Friday, May 17, 2013

Mediocre Painting Sells For $2 Million at Christies

This is a painting, by John Currin, of Bea Arthur, a maternal and engaging TV actress who became famous in the 1970s and continued working through the 90s.  She did not pose for the photo - this is Currin's guess as to what this, basically, asexual actress might have looked like naked.

The reason I'm including this in my NY art scene blog is that I think this painting represents a lot that's wrong with contemporary art.

I see amazing work by artists in Chelsea and other neighborhoods every month, and, for the most part, it goes unrecognized.  Who are these art experts and money-guys who can elevate a truly mediocre piece like this to the status of 'great art?'

It's simply not great.  The New York Times stated Currin is one of the most provocative artists of his generation.  Provocative?  How?  Basically it's a rather trite idea:  I'll take someone who is not known to be sexy and I'll paint a nude painting of her. Does this make her sexy?  It's a type of tacky and low IQ conceptual approach to portrait painting.

(Lately it's become evident to lots of folks, based on stories in the Times involving Christine Quinn, that the New York Times is very biased politically: it goes out of its way to support certain candidates over others while pretending to be objective.  Why? Who knows?  Does money exchange hands?  Are there friends of friends involved?  Are favors owed or granted?  Who knows.  But the NY Times seems to be taking this approach to modern art as well.  Someone needs a favor?  You want us to promote this artist?  Sure: "He's the greatest artist of the past millennium and most provocative we've ever seen!" People still look to opinion-makers; even dying dinosaurs like the New York Times.)

This Currin painting actually reminded me of the controversial painting I remember from my youth in Chicago - after Mayor Harold Washington died.  An art student named David Nelson painted the mayor in a bra and panties for a School of the Art Institute Show in 1988. 

There's really not very much that's thought-provoking here.  Indeed, this painting created an outrage in Chicago and I had a hard time even finding a copy online. Interestingly, when the painting was displayed as part of a student show at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, three Chicago politicians raided the gallery space and stole the painting.  The police chief then hid the painting in a jail cell.  The artist (David Nelson) was later awarded $95,000 by the city for the violation of his First Amendment rights.

So this Bea Arthur painting represents everything the Guerrilla Girls have ever said about the male dominated art world.  "Great art" is art chosen by guys for guys.  It's all an old boys network. 

Great art becomes great art because a bunch of guys like the work of other guys and they tell the guys with money, "Hey! Buy this!  It's great art and will increase in value over the years and then you can sell it!" It's a David Mamet-style confidence scheme.

Me at an art gallery opening yesterday (drinking soju):

Yes, I'm also the guy who created the (Wonder) scandal in Asia awhile ago. :P


And, I'm the guy who wrote the ESL bookNew York City Sucks, But You'll Wanna Live Here Anyway.

If you don't have an e-reader, drop me a line at and I'll send you a free copy via Word file. Let me know whether you have Word 2010 or an earlier version.

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