Friday, January 12, 2007

Which Side Are You On Boys, Tell Me Which Side Are You On?

In the most recent edition of New York Magazine, there is an article about the 'edgy' art contingency on the L.E.S. known as Irak NY. These dudes are a bunch of graf artists, apparently, but from the article you get the idea that most of their art is super-gritty stuff, such as collages of newspaper articles with man-juice smeared over the top. Now, I am, admittedly, not that savvy when it comes to what's new in the art world, and what qualifies as certifiably good art. Apparently people pay tens of thousands of dollars for this stuff, which speaks to the value that some place on it as not only certifiable, but sustainable. That's neither here nor there really, as I don't wish to judge the artistic merits of Dash Snow and the other members of that community. What interests me most, however, is why this stuff is considered 'edgy' or new. Back in the day I went to school with the Grandson of a big-time newspaper industry magnate. He told us stories about how his parents who lived in a SoHo loft in the '70s used to take loads of acid and poop on canvasses, smear it around and sell this stuff for thousands of dollars. The moral of the story? Rich, white, kids have been taking drugs and rubbing fecal matter on paper and calling it art since the '70s. So why is this now considered edgy? I am interested in why people are reacting to this art as the 'next Warhol' or 'next Pollack' and more importantly, why we feel the need to annoint a 'next (pick the icon).' It happens in the sports world (LeBron is the next 'Jordan') in the music world (Clap Your Hands is the next Talking Heads, or Modest Mouse, or...) and even in the writing world (Marisha Pessl is the next Nabakov.) I just don't get this on a number of levels: the most obvious being, that the people we are always comparing the newcomers to were so successful and so earth-shatteringly awesome, precisely because they were totally incomparable to anything we had seen prior to their existence. Before Jordan we didn't know a Guard could simply snap his fingers and take over an entire game. Before Talking Heads music wasn't supposed to be that 'weird'. Before Nabakov, writing was supposed to be formulaic, and on, and on...

So why are we in such a rush to find the next huge thing by identifying it so closely with something that has already been. By nature this is asking art to be repetitive and emulative. Don't get me wrong, all good art has its inspirations. Pollack was clearly influenced by the Cubists, Talking Heads by prog rock, etc...And the art is often a reaction to what comes before it. But for art to AIM for comaparisons to or against its predeccesors seems, to me, to take away from the artistic liberty necessary to make something unique and inspiring. What is apparent both from the article, and from the little I know about Snow and the Irak folks, is that they have a deep-seated ambition to be compared to--and thought of as the torch-bearers of--the NY art scene of the '70's. Everything from the inherent wealth--who else can afford to be full time artists?--to the excessive use of drugs, participation in sort-of-illegal activity, to blurred boundaries of sexuality, family, spirituality and ethical responsibilities. The problem with this copy-cat behavior is that, while it is obviously a function of Youth, its also bound to lead to certain interpretations that are going to be dubious at best, and unabashedly mocking at worst.

While I think the author of the NYMag article, Ariel Levy, meant well, and tried to be honest with her portrait of Dash and the other Irakies, there are certainly moments where her coverage floats between the aforementioned interpretations. Towards the end of the article she admits it is easy to hate Dash and the rest, particularly for the hypocrisy of their lifestyle balanced against Dash's wealthy family background (see Dubious.) At other points in the article there certainly does seem to be the feel that Levy is standing behind the Irak Crew as they speak, and giving you the wink and nod (see mocking.) Of course, the fact is, this is the actual subjects killing themselves with their own words. For instance, one artist involved with Dash (McGinley, who is actually a pretty respected artist, but comes off sounding moronic) had this to say about Dash: "These kids that would go up on a rooftop, 40 stories up, and go out on a ledge to write their name—it’s just, like, the insanity of it all!" Insane? Hardly. Kids in Newark (who aren't getting commissioned thousands of dollars) do this crap on a nightly basis. He goes on to compare his art to Dash this way: "I’m into freedom and a celebration of life, and Dash is more about the fall of humanity." Knowing what we know about the absurdity of Dash's wealth (his brother dates one of the Olsen twins, by the way) it is hard not to smirk at the notion of him being a prophet of the fall of humanity. Dash who refers to himself as a derel (derelict, obvs!)gives the author this insight upon meeting her: "I was just down for it! I’m down with anyone, even if they’re bad people, if they’re just, like, anti-American, you know what I mean?" The idea obviously is that he's bad-ass, edgy, dangerous: he does drugs, tags billboards, lies naked in bed with men, empathizes with terrorists. I guess the idea is this gives him credibility. Unfortunately for him, it comes off as "resumé-padding," trying to establish his place, and prove he has earned it.

