You can always count on the anti-traditionalists to come up with their own cockamamie traditions. And The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol—which I caught at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles just before it closed the other day—is about as nutty as they come.
On a warm Saturday in early July, an employee at the Maryland Historical Society placed a call to the police. He had noticed two visitors behaving strangely—a young, tall, handsome man with high cheekbones and full lips and a much older, heavier man, with dark, lank hair and a patchy, graying beard. The older man had called in advance to give the librarians a list of boxes of documents he wanted to see, saying that he was researching a book. At some point during their visit, the employee saw the younger man slip a document into a folder.
I thought I had made my peace with the death of originality. Personally, I do not believe that originality has died, but I recognize that the obituaries cannot exactly be ignored. I keep abreast of whatever is being said about the death-of-originality movement’s dead white males, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. And I try to see as much as I can of the work of practitioners who, paradoxically, are alive and kicking, beginning with Jeff Koons and Richard Prince.
I hate to spoil the fun of the connoisseurs of kitsch. But no matter how hard I try, the truth is that I rarely find that something is so bad that it’s good. Mostly I find, at least as far as art and literature are concerned, that what is really bad is really bad. I will, however, make a partial exception for the later work of Salvador Dalí, which is the subject of an exhibition that has just opened at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The stuff that Dalí did from the 1940s until his death in 1989 is god awful, but there is a sicko integrity about its awfulness.
In recent months, a friend and I have found that nearly all our conversations about the goings-on in the cultural universe, whether the art world or the publishing world, conclude with one of us muttering, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” That is the first thing to be said about “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” the new show on Bravo which fits the art-world rat race into the reality-TV format, complete with judges, contestants, challenges, petty bickering, and public mortification. You just can’t make this stuff up. But of course this is reality TV, so nobody has made anything up.
In the mid-1950s, a photographer named Robert Frank, lately emigrated from Switzerland, drove around the United States to see and to join his new country. He shot pictures. The results, or his choices among them, were published in a book of eighty-three photos called The Americans, which was an immediate and lasting success. The book was not only a unique way for a newcomer to learn about his new home: in some ways it showed a social candor that was as yet unusual in photography.
Merce Cunningham died at his home in New York City on July 26, 2009, at the age of 90. He was one of the most important modern dance choreographers of the 20th century. Born near Seattle in 1919, his career spanned the postwar era: He made his first dance in 1944 and directed his own troupe, The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for over 50 years from 1953 until his death last week. He created over 200 dances for his company, many of which are now performed by companies worldwide; he also mounted works on the New York City Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.
A Honk Kong collector spent $17.3 million last night at Christie's for one of Andy Warhol's ten paintings of Mao. This is an awful lot of money for an image that Warhol did over and over again. After all, it isn't only the ten "synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas" that comprise--what shall we say?--Warhol's Mao oeuvre.
The Invisible Masterpiece By Hans Belting Translated by Helen Atkins (University of Chicago Press, 480 pp., $45) Never was there more optimistic nonsense written about abstract art than in Germany after World War II. Abstraction, many artists and critics hoped, would guide the German public back to universal spiritual ideals and reconcile them with European civilization. The Germans were discovering abstract art anew after long years of National Socialist philistinism.