
Just in case I did not piss off enough people let me ask you this. Can Kara Walker represent all that was wrong with slavery? Can Ai Weiwei represent the plight of China, or are they just false idols, consuming the plight of real people and capitalizing on it for their own gain.
President George W Bush's self portrait on the left once got the art worlds panties in an uproar and could be associated with all the art world faux excellence of an Alex Katz painting. Morley Safer's interior on the right has elements of a personal story fabled in the contemporary art world and fits today's art world aesthetic, it's story line of the day. What does that say about our art world, Morley's thesis and our world?
Einstein was ridiculed for wasting away the end of his days searching for a cosmological constant whilst the rest of the physics world moved 'forward' with more daring ideas. He held fast to an idea of beauty. Low and behold, 50 years later physicist are thinking this onetime lowly patent clerk may have been on to something.
There are a few thinkers, and artists out there today that are aware of some other trends worth following and developing in the history of art. They are exploring ground that looks like it is old, meaningless and worthless for the contemporary scene. Every time is contemporary in its time and at some point those lessor known thinkers will be re-evaluated and their paths, divergent from the current trends in art history will one day be scene as a beacon of light to a future to a realer art. After all, they got it right in "All The President Men:' follow the money it will lead you to the deceivers and the criminals."
I want more from my art world and will defile all that is accepted to open the way to the future.