Death of an Art Snob
On Saturday, Sept. 19th, the world’s most famous art snob, Brian Sewell died, opening up no new dialog at all regarding the role of art criticism and how, if at all, it effects the public’s view of the art that surrounds them. I’m sure he could have cared less. Accused of cruelty, his response, equal parts clueless and snooty, was ““I only review major exhibitions, so the people who really suffer are not the working artists, they’re the curators.” And this despite the fact that he spoke directly about artists, dismissing them all women and many men with casual one and two word epithets.
Respectful obits be damned: this man was an insufferably pompous bullier of women, famous for having said “Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness”— Luckily, his career spanned beyond the days when art criticism may have mattered.
(These days all we expect from critics is a hint about how to parse the latest conceptual conundrum without revealing that we never read a single book on gender politics.)
The fact is, though, that the obits for Sewell point toward the impotency, rather than the power of art criticism. Art criticism is of a moment. Its relevancy is embedded in a generation. It is an avocado colored refrigerator.
Oldsters married to the aesthetics or the art manifestos of past decades, conservatives who refuse to look at new movements for fear of losing their grip on entrenched authority, and ivory tower academics free-associating Danto and Adorno, may continue to make smarter-than-thou pronouncements but, overall, they amount to nothing but atmosphere.
Happily, therefore, Sewell’s dismissals went from page to anecdote while the “trivial” Tracey Emin has gone about her spicy ways unscathed, and the vulgar prankster, David Hockney seems these days like the Hallmark card of fine art — safe, tried and true, almost quaint. And though he may have been prescient in his scorn for the “fucking awful” Damien Hirst, no one will be doing follow up stories on the relationship between women artists’ career span and child bearing.
Some Things Never Change
Vandals in Paris have thrice left their anti-Semitic marks on artist Anish Kapoor’s “Dirty Corner” since a June installation placed it among several other works by the artist at Chateau de Versailles.
The slogans “At Versailles Christ is King” and “the second RAPE of the nation by DEVIANT JEWISH activism” were slated to remain, according to the artist’s wishes, in public view as a testament to hatred and an invitation to dialog, but a court ruling dictated they be covered. Now, the Independent reports that Kapoor is giving the graffiti a royal cover up in gold gilt. The makeover began on Monday, Sept, 21.
Biting the Hand that Awards You
In a Sept 9th editorial piece for Creativetime Reports, artist Steve Lambert examined the personal and political implications of philanthropy as it pertains to beneficiaries. Musing about his personal decision to essentially surrender any chance of winning the coveted Art Prize, Lambert manages to thoroughly engage the centuries-long dynamic between patrons and artists.
The patrons are Rick DeVos and the DeVos family, creators and funders of Grand Rapids, MI’s ArtPrize organization that awards prizes yearly in an international juried competition. They are big donators and boosters for conservative political causes. The artist is Steve Lambert, who was short-listed for his piece Capitalism Works for Me! True/False, and announced that that if he won, he’d give all the winning money to the Our LGBT Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. (He did not win, btw: a fact that may or may not have something to do with his protest).
So why did he do it? Essentially the power dynamic stuck in his craw.
The eternal formula for philanthropy is this: give a little, take a lot.
The DeVos family partially funds ArtPrize and hands out large money prizes (The grand prize is $200,000) to artists who certainly need the support. In return they benefit hugely.
ArtPrize circulates money back to the family through contracts with local businesses that are owned by the DeVos family. Tourism from the ArtPrize event brings more business to the family as well as to Grand Rapids. Everyone wins — except the LGBT community and the unions that the DeVos family blocks and the schools that they’ve campaigned to defund.
The story is not just important as a one off anecdote: it raises issues about where money for the arts comes from and what we actually pay, politically, for taking it.