09 July 2007

Ben Davis on Tom Friedman Makes Me Wonder: Is It Possible For Any Of Us To Stop Shuckin' And Jivin'?



Tom Friedman, Aluminum Foil Thing, currently on display at Lever House

I know that this article by Ben Davis is ancient in blogosphere terms, but the Tom Friedman extravaganza at the Lever House is still up through September, and I don't know about you, but it's the closest I will be getting to this year's European Summer Art Orgy.

Davis is right on the money--he's focusing on Friedman's relationship to Aby Rosen's power. The briefest of summaries to start:

These deft-shiny-intricate-yet-silly-and-disposable sculptures currently on display at the Lever House are, in Davis' words, "allegories of frivolity, of surplus wealth." Davis notices that there is a smartness to Friedman's sculptural practice that is entreprenurial--Friedman's schtick is to make something out of nothing. But that this smartness does not place him in a critical position, that this work is dedicating itself to power.

Amen, brother Davis! But what about the big picture? We all learned in school that Friedman's ironic strategy here is supposed to be critical of Rosen, even though it obviously is not--what about that? What winds up being the critical or ironical target?

What about all the other good boys and girls just trying to get somewhere in Chelsea? The army of scared kids in skinny jeans carrying nothing more than the crushing debt of their MFA and a quirky little interest in doilies or seafaring tales, or poor, white trash? What's their relationship to power?

What about us?

I think Davis has just scratched the surface here. And that there is a little Friedman in all of us. And that the effects of this kind of court-jesterism are not as benign as we think they are. I know that artists generally consider themselves powerless, but I don't think that's exactly true.

Consider this post a placeholder that asks three questions:

1. What is the propaganda value of art and artists that are good to power by playing bad, edgy, abject or ironic? What exactly are collectors buying when they pay these court jesters?

2. Is it possible to figure out exactly how artists are powerful by looking at how classic artistic strategies of dissent became strategies of dedication?

3. Are artists able, given this existing power structure that has co-opted irony and other kinds of dissent, to truly display bad manners? If so, how?

5 Comments:

Anonymous cjagers said...

Deborah,

Excellent questions! It's even interesting to see some of your own suppositions by how you word your questions. Careful, you don't want to give yourself away ;)

Two aspects of all this jump out out me initially (of course, all of this deserved much more thought):

First, "that artists generally consider themselves powerless, but thats not exactly true." I agree completely. However, because of this deep belief, many artists act pathetic - making them powerless. Self- fulfilling.

Question #3, "are artists, given this existing power structure ... able to display bad manners?" No. There is nothing left to push against. I believe artists must choose an illusion in the face of nothing. But I'm not sure art is really about "reaction." Sincerity is almost the "baddest" thing an artist can do now. And they better be sincere, because no one else will really care one way or the other. No matter what level of gallery, it is just business: decoration and commodity. That game is easy and boring.

Many years ago, coming out of art school, I could not describe the majesty of my distain for this system. But I have finally mellowed ..... and still think about it.

09 July, 2007 23:18  
Blogger zipthwung said...

What do rich people want? What if you had everything - TV, stereo, car, boat, plain, five houses, trophy wife?

Would you go to yard sales looking for tupperware? Because thats what a lot of art seems to be on the surface of it. But what comes with the tupperware? People. Social interaction. I think rich people crave social cpntact as much as anyone - but they can afford to mediate this interaction in a very formal way.

Just a thought.

If you want startling new ideas, go back to school. How many rich people collect doctorates in their spare time?

2. Is it possible to figure out exactly how artists are powerful by looking at how classic artistic strategies of dissent became strategies of dedication?

I was just on you tube looking at some situationist stuff. The Situation, you know? I do know abbey hoffman got hit in the head with a bass at WOodstock. No one likes a bummer at their social movement. The radicals allways seem to hijack a legitimate movement. Now the corporations hijack the movements and the radicals get thrown in prison?

I think artists can make revolt seem a lot more interesting when it happens. but politicians make revolts. Some artists are politicians. The famous artists are always political.

ubuweb

the angry brigade

winky dink dog

may 68

3. Are artists able, given this existing power structure that has co-opted irony and other kinds of dissent, to truly display bad manners? If so, how?

Polysemic multivalent messaging man! Might not be direct but its safer.

I dont know.

20 July, 2007 22:43  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

It's too bad Moliere is dead. He'd make something brilliant out of all this.

23 July, 2007 00:04  
Blogger prettylady said...

artists generally consider themselves powerless, but thats not exactly true.

Define 'power.'

It seems to me that most people define 'power' solely as economic or political influence. In 'political influence' I am also including the type of moral influence possessed by your 'court jester' paradigm; the ability to influence actions in the external world for the sake of one cause or another.

This type of power is always temporal and temporary, and may be removed at any moment. Thus, in my view, it is not real power.

Real power might be termed 'integrity.' It is the ability to respond to all external situations with inner equanimity and an inner compass which always points to truth, from whatever perspective you are viewing from. This cannot be removed by external circumstances.

As artists, I think we have a responsibility to actively cultivate and nurture this second type of power within ourselves and our work. That's our job. We might develop some external influence, or not; our inner selves might jive with the cultural gestalt, or not.

But choosing to view ourselves as insignificant creatures who can, at best, achieve some small amount of ego-aggrandizement by manipulating this cultural gestalt is to voluntarily throw our own souls into the trash can.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the Friedman/Rosen situation. ;-)

31 July, 2007 22:36  
Anonymous jason said...

3. Are artists able, given this existing power structure that has co-opted irony and other kinds of dissent, to truly display bad manners? If so, how?

Sorry for such a late response, it's a slow Friday afternoon at the wage-slave desk and I'm checking blogs that I haven't read in a long time sooooooo . . .

There are always many things that the power structure is desperate to keep hidden. Art (like anything else) is dangerous whenever it points its finger at such things.

That said, I rarely see this kind of art. It is not easy to do, and requires much courage. Most work that attempts to do so falls into the trap of reiterating abuses that are already painfully obvious to nearly everyone. Better to reveal or amplify that which is generally overlooked and most feared by those in charge. I doubt this can be accomplished through aesthetic qualities alone.

17 August, 2007 16:46  

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