it's true. i'm stoned today. i actually don't think that experts can reliably detect the hand of pollock; that got a bit screwed up in the editing. sometimes it's funny but people can't quite seem to believe that i am actually asserting what i seem to be asserting. not that they disapprove, necessarily, or even disagree. it's just that it doesn't quite register. i seem to be somewhat hostile to both modernism and post-modernism, which would make me a reactionary of the early 19th century, i guess, or at any rate, ready for something else. but i am more hostile to modernism. picasso: creator and destroyer (you doink): or, maybe just a person who put paint on canvas. anyway, at least postmodernism has many playful moments, many anti-pretentious moments, and is open: there are many things you could do or be as an artist. no one can be what modernism held all great artists were.
in the june 20 new york review of books, there is a devastating portrayal of the activities of the andy warhol foundation and the 'andy warhol art authentication board'. the basic accusation is that members of these interlocked organizations were in a position to profit from authenticating and discrediting works, and that this has very much affected their various decisions. [the piece isn't up yet on their site and will likely be behind a paywall when it is.]
whether it's corrupt or not, this whole situation is a remarkable emblem of a central fact about art in this period. postmodern artists, of whom warhol is perhaps the best and central example, attacked many of the basic teachings (or, dogmas) of modernism: the great individual genius, for example, and the concept of originality. warhol's entire set of techniques and the nature of his images were completely incompatible with modernism: he was the opposite of a picasso or a pollock. but half a century into post-modernism, the art market and the museum system have hardly changed at all, and indeed most ordinary viewers of art still believe all the teachings of modernism.
with regard to these institutions, the post-modern era never happened at all. so, the authentication board stamps warhols as originals or not. this makes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of difference in their value. the stuff they're working through is tens of thousands of images. for the most part, these items were never touched by warhol except to add a signature, if that. both prints and 'original paintings' were instead more or less designed by him and executed in various shops around town, which warhol didn't even bother to visit. then various prints and paintings were executed that he didn't sign, or where it's not clear who authorized what when.
what is and is not an original warhol, in the art authentication board's definition, depends on what warhol was 'aware' of as they were being made: mere awareness is what is analogous, in warhol, to the hand of pollock. now, in my view, the hand of pollock is harder to distinguish from the hand of, say, a copyist, than such institutions like to pretend. but discerning the direction of warhol's momentary awareness in 1973 from here is really a job for an expert, a true connoisseur, or possibly an omniscient deity. and of course, many of warhol's works appropriated images from elsewhere: warhol swiped them from popular culture in the first place. the whole thing could be interpreted as a pointed demonstration that 'originality' is over or pointless in the era of mass media.
and yet the entire discourse and institutional context that would be appropriate to, or at was least developed in relation to, a van gogh or a matisse or a picasso, are just reproduced by the warhol foundation, authentication board, museum, etc. it's frigging absurd, like you were trying to account for the latest results in physics using the intellectual equipment of medieval theology. or it's even worse than that because warhol was actually attacking the system of thought he is now completely absorbed into. if your goal is to preserve warhol's legacy, forget this whole idea entirely. if your mission is monetize warhol to the maximum possible degree, just keep right on.
there are, i am going to say, two reasons why, even if modernism died in actual art, it just kept going in the art market and museum system as though nothing had ever happened. first of all, modernism is extremely, extremely commercially excellent. get rid of the idea of originality and genius; ok, now try to sell that sucker for tens of millions of dollars. don't be silly. honestly, a reproduction of a warhol or an image of it on a screen is basically just as a good as an 'orginal,' and for that matter is just as original. in virtue of what, precisely, would you distinguish them? is it that the original was brushed at a distance of some miles by andy warhol's coked-up awareness? warhols were extremely, pointedly 'works of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.' so the aura has to be imposed or invented, or is just a matter of let's pretend. and really, the difference is negligible even to its extreme proponents, having to do merely with warhol's awareness of the object, which means he was aware generally, say, that a hundred prints were made somewhere in brooklyn, e.g. this would be silly except for the $$$$.
and also, whole generations of art appreciators were trained in modernist dogma, and the claim of arts institutions to various forms of state or foundation support depend on it completely. you go to the museum to gasp at the stunning works of incomparable or super-human geniuses: incomprehensibly great figures that are infinitely more exalted and more important than the mere humans staring at their paintings. that's why an ordinary person staring at a picasso can experience transcendence of their pitiful lives. they need something higher, something seraphic. also they need us experts to tell them what is the product of genius, because admittedly it's not detectible on a visual inspection without a gigantic machinery of hooha, or expertise. you are really really going to need the hooha when the appreciators are staring at a warhol elvis, a lichtenstein comic strip, or a jenny holzer text. you've got some splainin to do, but all you've got is the van gogh schtick. hope people don't notice the difference, i guess, or that no one has enough self-confidence actually to say aloud what everyone is thinking. you might want to make sure they feel disqualified, to start with. shut up and gape, bitch; we'll tell you what to think and what to feel.
