COMMENTARY: Jeff Koons and the Establishment Art World’s Condescending Cult

 

Play D’oh! A Jeff Koons Pile of “Art” 

.

“It’s a commercial world, and morality is based generally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery.”

-Jeff Koons

.

Part of what I want this blog to do is expose certain notorious figures of the commercialized contemporary art world to a new audience.

I’d like to help educate all you good people who, up until now, have been uninterested, alienated, or even hostile to the efforts of today’s networked creative classes, and their deep-pocketed supporters.

From what I see, the potential audience of the disengaged is practically everyone in entire world.

Elitist malfeasance has marginalized the visual arts in popular culture. Practically no one is paying attention to contemporary art other than a small bubble of artists, academics, institution apparatchiks, trophy-hunting high rollers, and those who wish to vicariously participate in their presumed sophistication.

Since most people have tuned out the shenanigans of this arrogant, decadent band of charlatans, you might be unaware of what the art world racket has been producing. You haven’t been missing much.

In this example, we have a major perpetrator of the corrupt art world status quo: Jeff Koons.

What’s up Doc? A Long Eared Galoot, and one of his Sculptures  

Throughout his career, Jeff Koons has racked up approximately $765 million dollars in sales. He does not make the pieces sold under his brand name. The actual work is done by anonymous skilled craftsmen. Koons contributes “concepts” that others execute.

And what kind of ideas has this mogul graced us with that have generated such windfalls? Treasures such as these:

Jeff Koons, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” 

.

 

Awww

.

 

Jeff Koons, Poseur 

.

Koons may be best known for a series of giant stainless steel replicas of balloon animals. An orange version of one sold for over $58 million. 

.

Over inflated: Wiener Dog Art 

.

Then there was the era in the 1990s when Koons married Cicciolina, an Italian XXX film performer. Koons commissioned a whole series of artworks featuring the couple engaging in hardcore sexytime action  (Warning: link is definitely NSFW). They were divorced in 1998; I can’t imagine why.

 

A PG-13 Version of Koons and His Porn Star Wife 

.

Not everything is coming up inflatable tulips for the crafty con artist, however. Koons graciously offered to donate a monument to France for the victims of the  2015 terrorist attack: a 35 foot tall hand holding balloon flowers. He graciously expected them to install it next to the Eiffel Tower. The French not so graciously rejected this blatant attempt at product placement. Negotiations are ongoing.

 

An Indecent Proposal

.

One of the top selling artists of this era of art specializes in obscenely expensive replicas of cheap toys, gimmicks, and smut. So what is the significance of this?

To understand, you need to look at one of the foundational conceits of art world elitism: the Marxist tinged struggle between the avant-gard and kitsch.

These terms rose to prominence in a 1939 essay by art critic Clement Greenberg. A devotee of the leftist Frankfurt School, Greenberg propounded his contempt for popular American culture. In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization, I explain Greenberg’s assertions:

“…he claimed the cultural world could be divided in two. The avant-garde (a military term referring to strike force troops, who go ahead of the main army) were forward-thinking sophisticates, whose radical creations were driven by a contempt for the tacky tastes of the general public.

“To Greenberg, the common people were too ignorant to appreciate the rarefied efforts of the avant-garde; these backwards types could only appreciate kitsch (a German word used for low quality art), a phony vision of art which tugged at middle class sensations like beauty, patriotism, and sentimental feelings. A Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of a popular magazine was the kind of thing that could make an intellectual like Greenberg retch.

“Greenberg declared, ‘…part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of heretofore: avant-garde culture. A superior consciousness of history—more precisely, the appearance of a new kind of criticism of society, an historical criticism—made this possible.’ The consciousness Greenberg refers to as ‘superior’ just happens to be his own, as he proceeded over the next few decades presumptively acting as the ultimate authority on art.”

So how did the art world move from rejecting the tawdry stylings of disposable popular culture to glorifying them?

The secret is the art world cosmopolitans are still dripping with contempt towards most of humanity. What has been added is the soul sucking Postmodern gambit of irony. By celebrating the tacky, elitists are actually mocking their straw man version of what “ordinary” people are capable of. Our New Aristocracy of the Well Connected disrespect the intelligence and capacities of all those whose lives don’t revolve around relentless elitist status signalling contests.

They assume that all we can appreciate is tawdry junk, and so they are having a patronizing laugh at us by spending millions on art that carefully reproduces…tawdry junk. Now it’s avant garde to clone kitsch, which makes it totally different because of reasons. Isn’t it ironic?

