Jean-Michel Basquiat would be turning fifty years old this fall. Instead, he has been dead for twenty-two years, the victim, at twenty-seven, of a 1988 heroin overdose the art world witnessed more or less firsthand. Basquiat’s crack-up begat a frenzy of speculation that drove that decade’s art-market crash (since the rise of the contemporary auction ecosystem, there seems to be about one every decade). His funeral reportedly featured more art dealers than mourners; Jeffrey Deitch—now the director of LA MoCA, then the high-flying founder of Citibank’s art-advising arm—gave the eulogy. According to Phoebe Hoban’s detailed account in her unsparing book Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, the ruined artist left behind “917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.” That, and a counterfeit fable of overnight sensation for biographers, filmmakers, and groupies to pore over.
When Jeffrey Deitch opened his gallery in Soho in 1995, his program had promise. He exhibited the great Japanese artist of sound and light Mariko Mori, Chen Zhen’s installation of street latrines from Beijing (a tribute by the late artist to the old ladies tasked to clean them), and the African-American performance artist Jocelyn Taylor, who took over the windows of a whole Soho block to create an ironic red-light district—the highpoint in a career that would dissipate thereafter.
“The plug was pulled, but life went on—invigorating life,” Jerry Saltz wrote last fall in a typically optimistic survey of “art after money.” You could hear the refrain everywhere, in galleries and studios, museums and bars: The bull market had been unbearable, turning work into a kind of mortgage payment, so maybe the bust would be good for art in this town. Saltz said it already was: “It’s as if a bunch of spotlights went out when the market crashed last October, and now, as they flicker back on, we’re able to see new green shoots busting out of the establishment’s cracks.”
But not much has changed in New York since 2008, when that speculative boom ended and an exercise in disaster capitalism began. This season, the big-deal September show at the biggest-deal New York gallery, Gagosian, is the blue-chip debut of derivative Deitch darling Dan Colen. Money is still cool-hunting. This week, Saltz called the Gagosian show, dismissively, “an event straight out of 2007.” But one of these is an elephant and one is a gnat, and the market is stampeding again.
New galleries have emerged since the crash, whole neighborhoods of them in fact, and new work has been assembled, sculpted, painted, and filmed—some of it very good work. But we are still beholden to art fairs, where the hustle is the spectacle, and we still anxiously await future auctions, when we’ll learn how well we’ve done—in collecting, in working, in making assessments. We are still enamored of gags, puns, and trompe l’oeil. We still tend to follow the scent of sweat where it pools—that antinomian territory called, in the generation after Basquiat anyway, downtown. Better would be to chase uptown, so to speak, after shows that, if young, aren’t insolent; if brash, aren’t gimmicky; and that do not rely for their power on the incongruity between the work and its staging. From here that frisson looks like a form of irony—and we want to say good-bye to all that.
As Paris cultural institutions go, they’re babies—but for the last two decades Les Inrockuptibles has been the great arbiter of Parisian pop cult. (Think Spin in its heyday, plus The Village Voice ditto, plus a music label and a funny accent.) Today the editors of Les Inrocks are relaunching the magazine; we wish them bon courage. They have our sympathy, heaven knows—and our highest hopes.
To mark the occasion, our culture diary will feature editor Nelly Kaprielian, who brings us an eyewitness report on this year’s rentrée littéraire.
I remember a woman with a pear nestled between her breasts. That’s what most traumatized my pubescent self the last time I went to a Renaissance Faire, somewhere in Marin County circa 1989.
I’m here to report that nothing has changed two decades later at the New York Renaissance Faire: all women are wenches. T-shirts that read “Boss Wench” and “Wench Magnet” greet you as you enter the Tudor-style gates.
This is the kind of place where it’s always acceptable to just throw on a corset. “People should just admit they want to come just to wear a corset,” says Emily, one of the friends I dragged along with me, as she eats a turkey leg. In fact, the line between fetishwear and Ren Faire costumes is alarmingly thin; the chain mail shop sells armor fit for battle, but it seemed to be doing a much more brisk business in belly chains.
