Last night Eric and I perused the Readykeulous Angry Art Letters show at Invisible Exports gallery on Orchard St. My curiosity had been piqued after reading this write-up on Hyperallergic and seeing the photo of the neon sign which read “YOUR NAME TRY CUNT INTERNATIONAL”.
Given my current mood, some recent events, and the inclusion of people whose work I admire,this seemed like an even better prescription than disorienting anti-psych meds or questionable self-medication. A show exploring anger and the marginalization of feminism in the art world: feminists and queers viewed as marginalized cultures (well, in the art world, lesbians and trans-people I guess. Last I checked, Da Vinci and Michelangelo were still hailed as the all time masters, Andy Warhol was still a 20th century icon, etc. etc.)
The show itself was a mixed bag. Yes, there were hilarious indictments of the mainstream art world for flocking to the safe and commercial, or allusions to much of the behind the scenes maneuvering that dictates what gets shown, what gets written up, etc. Their were fascinating and forthright angry correspondences from the likes of Jack Smith and David Wojnarowicz, addressing their grievances against those who had screwed them over or thwarted them in their creative endeavors. The name Jeff Koons appeared more than once in various people’s writings, until it became synonymous with all things safe, non-threatening, and commercial. There were tattered pages scrawled with Bikini Kill lyrics. Unfortunately, there were also a number of anonymous rants along the lines of “How DARE you all not acknowledge my GENIUS” type (note to everyone in general: even if you actually ARE a genius? Describing yourself as a genius makes you a douche. A double-dip douche with sprinkles and a top hat. Really.) Since not all correspondences were accompanied with artwork, I can’t tell you if these were valid complaints of unsung geniuses? Or simply the whinings of trustafarians who don’t know why Daddy’s credit card hasn’t purchased their space in the Louvre as easily as it procured their ironic wardrobe and Williamsburg high-rise address, thus insuring their place in the world as “artists”?
So why is all this important to me? Because this irrefutable evidence of anger and infighting by people who’s work I know and admire speaks truth to power (and to me). It put at rest one of the cultural myths that the self help/new age/false positivity pop-psychology movement has taken to feeding to creatives, and anyone with aspirations really: that great and successful artists, athletes, and what have you are people who always think positively, never get angry, and are never in conflict with anybody else. Because they’re apparently so busy being fabulous, that they have no time for such things. And I suppose they also create in some sort of vacuum where the whims and caprices of others are never a factor. This is not only unrealistic, it smacks of classism in that it suggests people are not reliant on others within the art world to help their expressions reach a wider audience, that they are privileged enough to simply create things and put them out where and when they wish.
In reality I’ve learned that much of what gets seen, what gets published, show, written up, etc, is contingent in who has a friend in the right place, who sucked the right dick (this applies to artists anywhere on the gender spectrum, people) or, barring all else, who simply handed the right-sized wad of bills to a publisher or reviewer. I’m not saying these things are ALWAYS true, or that these are the ONLY ways to be seen or heard. But they do happen often enough that we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t.
And this isn’t even getting into marginalization or commodification or any of that yet! Yes, there are also cultural factors–who are the “right” people? What is “hip”? What looks unusual enough that I’ll seem “edgy” if I like it, yet doesn’t actually make me think? The humor blog Stuff White People Like hits it right on the head in their entry on Banksy:
“Here’s how it works: if you say your favorite artist is Vincent Van Gogh, MC Escher or Monet, you will appear as though your taste in art is derived entirely from college posters. This is unacceptable. Conversely, if you list Jeff Koons, Laurie Anderson, Damien Hirst or Basquiat, you’ll look like you are trying too hard but don’t really know what you are talking about. Chances are that white people will assume your art education consists entirely of documentaries, bio pics, and looking up references from Gossip Girl on Wikipedia.
Finally, if you list your favorite artist as a current, bleeding edge visionary who white people have not heard of, they will immediately recognize you as a threat and dislike you. It is also a certainty that they will call you pretentious behind your back.
Needless to say, it’s complicated. But Banksy is just right. He’s just edgy enough to be outside of the mainstream, but popular enough to be available in coffee table book form at Urban Outfitters. Though if you spot this book on the coffee table of a white person it is strongly recommended that you imply they got the book at a Modern Art Museum gift shop and not at an Urban Outfitters. This will make the evening far more enjoyable for everyone concerned.”
It should be noted that I do like Banksy. He does a lot of art with rats, after all.
So basically this show invigorated me because it shows that it’s okay to hate the assholes you’ll meet on the path to creative expression. And to reinforce your determination to be nothing like them, to make art that really addresses your truth. Wojnarowicz is still pissing off the Religious Reich to this day. You can keep your copy of The Secret (Please keep it, the thing implies that the victims of Nazi genocide were the ones responsible for the Holocaust, among other things.) I don’t need to read The Secret. I need to read about why Jack Smith was angry at Jonas Mekas back in the day. Look it up, he had his reasons. Plus Eric knew him, he says he could hold a grudge in the most awesome way.
Bikini Kill’s “Reject All American”
The First part of Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures”. Subsequent parts are also on You Tube.