Over twenty years ago, and all is proceeding as I had foreseen
The once clear packing tape used to hold it together is yellowed and peeling now. The white paper is crumpled and curled from being rolled up so long in my closet. But I’m looking at a piece of “art” I made in 1994, the year after I graduated college.
I was living in Richmond, Virginia, the same place I’d gone to school. I’d been invited to show in a guerilla art space known as Citizens Gallery, which ran as a sort of an open secret in an abandoned store front near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. The theme of the show was “Anonymous.” Not only would the pieces be displayed without name labels, we were encouraged to create works outside of our normal mediums. I love a challenge, so even though I wouldn’t get to show one of my paintings, I accepted the invitation enthusiastically.
As far as making a piece went, I imagined a kind of the-end-of-world-is-nigh screed that some kook might feel compelled to disseminate. In this case the kook happened to be me, and the rant was my true feelings.
It would have been a cool thing to make a sandwich board I could have worn around at the opening, but that would have undermined the whole anonymity thing. So instead I imagined my message in the form of a broadside one might encounter plastered to the wall in some little used and disreputable alleyway.
I now refer to this as “art” because a sociological statement is not really art at all. The establishment art world would not agree; they are heavily invested in proselytizing, propaganda, and indoctrination. It’s a big part of the crisis of relevance in the arts, and why most people are content to ignore and/or despise contemporary art.
I typed it up on a regular sized sheet of paper (still on my old typewriter; no PC yet!) and blew it up section by section at the local copy store, taping all the pieces together to form a 36” x 30” poster. Looking at it now, over 20 years later, the words still ring true. It states:
ARTISTS, be brave. The end of our world is near.
Contemporary art has lost the culture war. Thank God.
What is the art of our time? A freak show, a temper tantrum; Perversion and envy rendered with sewage, carrion and debris. Desperate acts by frightened people. Our era ends with neither a bang nor a whimper-it chokes on its own bile.
Many artists are guilty of presenting their personal foibles and fetishes as the nature of reality (for what is art, but the recreation of a moment of profound insight?). These artists are not inspired-they have an agenda. They are self-conscious without being aware. Art schools are cranking them out by the dozen. They are the Salon Painters of Post-Modernism.
And like the Salon Painters, they will become an historical footnote: the reactionaries left behind by the new order. Future generations will judge us. Perhaps pity will dilute their scorn.
The new way coming is not a revolution, but a return. It will be like moving out of darkness and feeling the warmth of the sun. Artists will not use strife and disruption to communicate, for those are methods of obscurity. Their work will need no explanation or argument. It will be love made visible.
So said my twenty-five year old self, expressing ideas I have continued to defend, ponder and expand on ever since.
During the opening I stood discreetly near the piece and tried to eavesdrop on reactions. Most just read it quietly and moved on; some murmured appreciation. My favorite was one of the guys who got offended.
“It’s well written, but it doesn’t say anything,” he huffed to his incredulous friends. He was probably one of those desperate acting frightened artists, so he felt called out.
This anonymous message was written for an audience I knew would be full of art students, so it was aimed directly at them, criticizing their assumptions. It was intended as a warning not to follow artistic trends into oblivion.
I didn’t know what would happen next, or what form it would take. However, I already was feeling the change in the collective unconscious I’ve watched unfold slowly over the last two decades.
Even as I was writing that statement, over in England two men were thinking similar thoughts, and preparing to take significant action. I wouldn’t find out about them until many years later though.
In the meantime, in Richmond Virginia, being in this show only increased my determination. I applied myself with new intensity to locating venues to show my paintings.