|Ryan McGinely, "YEARBOOK" at Team Gallery, NYC|
I was walking around the Lower East Side and Soho the other day catching up on some shows whose openings I happened to miss. Some things I saw were charming and “good.” Others were quickly forgettable and then some were just in a category of familiar disbelief. The familiar comes from having seen something not exactly like what is on view but the feeling of it being something so easy, so pat, so well…familiar. The disbelief is that feeling upon seeing it and just taking a breath to calm disdain and quickly trying to accept that this is how things are and this is how things will be.
One show that really hit this combo of familiar disbelief was the Ryan McGinely show at Team’s Grand Street location. Entitled, “YEARBOOK,” this show consists of over 500, (count ‘em 500), nudes of youths in various shades of mostly white to sometimes brown, and all of them undeniably young and ‘cool.’ The photos are printed and pasted on all the walls and ceilings of the space. It is basically wallpaper and this is the thing that had me so defeated when looking at it. I often say the word “wallpaper” to describe ineffectual, unmeaning, just background, blank, and undistinguishing ambience that is resultant of a failure of some effort. Whether it be art, music, commentary, pop culture, or even a person, “wallpaper” for me is definitely a pejorative.
Anyways, back to McGinely’s show. This is an utter wallpaper of a show not only in how it actually was installed but the content. Who cares about vague coolness? Who cares about distracted gaze? Who cares about a coterie? (PS “coterie” is possibly one of my top 10 words I hate). Who cares? No one. But god damn it, it’s right there in its glory and people know that it is all done and over with but man, we keep looking and we keep having to see it.
Why is this happening? Internet, money, New York City death trap, Sotheby’s, MFAs, cultural butt-hole, one-percenters, Beyonce, James Franco, and wadda wadda wadda. We could go on and on about why this is happening. I can’t grasp it, nor do I want to in some ways but here is where the challenge lies.
So much of everything, and especially in the art world is just noise. I feel like I am having the same conversation, over and over again, about the art world, the art market, money, fame, access, gallery structures, vultures, flippers, spinners, PR agents, whose leaving this, whose joining this, whose funding this, and whose broke. Maybe I keep having these same conversations because people know that I’m so ‘over-it’ regarding the art world and they feel they have a ready partner in the venting. They do. Please people, keep venting away but I have to pause and speak about this challenge that comes from all this vapidity caused angst.
It’s time we all get real and chill out and take some time (TIME!) to have some deep thoughts. I know that ‘discourse’ and the blah-de blah of Structuralist, Postmodern, dialectic, blabedeblah is like so puh-lease in impulse but let’s be honest people, things have gotten real basic and stupid in culture and most definitely in the art world and those who participate in it.
There has been an anti-academic tip going on for a decade or so, and rightly so because that was just too expensive, too white, too male and too boring to endure. But now there is a prevalence of flippancy, it’s ‘anti-‘ this or that but nothing that is significantly new, regenerative, or progressive. Everyone can be an artist, being an artist or an art professional is a definite career path for many now. Making work, talking about work, looking at work, buying work, curating work is based on access to influence and riding the wave at just the right moment. Is this new? No. Does it still suck? Yes.
I guess the only thing I am saying is that I’m really not sure why a lot of the art I’m looking at and seeing out there for the past few years feels so vacant, easy, cool, and is so white noise wall papery. Yes, of course there are moments of sheer amazing art and brain razzle-dazzle, and this is why I even hold onto a string of giving one crap about contemporary art still but there is a problem. I think that we should really collectively have it be a goal to chill out, slow it down just a little bit, even if for a little while and just think. Think and talk and think and talk and think and maybe not talk. There is something off, maybe it’s just me that’s off, (probably), maybe that’s why I’m questing for some golden fleece of illusioned remedy for my problem with art but all I know is that things just feel too contingent on some made up status quo.
Just to confirm my ego on this trend, I also came across this article by the astute, smart, yet not frivolous writer, Alex Ross of The New Yorker. In his short essay entitled, The Naysayers, Walter Benjamin,Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture, he goes through a lot of the clichés of being a theory thinker, and the tacky baggage of that cultural signification. He also presses into some of the foresight, prophetic and possibly necessary theories and ways of thinking by Benjamin and Adorno and how it relates to the fast food culture of today. I highly recommend this read to give any who may need it, that extra strength to not feel totally ridiculous highlighting some Adorno.
And here I will leave you with just that. One of my highlights from Adorno’s Minima Moralia, 1951:
One of the motifs of cultural critique since time immemorial is that of the lie: that culture produces the illusion of society worthy of human beings, which does not exist; that it conceals the material conditions on which everything human is constructed; and that by seeking to console and assuage; it ends up preserving the bad economic determinacy of everyday existence: This is the nothing of culture as ideology.