What I was even more confused by were the horns, raccoon tails, and fairy wings on sale, as if Renaissance England was some sort of catch-all fantasy world where Magick Reigns. Weren’t there a lot of nuns per capita in the renaissance? I didn’t see a single nun, nor one Queen Elizabeth, though I did spot several pirates (it was Pirate’s Weekend at the Faire), a sole leper, many gypsies, and a few teen boys in black robes that inspired me to write “heavy goth element” in my notes.
Ren Faire is supposed to be lusty and ribald, but the constant and unsubtle sexual innuendo is tiresome. “No one eats sausage like Austrian women,” says one of the seventy-five actors, this one dressed as a drunk Austrian noblewoman. Her maid, who is flirting with a group of men in Ed Hardy t-shirts drinking mead, says, “I always swallow, never spit.” The sleaziness never really lets up. “I see you like my balls,” one vendor at a glassblowing booth called out to me. I don’t think that was very period appropriate.
Personally, I was much more excited at the prospect of being a maiden for the day. There was hair braiding from a shop called Rapunzel’s, which mildly piqued my interest, but what I was really after were the floral garlands. I spent at least ten minutes trying on a variety of them—fake yellow flowers, fake blue flowers, feathered—as a moon-faced teenage girl helping me told me very solemnly, “I’m here for thee.” I went with a leaf-wheat-baby’s breath combo, hoping I resemble a Botticelli even though I’m wearing cut-off denim shorts.Read More
I came to cynicism late. The others had been listening to punk rock for years, espousing anarchy on bathroom walls, wallowing in upper-middle class suburban angst. But my parents were still together, and believed in human goodness. I took their sixties idealism, cradled it until that first girl fucked my friend instead of me.
But back up a couple years. Here’s me, age twelve, brink of puberty, pale moustache coming in like dawn through a bend in the windowshade. I’m in a baseball card store, too old to be buying baseball cards. Alison’s at the counter.
“Topps?” she says. “Fleer? Upper Deck?”
“Upper Deck,” I say.
Alison turns, reaches. Blonde hair hangs almost to the small of her back. T-shirt rides up, revealing a swath of plumber’s butt. Stretch-marked handles spill over hips. This is love.
My father removes a record from its sleeve, blows dust. Dust hangs in the summer sunlight. My heart is a helium tank. I float. The man on the cover is puberty incarnate. His knees are elbows. His ankles angle inwards. He could use a new pair of glasses.
I get the first line wrong. “It’s so funny to be seeing you after so long girl.” I hear “It’s so funny to be seeing you at the salon girl.” Because this record is an artifact from the eighties. Men spent that era in hair salons. How else the Jheri curl? How else the shimmering Jew-fro my father still sports?
But I’m not looking. I’m listening. I’m picturing Alison the card shop owner, hair blow-dried into staticky orbit around her pink dome, hair photosynthesized, hair blooming like sunflower blossoms, framing her pistil face, awaiting my stamen, awaiting pollination.
Then the chorus: “Oh Alison, I know this world is killing you. Oh Alison, my aim is true.” My hometown: the median household income is $25,000. Alison: bordering on obese, breaking her back, bending for our allowance money. Alison, this world is killing you. Let me be your savior. My aim is true.
To my untrained, un-jaded ears, Elvis sounded so sincere.
But high school is a cruel carnival. Every ride ends in tears. Every game is rigged. Good prizes unattainable. All you win is some shitty stuffed walrus, sweatshop stitched. My best friend was Paul Gunzburger. People called us Wils-Burger. I rode on the back of his moped. People called us gay. I sported limp blonde locks and girlishly un-chiseled arms. People called me Hanson, like the band. Sang “Hmmbop” as I passed in the halls.
We met a girl. Sexiest unibrow you’ve ever seen. Hips like a hip-hop muse. Always had her own weed stash. Read More