15 August 2013

Bouguereau Baby

Belatedly encountered Ben Davis’s write-up of Paul McCarthy’s WS (which I posted about earlier) over at ArtInfo. Davis echoes my own thoughts about the thing, but doing so in a far more extensive and detailed manner:
"The upshot is that the uncanny power that McCarthy invests in transgression is, for the most part, nostalgic — which may, in fact, be part of its charm for a jaded audience that doesn't believe in the possibility of any meaningful counterculture. In our present world — the world where ‘50 Shades of Grey’ and ‘Human Centipede’ are mainstream obsessions — I'm not sure that this kind of thing adds up to a meaningful “program of resistance” against ideas of normality in the way that McCarthy wants. Would anyone say that you need to unmask the sadistic kinks lurking beneath the surface of Odd Future or ‘Game of Thrones?’ Of course not — but these are among the trendiest phenomena in all of pop culture today."
Back to my prior thesis about a lifetime of carrying around a set of cultural baggage, and milking a cathartic “acting out” into a sustained career. Personally, I’d long ago forgotten that McCarthy was raised Mormon, having been raised in Salt Lake City. Meaning that one can view his work as not only reacting against certain “repressive” (Davis’s word) aspects of postwar American culture at large, but the more immediate setting of his childhood. Which brings up – to cite Davis’s description, again – the “macho” nature of McCarthy’s work. I’ve known a number of lapsed Mormons over the years. The males, I’ve found, often tend to be wryly cynical about their former faith, if not about religion in general. The females? They tend to be much more bitter (and with good reason).

Also of interest is Davis’s take on Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby,” which serves as a nice companion to Sasha Frere-Jones’s post on the topic, which in turn cites this thoroughly embarrassing and gittishly fawning piece.

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Finally read this study last week. I’m not sure it makes a solid case for much of anything. As my wife points out, there’s all vartiety of subjective factors that can’t be accounted for by these methods – for instance, the initial, impulsive (and eventually waning) appeal of novelty.

The headline at Hyperallergic sums up what may be the findings’ sole takeaway: “Bad Art Definitely Bad, Science Confirms.” Perhaps my favorite bit from the study was the quote from Joan Didion, which I had previously missed, who had written:
“A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.”
Probably about the most accurate description I’ve read. About the only thing it leaves out is the frothy and cotton-candy wispiness that make up any given image’s kitsch atmospherics.

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“This is capitalism again concealing its commercial failures, its financial risks, its social debt. Nonetheless the fake shop is not just the manifestation of an absence. It’s also a simulacrum that asks to be looked at and interpreted.”

Giovanni T. on “fake shops” and trompe-l’œil commerce.

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