31 March 2012

Spotty, At Best

From a recent edition of the NYer...

"Is Michel Houellebecq really a novelist, or is he just a novelizing propagandist? Though his thought can be slapdash and hasty, it is at least earnest, intensely argued, and occasionally thrilling in its leaps and transitions. (At times, he resembles the theorist Slavoj Žižek, who is all wattage and not enough light.) But the formal structures that are asked to dramatize these ideas — the scenes characters, dialogue, and so on — are generally flimsy and diagrammatic. Characters, usually women, are killed off with flippant dispatch, backstories pencilled in with bald strokes, scenes cursorily sketched, conversation often ludicrously implausible or monotonously self-therapeutic. (Excited, five years ago, by The Elementary Particles, I reread it recently with stolid boredom: great chucks of it sound the way one imagines the droning monologues of a sex-addiction meeting.)"

About the only thing in this that doesn't ring familiar with the above is that it took the reviewer a second reading of the book in question to come away with that impression. Also from the same edition, Peter Schjeldahl weighing in on Gogosian's multi-gallery exhibit of Damien Hirst's "Complete Spot Paintings"...

"Duchamp remarked that art is created partly by its maker and partly by its audience. Hirst dumps pretty much the entire transaction into the audience's lap. The result is art in the way that some exotic financial dealings are legal: by a whisker. ...The 'Why?' in such matters comes down to a historic, all-purpose, great 'Why Not?' A sense of frictionless impunity must be exciting if you're on the supply side of the economy and the culture. If you aren't, it feels wrong. The deadness of Hirst's product lines -- flipping the bird to anyone who naively craves something more and better from art -- upsets a lot of people. I deem their ire misdirected. Don't shoot the messenger. Hirst honestly vivifies a situation in which the power of money celebrates itself by shedding all pretense of liquid values."

One problematic portion of the latter review is when Schjeldahl calls Hirst "originally unoriginal...a master of supererogation;" asserting that Hirst's output "comprehends all manner of things about previous art except, crucially, why it was created. It smacks less of museums than it does of art-school textbooks." Not that the description is necessarily inaccurate, but the same could be said a great deal of art in recent years.

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