"If it commands attention, it's Culture.
If it matches the sofa, it’s Art.”
-- Artist Robert Williams
So let us begin by paraphrasing those Coagula Bad Boys Mat Gleason and Charlie Finch with this review of the New Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Or, let’s say, like they do in L.A., 25 words or less – Fugly Building. Fugly Art.
Crashing the Whitney on FREE day Saturday May 2, 2015 was as fun as it could be. Seeing a line of people snake around the building, a line that stretched about 3 blocks long, I made a quick entry into the exit of the restaurant on ground level – then took the elevator to the fifth floor where the so-called inaugural show called “America Is Hard To See” was being staged.
It could have been called “The End of Western Civilization.” In fact I tried that line on several museum-goers and they laughed. No hesitation. They knew it was a scam. They subconsciously understood that the Whitney Museum show was another Emperor in New Clothes fiasco sanctified by academic art jargon bullshit – but essentially a faded post-modern museum dedicated to “Kitsch”.
Kitsch Still Rules at the Whitney
As art critic Clement Greenberg wrote in his seminal essay “Avant Garde and Kitsch” – “Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money -- not even their time.”
Kitsch-Meisters Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Matthew Barney and Christopher Wool all “practice” the Art of Kitschology, like they had an MFA in it or something -- all represented in the too bad so sad Whitney Museum collection.
More recently the discussion of aesthetics in art appears to have become completely irrelevant.
Or as art historian-curator-artist-academic Robert C. Morgan writes in his book The End of the Art World (Allworth Press, 1998) in an essay called “The Status of Kitsch” – “In retrospect, one might say that the problem of kitsch today is less an art problem than a cultural delusion that has become a reality and is thus being evaluated as art. My argument is that kitsch today is less aesthetic than cultural, and that the standard of quality used to discuss and evaluate works of art in former decades has very little relevance when applied to kitsch.”
That’s right -- "no standard of quality" -- so don’t judge. Let me do that…
Mr. Morgan presciently adds – “My prediction as to the future of art… was that the spectacle of kitsch would accelerate as the dominant art form well into the twenty-first century. This is not to say that kitsch is today’s most significant art, only that it stirs the most conversation and gossip (which some will mistake for significance.) Like it or not, the appeal of kitsch shows few signs of amelioration. The fuel for a growing interest in this cultural phenomenon will continue. The use of conceptual strategies in order to substantiate a discourse, essentially for the spectacle of a market, will have no particular interest either in ideas or in issues of quality.”
(In other words, what kind of art did you expect for the end of the Kali Yuga?)
Author Dave Hickey, who claims he’s a “linguistic theorist” by training -- i.e. a Good Academic Bullshitter who gives endless talks on how useless art school really is -- in his book Pirates and Farmers (Ridinghouse, 2013) has an essay called “Stupid Money.”
Hickey writes – “This raises a question for struggling artists today: If blood money leaves blood on your hands, if dirty money soils everything it touches, what does stupid money do to you and your art? This is the artist’s dilemma at this moment. There’s money out there but it doesn’t mean anything…
“Stupid money is not going to make you any smarter, any braver, help your prices, or give you confidence. It can only delude you while you piss away twenty years doing residencies and teaching in bad schools…The idiocy of American patronage, however, does not mitigate the fact that stupid money is real money, but so is the money you make selling crack or fracking.”
And so here we find the Cy Twombly of the notorious “My-Kid-Could-Do-That School-of-Art" -- that's "MKCDTSOA.org.” Of course curators and art historians will defend it on the basis of “but it’s so child-like and innocent.” But hey -- stupid money talks and bullshit walks -- as the old adage would inform us.
Look at that… It’s no wonder that the art market is generally perceived as a Global Money Laundry for the .01%.
Even Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economics professor who claims he’s an art collector and allegedly predicted the financial crash of 2008 says – “Some people use art, especially expensive art, as a form of money laundering.”
Oy vey! How does that fit into the Whitney curatorial “practice”?
Dicks, Pussy and Even Child Porn at the Whitney
So here we have an artwork called Vietnam Garden by Judith Bernstein in which grave stones of dead American soldiers are transformed into erections with American flags sprouting out of the top. An apt illustration of the All-American Testosterone-Fueled Endless War Regime.
Nice! It still stands up -- so to speak – a bitch slap to the American Military-Economic Empire all the way back to the Vietnam War. Not much has changed much…
Then there’s Carroll Dunham, who allegedly spawned Lena Dunham of the infamous “Girls” show, whose cartoony pussy painting called Large Bather (quicksand), is breathlessly described by Artnet news as WTF! -- simultaneously evoking “art historical tradition and contemporary pop culture.”