so the whole institutional economics of art - public or private - depends on what rosalind krauss called 'the originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths.' it doesn't matter what you do: if you are an important artist, these institutions will portray you and market you as an original genius. the canvas on which you have someone in bangladesh stencil 'this is not a work of original genius' will be authenticated as a work of original genius and held to be more valuable than the economy of bangladesh as a whole.
it's odd, but the ideology of modernism seemed to be anti-capitalist, and the genius floats above commerce like a seraph. likewise one reason people loathed post-modernism was because it seemed to make its peace with commodification, advertising, and so on. this is a laugh. i think you'd be better off reading modernism as a symptom of capitalism and post-modernism as a critique of it. this is obvious, and can't be more clearly demonstrated than in this case.
so maybe actual artists and people who were trying to understand what they were doing came to think that modernism was just a bunch of bizarre and destructive fictions. and then maybe they even came back to it, or left the critique itself behind as boring, after decades. but the art market and the museum system never budged one iota. and though people might criticize the particular decisions and the venality of the andy warhol industry, it is amazingly effective in making an extreme anti-picasso into a picasso and stacking cash to the moon.
i realize that charles taylor is sort of a relativist, sort of a post-modernist, sort of a 'we-are-the-stories-we-tell' linguistic constructivuist, and (this is getting bad, i know), sort of a hegelian. still i wouldn't necessarily regard these as war crimes, though possibly the designation 'crimes against humanity' makes sense.
watcha readin, crispy? (yo sorry for no watchareadins; i've been too busy reading, writing etc)
i've been sampling parfit's on what matters and dworkin's justice for hedgehogs. i think that the parfit is quite the little slog, and that's only volume one. 'best work in ethics since sidgwick,' said the times literary supplement (i think phillip petit was the reviewer). parfit sent out the manuscript to 250 philosophers (supposedly) and responded with revisions. perhaps that shows: it's bristling with replies to objections from offstage. the dworkin is written more engagingly, but dworkin's always half-lawyer, and this can't have the philosophical dimensions of parfit. on the other hand, dworkin is remarkably sharp: a good thinker.
at any rate, both these books, putting the thing at its most general, bring all human values together in one big glowing thingummy. parfit's argument is that all the major western moral theories (utilitarianism, kantianism, contractualism, and so on) are - despite what their proponents thought - basically compatible. and dworkin seeks to suggest the reconciliation of aesthetic and political values along with those. that's more like neo-platonism than postmodernism! we might not want to go quite so far in the opposite direction, and i'll just signal that the situation is a lot more fragmented and equivocal than they want to make it: we're still just muddling through.
let the post-post-modern era be here now. this is from a review by ingrid wassenaar of helene cixous' memoir hemlock, from the times literary supplement(it doesn't seem to be up on their site; it's from the september 9 issue).
One day, her mother misplaces a precious letter, and in her agitation becomes temporarily unable to read the word for whale (baleine). There follows an extended improvisation on the theme of being at sea. Cixous says that she would like to write about her mother's use of language: "This will be difficult, somewhere between onomatopoeia and epic, maybe we'll call it happ...showing the surprise the pounce of the happnimal upon life, or the sudden dive through the paws of death. Happ! there she goes! That sudden brutal movement of a pounce, that one also finds in the Germanic languages."
Happ, Cixous's comic neologism, goes straight to the heart of one of the tensions in European thought between the bodily and the spiritual. It recalls the sound of animals wolfing other animals, and has echoes in many European languages. Part of Ciixous's radicalism lies precisely in how she fossicks among the Indo-European roots of words that have acquired sedimented readings. Happ sums up in a word that observing her frail mother is not so different from stalking her.
i was talking to a colleague yesterday about the 'theory' course we require of our art history majors. five years ago, when i started teaching in the art department at dickinson, she and i both knew that theory was essential: that you just couldn't send someone to a high-powered graduate program without it: that art history was merging with art theory. now she kind of shrugged and wasn't sure it was so necessary. people now are back in archives, back teasing out the tiniest details, worrying about attribution, reading all the contemporaneous documents, etc.
i bet that it's kind of like that in art schools too (i used to teach all the theory/philosophy at maryland institute college of art). in 2000, everyone understood that you could be a web designer without reading barthes or baudrillard, but also that if we were actually going to produce any downtown art stars, we'd better get them on barthes asap. now i bet they're a bit back to hand skills and stuff.