Saturday, April 7, 2012


In the April edition of Art News there was an article published titled “When Bad is Good”.   In it Richard B. Woodward takes on “art made in a riotous spirit of bad taste”.  He opens the article with “Artworks that mimic soft porn, showcase embalmed animals, mock the Pope, and otherwise offend propriety are filling auctions, museums, and galleries.  Is there anything’s left to be upset about?” Mr. Woodward goes on to say, “In many cases today, subjects and figures that were previously out-of-bounds are considered acceptable, safe, edgy, and fun, thanks to the Internet, which offers imagery without censors.”  He concludes the article with a John Waters quote: “Now everybody wants to be an outsider. […] Counterculture won some things a long time ago.  Counterculture’s in control.  I’m the insider.  I’m the establishment.”  In other words, to answer his question… no, there isn’t anything to be upset about anymore.  But you can still hate this stuff.

The Chapman Brothers
Contemporary masters of bad taste, according to Woodward, are Paul McCarthy, Lisa Yuskavage, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, John Currin, Sarah Lucas, Albert Oehlen, Richard Prince, Tracy Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami among others.  All of these artists are “blue chip” and thrive on being hated.  Some are better at being hated than others… for example, Jake and Dinos Chapman really get under my skin.  And I should add that they are all easy to hate not only because of their disgusting, kitschy, perverted art but also because of their extraordinary monetary success… I can’t help but to think “some moron paid millions for that!”  And when John Waters says “the work we hate today is often the work we end up liking and admiring in the future” I have to strongly disagree.  To base your artistic tastes on deduction, coming to conclusions about the future based on what has happened in the past, is to surrender your intuition in favor of an idea in your head.  It’s one thing to genuinely like this type of art from the bottom of your heart, but it’s on quite another level to like it because you think you’ll like it in the future. 

Here are few more thoughts I have about these bad tasting blue chip artists...

Damien Hirst
They interest me because I don't get them.  I guess thats one draw to their art.  From one perspective their work is absolutely ridiculous... really deplorable, silly stuff.  They can be seen as cold-blooded, calculated, conceptual minded, scam artists (and they'd probably agree with me on that point).  From another perspective, from the eye of the educated art world, their work can be intriguing because 1) no one has diliberately created such crappy non-art before and prestented it as fine art (perhaps Duchamp and Warhol were the first to do so along those lines) 2) you cannot forget about it their art because you hate it so much!  But does that make it successful?  The fact that I'm even asking this question and taking the time to blog about it is proof that its "good" art... right?

We, the audience, sometimes forget about the increadible craftsmenship that goes into making art like Hirst's Unicorn, or Piccinini and Chapman's sculptures.  That only is reason enough to see their art... even if they personally have not laid a hand on their work.

Paul McCarthy
These artists play a necessary role in contemporary art.  They exploit the art establishment’s romanticism with “bad boy” art and the inflated market value of blue chip art.  Their collectors are people of enormous wealth and have extraordinary leverage in the art world.  And I  wonder… is it their investment consultants, trusted gallery dealers, or their genuine artistic tastes that makes them pay so much for this disgusting stuff?  It’s probably all of the above combined with the despiration to "fill the void".

Can you imagine what will be going through Damien Hirst’s and Jake Chapman's head when they’re at the time of their deaths?  Whats their inner life like?  It’s hard to imagine because their art is entirely abscent of basic normal human qualities like compassion and spirituality.

Patricia Piccinini
I'm an art educator and I recently heard a story from a co-worker of an obnoxious middle school boy that was impossible to deal with.  He gave everyone around him a headache.  His behavior was appauling.  But everytime he was threatened by his teacher to try to make him stop he would quickly retort with some applicapable civil liberty law or education law pertaining to student rights.  Anyway, these artists are just like this boy... they push your every button and there's nothing you can do about it because they know what they need to know to get what they want... and that to annoy the hell out of you.

Jeff Koons
Will this art live on in the future and the artists be regarded as geniuses by posterity?  Who cares?  The real question, as far as I'm concerned, is... would I buy this art and hang it in my house so that I would see it everyday?  I don't think so.  Give me a Matisse, Tapies, Guston, Basquiat, Martin Ramirez, Puryear, Ignacio Iturria, Hockney, even an Otto Dix or Peter Saul... but don't torment me by installing a Jeff Koons! 

Anyway, I am so thankful that there are artists out there creating work like this.  Someone has to do it and I'm glad it's not me.  I'm curious to see how the next generation of bad taste artists are going to offend us. 

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