If you think that sounds dumb, you would be right. Welcome to the inverse values of the nasty Postmodern world, where our betters try to force us to accept that bad is good and stupid is clever.

This isn’t about the money. The finances are just a side show for most art world participants. Big league art deals are exercises in money laundering, tax evasion, and insider trading, but not that many get into that high roller category. What is most concerning is what it says about those controlling our cultural expressions.

The real perk for most establishment art types is a sense of superiority. Supporting a hoax substitute for art gets converted into the gold of social prestige through the alchemy of Postmodern dogma. It’s yet another proof that our current crop of cultural elitists are really not advanced at all.

Elitists hype outsourced and infantile art because of their own limitations. They lack depth and real achievement themselves, so they can’t tell the difference. They embrace this failure of character as a badge of honor, and mandatory for admission to their tribe.

What Postmodern charlatans have been pushing for decades isn’t even art at all. It’s artifice, an empty mimicry of the outer appearances and gestures of art, without partaking of any of its true substance and significance.

The good news is Postmodernism is dead. It no longer captures the new dynamic spirit of the age. As I state in the upcoming Remodern America Manifesto:

“Postmodernism shows the folly which erupts when the spiritual center of life is denied. Shifting focus away from the soul gave rise to an art world floundering in obscurity, destruction, pornography, propaganda, excrement and carrion. Contemporary establishment art is treated as a wedge, a social signifier of elitist attitudes, and a decadent toy for the wealthy.”

The art done in the name of Jeff Koons typifies this hostile positioning. Its cuteness is a sneer at what suckers we are. The species of cultural rot inspired by Marcel Duchamp has become such a tired trope.

Remodern art restores respect for the general audience, and their abilities to have profound experiences. Remodernists understand art is for everyone. We can all be stirred by beauty, moved by emotional expressions, and gratified by the experience of truth. Western civilization used to understand how art provided those uplifting states. Our current cultural institutions largely fail to produce these positive outcomes; instead they want to pretend a multi-million dollar imitation of a party trick is good enough for us dolts. They are wrong.

The Remodern age will be the story of the dismantling of centralized power. An arts establishment which claims a sarcastic marketing scheme is a major artistic achievement is a juicy target for serious reforms.

Jeff Koons: Having a Ball 

 

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit others posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

ARTISTS: Jackson Pollock’s Arizona Connections

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Pollock: An artist of the West

January 28th 2015 would have been the 103rd birthday of artist Jackson Pollock. Pollock is considered one of the giants of the modern art world. One of his paintings is currently recognized as the third most expensive ever:  “No. 5, 1948” sold for $140 million in 2006. His signature drip style is instantly recognizable; he was the subject of an Academy Award winning biopic in 2000; his reputation as a surly and focused flinger of paint helped shaped the public’s conception of what an artist is like for decades.

But in many ways, Jackson Pollock represents where the art world went wrong, when the bitter fragmentation of Modernist thought gained visibility and momentum, further severing the appreciation of serious art from the general audience.

An awkward and immature individual without much conventional talent, Pollock did have passion and persistence. His original breakthrough paintings were blunt, primal depictions of archetypal imagery absorbed from Jungian therapy. But then Pollock was taken on by the radical critic Clement Greenberg. Greenberg projected his materialistic ideology onto Pollack’s intuitive art, and encouraged him to emphasize the formal aspects of his work, all the better to manifest Greenberg’s agenda.

An abrasive bully, Greenberg was the leading advocate of the banal reduction of painting to a mere substance on a surface, accompanied by scads of verbose dogma. It was under his influence Jackson arrived at the drip style that came to define and limit him at the same time.

The public scoffed at this abstract art, the elitists scoffed back, and the fractures in our society deepened. But in the middle of all this, there remains Pollock the man, the artist, who struggled and suffered, and took chances; for that he deserves respect. He was driven to create, and tried to find a way to transcend his limited skills.

The drip paintings were not random accidents; analysis shows how Pollock reworked his surfaces using brushes, adding glazes, making corrections, utilizing his judgment to enhance his creations. Even in his declining years Jackson continued to make art, moving away from the drip paintings, which he found to be an ultimately unrewarding stylistic dead end, and back towards the figurative, mythic work of his original explorations. Who knows what he would have created had he survived longer.

