Gustave Courbet, L’origine du monde, 1866.
The great artists see it coming.
Back in their native Soviet Union, in the 1960s, collaborative artists Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar fashioned a body of work that deployed socialist realist tropes in comically magic realist and even downright Warholian terms, anticipating, by a good half century, this year’s film“Death of Stalin” (and for that matter the persistence of Putin). Following their arrival in America in 1978, they continued in much the same vein, though they broke up as a collaborative almost 15 years ago.
In February 2016, Melamid, for his part, flush off the success of his great urinal show (an extended revisioning of Duchamp’s epochal Fountain, on its 100th anniversary), decided to honor the 150th anniversary of Courbet’s scandalous Origin of the World (L’origine du Monde) with his own End of the World (Le But du Monde), a quite shocking portrayal of some guy’s (actually his own) naked rear end, cheeks spread, anus exposed and rampant. Talk about dialectical materialism: if his two ass-cheeks represented thesis and antithesis, where did that put the rest of us, his painting’s viewers? With this work, he anticipated, well, everything that was to follow through the rest of that year and, frankly, up till the present.
Alexander Melamid holding End of the World (Le But du Monde).
From April fifth to April twenty-eighth, Melamid’s will be the centerpiece, as it were, of an entire show given over to the theme of Assholes, with contributions from several dozen other artists, at the Plato’s Cave (!) exhibition space of EIDEA House in Brooklyn.
St Benedict might well have approved—or anyway understood. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order in the sixth century AD, taught that the foremost virtue of the righteous monk was “discretion.” Over the years, interpreters have differed over what exactly the good saint meant or was getting at, but some have cited the origin of the word, which is to say, dis-escretio, to infer that he might have been heralding the ability to know the difference between food and shit and to understand that each has its place (shit being good for fertilizer, say, but not for eating). Discretion being, therefore, precisely the virtue our civic culture stands most in need of during this Age of Trump.
So, what better time than these, our very own End Times, to make our way over to the show? And if it gets to be too much, we can always remember the old saw: What did the one butt-cheek say to the other? If we can just stick together, maybe we can put a stop to all this shit!
The “Assholes” exhibit will be on display at Plato’s Cave in Brooklyn from April 5 to April 28, 2018.
Lawrence Weschler, Director Emeritus of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, is the author, most recently, of Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative.
Last / Next Article