The thing is, Snow seems to (I cringe to say this) believe in the life-style he lives. That is to say, I think he does see himself as a derel and a total outsider to society. But no matter how hard he tries he will always be known to have come from society at its gaudiest: NYC old money. So when Snow talks about how 'down' he is, it is only natural for the reader to roll his eyes. Hypocrisy, even the unintended variety, is hard to sneak past the dubious public. Snow seemed aware of this following the release of Ariel Levy's piece. In the immediate aftermath the Irak NY blog ran an article calling it 'A Big Wack Story.' The comments, moderated by a member of Irak go on to make some seriously derogatory remarks about the sex and religion of the articles author. Referring to Levy, a very out lesbian, the commenters sling anti-semitic slurs, and discuss their desire to probe her orifices (very edgy stuff.) The moderator didn't seem to mind any of this obviously derogatory, and chauvenistic behavior: what did I say about hypocrisy? Of course, other recent blogs on the Irak board range from a drooling 'How long until June' headline (referring to the release date for the new iPhone, a $350 excessive-consumer's wet dream) to an article berating the US for sending more troops to Iraq (the one with a Q) and 'simply throwing money at a problem.' "So American" the blogger writes. Yes, American, like growing a hard-on over a hand-held communication device that costs more than the GNP of some third-world nations. Hypocrisy, it seems, is as much a part of being 'down!' with the Irak crew, as sleeping naked in bed with other dudes.

Dear Dash and the rest of the Irakis: The seventies are dead. If we continue to rehash the ghosts of Pollack and Warhol until we are blue in the face, the art scene in NY is going to be dead right along with it. Furthermore, if you want the world (the part of it that can't afford 90 Grand for your splooge-stained artwork) to take you seriously, you might want to reconsider how valuable it is to attack your critics at the cost of making yourselves seem like hypocritical angry boys. Surely Pollack and Warhol brushed off much harsher critiques than the piece from NY Mag. Maybe that's a piece of those guys--the last piece, I'd suggest--that you boys should learn to emulate.


At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

I was talking with someone the other night about how shoes can become a purely class-based signifier if given the right context. For example when you stomp around any american bourgeois campus these days, you're bound to see aristocratic females with feet clad in some sort slipper/ugg/completelyfunctionlessboot/ 6inch heel, whatever. Making oneself completely incapable of performing work is a statement of class position. In making yourself literally functionless you're announcing that you are able to afford to be functionless because you can pay other people to perform functions for you. Meanwhile, when poor people wear shoddy shoes that don't stand up well, it is because they can't afford better, and therefore unremarkable to those interested in fashion.

In the same thought, what these people (and similarly our friend's parents in the 60's in tribeca) are calling "art" is an affirmation of class position. The explicit lashing out against wealth -them shouting "Look, we're so fucking rich that we can afford to act like we don't give a shit"- only serves to set in stone the implicit statement of this whole thing "You envy us, but you cannot afford to be us". Knowing that mainstream culture (by this i'm including new york mag, all published art mags, music mags, film mags, book mags, whatever) worships wealth, and has always worshipped wealth- their support of these heads is nothing more than the typical praise for those wealthy elites who are blessed to be superior to us in every way. The kids in Newark are not remarkable because they actually are on the fringes of society, not pretending to be so. Wealthy people acting pretending to be poor and rebellious is notable, not the poor actually standing up for themselves; americans writing about starvation in africa is notable, africans starving is not; beautiful people playing ugly people in movies is notable, actual ugly people are not. As a culture, Americans are in love with other Americans announcing to the world how far superior we are to them by pretending to be them, but we do not give a shit about them. http:

At 12:05 PM, Blogger jake said...

Nice job on the Leitch interview, he is a really interesting guy who has, in my opinion, the ideal outlook on how to deal with sports and the trivialness (word?) of it all.

And yes, I read deadspin daily. My favorite website other than wikipedia.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger g.m.s. said...

thanks, glad you enjoyed it. and there are no comparisons out there for wikipedia. it is a great tool. trivialness/triviality are both acceptable noun versions of trivial, i do believe.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger jake said...

Do you get paid to write for pop matters? How did you get the job?

At 8:55 AM, Blogger g.m.s. said...

PM does not typically pay writers unless they are actively seeking a column or article. Initially I submitted an article on the Cuban Baseball team, and they published it sans payment. Since then I have had both non-paying and paying articles published, but even the paid ones are peanuts. it's more of an outlet for building my portfolio, where I know I can go with things that are super interesting to me, but not necessarily going to find an outlet in some of the more mainstream places (especially my 9-5.) PM is a great place to start though if you have something interesting to write about, but don't think it has a place on the typical sports site.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger g.m.s. said...

and that from the department of redundancy department


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