At the same time, his Wife-Artist Laurie Simmons is having a show of Japanese blow-up sex doll photographs – so it must be as they say -- “All in the Family.” But then again it’s a well-known fact – Sex Sells. So why not milk it, baby? It works for the Dunham Tribe.
Then there’s Richard Prince’s stolen -- I mean, “appropriated” -- photo of a naked 10-year Brooke Shields by Gary Gross called Spiritual America.
Question #1: What would possess someone to re-photograph what appears to be Prepubescent Celebrity Child Porn?
Question #2: What would possess the Whitney Museum to include it in an exhibit called America Is Hard To See?
So Who’s Running This Circus -- I Mean Museum -- Anyway?
Sorry – the Whitney inaugural show should have been called “100 Years of Curator Errors.” Not “America Is Hard To See.”
In the Whitney Museum in-house flack’s own words – “In 1914, Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney established the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village, where she presented exhibitions by living American artists whose work had been disregarded by the traditional academies. By 1929 she had assembled a collection of more than 500 works, which she offered with an endowment to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. When the offer was refused, she set up her own museum, one with a new and radically different mandate: to focus exclusively on the art and artists of this country. The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1930, and opened in 1931 on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village.”
Imagine – The Met didn’t even want her collection Way Back When. So what does that tell you about Ms. Whitney’s taste Way Back When?
And now the Whitney has moved to the gentrified Meatpacking District, where the new building designed by Renzo Piano looks -- really, really, really -- like a concrete-clad 21st Century Slave Ship.
However with a reported $57 million of public funding, the scam seems to be working out just fine. Joe Six Pack’s taxes – hard at work again – making the world safe for the loot of the .01%. Yah gotta love the tax code – especially if your lawyers drafted the rules and regs… and you’ve got a 501 C-3 non-profit foundation to launder your loot.
So what is this called? You could call it Neo-Brutalist Totalitarian Architecture. Or Crypto-Fascist Architecture. The Whitney Museum of Philistine Art.
Or the Whitney could be renamed MOVA, as in Museum of Vulgarian Art....
In other words, despite the grandiose space and multiple levels of the museum, the art on display looks like it belongs in a thrift store or garage sale.
Nothing wrong with thrift stores or garage sales, you understand.
And speaking of Vulgarian Art, who could miss Jeff Koons’s memorably Pointless Clone Readymades – not to be confused with Duchamp’s Pointless Readymades – described by the Whitney as – “New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue; New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue; Doubledecker, 1981-87. Four vacuum cleaners, acrylic, and fluorescent lights.”
I mean how ironic – or cynical -- can you get? Today Jeff “Kitschy Kitschy” Koons’s Hoovers look like they should be stored in a pawn shop -- or maybe a second hand store. And this is presented to be cutting edge American art in the Whitney Museum of American Art?
OK let me get biblical here. Woe! I say unto you.
Then there’s Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint video of a chimeric Goat Boy-Man – on 3 monitors no less. It’s quite amazing. It looks like something you’d find in Lucifer’s Secret Art Collection in the basement of the Vatican. Next to the child sex slave snuff videos.
A nasty piece of work -- as they used to say in the olden days.
Oh no! I almost forgot. I had a Celebrity Sighting on FREE Whitney Day. Diane Keaton, whose movie “5 Floors Up” with Morgan Freeman is just hitting the big screen, appears out of nowhere with a male escort in black (No, not that kind of escort, honey – but who really knows?)
So let’s wrap it up. Below is the antidote to the Whitney’s Banal Collection of Kitschy Art.
And let’s quote Thomas More who said – The Devil that proud spirit hateth to be mocked.
Please enjoy – and laugh -- because this so-called “art” is really laughable…
Uri Dowbenko, 2015, Bullshit Artist Series: This Is Not a Damien Wurst, I Mean Hirst, Oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
Painting in the style of Damien Hirst Polka Dot paintings which he allegedly stole, I mean appropriated, from John Armleder...
Uri Dowbenko, Bullshit Artist Series: This Is Not a Richard Prince, 2015, Oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
A joke painting joking on Richard Prince's so-called joke paintings referencing his notorious tweet in which he declared -- "I am the fucking art world.”
Uri Dowbenko, Bullshit Artist Series: This Is Not a Christopher Wool, 2015, Oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
A so-called text painting referencing Christopher Wool's "Apocalypse Now"
Uri Dowbenko, Bullshit Artist Series: This Is Not a Cy Twombly, 2015, Oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
A painting in the Cy Twombly signature "My Kid Could Do That School of Art" style
* URI DOWBENKO is an artist-writer currently living in Miami Beach. His books include Homegrown Holography: How To Make Holograms in Your Own Low Cost Studio (1978), Bushwhacked: Inside Stories of True Conspiracy (2003) and Hoodwinked: Watching Movies with Eyes Wide Open (2004). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is http://www.UriDowbenko.com