Pollock’s end in a drunken car crash is infamous, but less known are the stories of his origins. Everybody starts somewhere, and Arizona plays a significant role in Pollock’s early years.

In September of 1913, a young family set out in a wagon hired from a stable at the corner of Van Buren and Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix. Roy Pollock was taking his wife Stella and his five sons to the new home he had bought for them, a 20-acre farm located about 6 miles east of the city, on the road to Tempe.

Paul Jackson Pollock, the youngest son, probably didn’t remember much of his life before this, in Cody, Wyoming; he wasn’t even 2 years old yet. But the future action painter and tragic art celebrity would spend a large part of his boyhood in the Valley of the Sun and other Arizona locations.

Roy Pollock’s farm on Sherman Street was simple; an adobe house, a barn, corral, and an outhouse. Roy planted alfalfa and many other vegetables, raised hogs, cows and chickens, and gained a reputation for producing some of the best crops and livestock in the Valley. His older sons helped out with the chores, but not Jackson. During these early years he was a sensitive child, who stayed close to the house and his mother; he was afraid of the wild desert landscape outside the borders of the irrigated farmland. Having tea parties and playing house with a little girl who lived nearby were among his favorite pursuits.

Despite his timid ways, Jackson did have his boyish adventures. He and the other kids would swim in the periodically flooded irrigation ditches. He’d hang out by the road waiting for the mailman’s car to go by; automobiles were a rarity then. He would ride into town with his father and see the Indians, Mexicans and Chinese in the marketplace, and visit Goldwater’s Department Store at the corner of First Street and Adams. Jackson idolized his oldest brother Charles, who was considered the artist of the family; Charles even received painting lessons from a neighbor.

In less happy events, Jackson managed to get his right index figure tip chopped off with an axe in a clumsy accident with another boy; the detached finger apparently got eaten by a rooster. Another time he was in a wagon wreck with his mother, when a bull charged and panicked their horse. Jackson had nightmares about the incident for the rest of his life.

Conditions were harsh in early Phoenix life. The family actually dragged their beds outside and slept for much of the year in their front yard, trying to deal with the intense heat. Stella Pollock was unhappy with the rustic lifestyle, and Roy had a hard time making money even with his skillful farming. So in May 1917 the family auctioned off their farm and belongings and moved on to California, where their situation continued to deteriorate.

Before long Roy had returned to Arizona without his family, supporting them long distance by working as a surveyor. Stella restlessly moved the family from town to town in California, never able to find a comfortable situation for her and the boys. In 1923 she moved the family back to Arizona, staying for a while at the Carr Ranch north of Globe and Miami. Eleven-year-old Jackson was no longer the fearful kid he had been before; he spent much of his free time hiking and hunting along the Salt River.

In 1924 the Pollock family, still without the father, left Arizona again, but later Jackson would return to live here one more time. In 1927 he got a job alongside his father working for a surveying crew on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Jackson at 15 was the youngest of the crew; he tried to fit in by drinking heavily along with the other men, the first signs of the terrible alcoholism which devastated his life. When summer was over he returned to high school in California and never lived in the state again.

When Jackson Pollock was at the height of his career as an abstract expressionist, he was called a cowboy throwing lariats of paint. His technique was compared to Native American sand paintings and tribal art. It’s hard to estimate how much his formative years in Arizona influenced the artist he became.

Recently I became aware of another unexpected facet of Pollock’s personality. When a photographer visited Pollock’s 1950’s New York home, now preserved as a museum, she noticed the kitchen was stocked with high end cookware for the era. Further research revealed Jackson and his wife artist Lee Krasner liked to cook, to host dinner parties, and they left behind an array of recipes. In addition there was documentation of various health foods and beverages Jackson used to combat his alcoholism, unfortunately without success.

The photographer, Robyn Lea, ended up collecting her detective work and anecdotes into a new book, In The Kitchen With Jackson Pollock, which is well beyond my budget. But there’s something I find moving about these nuances of character this knowledge reveals. For a little awhile at least, even during the throes of celebrity and myth making, there were moments of domesticity. Pollock and Krasner knew the humble pleasure of creating a good meal, and sharing it with friends.

Jackson Pollock, Jack the Dripper, drunken art rebel of the midcentury, was also a foodie who enjoyed baking.

This simple activity humanizes him more than anything else I’ve learned about him.

JacksonPollockCollage

A Jackson Pollock recipe that kind of resembles his paintings

An earlier version of this article was previously featured in The Western Free Press.