22 June 2012

Shake That Monet-Maker

Above: Leroy Neiman with Salvador Dalí, Georges Mathieu

...And I began to wonder, many many years ago, if the moustache wasn't a big tip-off.

Two out of the three moustaches above having shuffled off this mortal coil within the past couple of weeks. At any rate, here's Brian Dillon from an archived article at Frieze from a few years ago, on the topic of what makes a charlatan...

"What it names, precisely, is a deficit of sincerity: this is what the critic Hilton Kramer was referring to in 1966 when he spoke of Duchamp’s 'resplendent triviality'. The charlatan does not set out to peddle mistruths about the world, but rather does not really mean or does not really believe in the work that he or she makes. This suggests a rather Romantic notion, a conception of artistic being as truth-to-self, which has survived into an era otherwise attuned to auto-invention and to celebration of the type of the trickster in popular culture and the avant-garde alike. In a sense it’s an objection to style, to surface, to those artists who do things for effect. (As though there were some higher value in art than its effects.) But the charlatan–wrangler objects just as regularly to apparent depth: for him no profundity is deep enough to be safe from the shallows of insufficient sincerity. In fact, self-evident profundity would be almost a definition of obvious charlatanry: real depth is harder-won."

Joseph Beuys, whom Dillon cites a couple of times in the course of his article, has been targeted as a charlatan a number of times over the years. Reactionary British art critic Peter Fuller once dismissed Beuys on similar grounds, referring to him as "that low, low charlatan." Fuller was far from being the only skeptic on that matter. When Beuys arrived in New York in the mid & late l970s, the crowds overflowed auditoriums when he spoke publicly. But by some reports, a fair number of artists and attendees were merely there for the hubbub factor, shrugging him off as having "the best hustle going." The self-mythologizing and persona mongering, spilling over into a sub-esoteric profusion of obfuscating, faux-symbolic bric-a-brac. The mysticism and endless spieling, diagramming everything out on blackboards during lectures like Lyndon LaRouche charting out his endlessly byzantine and batshit conspiracy theories. All of it part, the skeptics charged, of an elaborate medicine show. Everyone has their favorite candidates for this category, Matthew Barney being a big one over the past decade or so.

In reference to Duchamp, Dillon places a fair amount of weight on the question of irony. But in many cases, irony isn't so much what provokes the charge of charlatanism; morelike the showcasing of obvious cynicism and opportunism. This is what fuels attacks on the artists like of Warhol and Koons. Salvador Dalí was pretty much in a class all by himself when it came to huxsterism, brazen self-promotion, and the like. The French painter Georges Mathieu also proved very shrewd at merchandizing his diluted, Gallic version of AbEx. But as Molly Warnock pointed out in her article on Mathieu in a recent Artforum issue devoted to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, the question wasn't so much whether Mathieu's enterprise was one of cynical and vulgar showmaship, but if it was instead the result of a profound misunderstanding of the style he chose to adopt. Secondary was how he chose to work the angles from there.

It's curious (to me, anyway) that Dillon steers the topic in the direction of music; almost as if there's a parallel that be drawn between post-motorcycle crash Bob Dylan and post-bloodied nose Joseph Beuys. The whole matter of "authenticity" is of course something that's considered a prime criterion of "rockism." And while yes it is inextricably bound up in the history of popular music, it actually pre-dates the advent of rock. Historically speaking, it'd be more accurate to call it a folk-ism, since it dates back to issues that first arose in the so-called folk revival of the 1930s, at a time when there was a thought to be a great deal at stake (socially and politically speaking) in the designation. But that's a digression that's better left for another time.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Belated footnote: I should probably add that the remarks I made about Joseph Bueys above are not necessarily my own, but rather a gloss of complaints leveled by his detractors. Or perhaps they are partly my own, when I apply the harshest of analytical lights. Thing is, over the years I've never been able to develop a strong opinion or judgement on him one way or the other. To say that he was a peculiar and highly problematic figure would be a definitive understatement. If anything, I suppose he's a figure of interest to me if only because of the extremely polemicized discourse that surrounds him and his work. All of which far too much to get into here.

No comments:

  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP