August 05, 2008

Easy As Apple Pie

by Jerome du Bois

I found a number of funny things in the press release for "THE OTHER MAINSTREAM II: Selections from the Collection of Mikki and Stanley Weithorn," an exhibition coming up at the ASU Art Museum this September. Mind you, the people behind the exhibition don't share this attitude. They're as solemn as Solomon about it all. That's what I find so funny.

To begin with, there's the fiction that it's been curated.

Originated by the ASU Art Museum and curated by Heather S. Lineberry, senior curator and interim director, and Marilyn A. Zeitlin, with assistance from Lekha Hileman Waitoller, MA student in the ASU School of Art.

Curating usually begins with an idea, a theme, a notion, no matter how attenuated or lame, originated in the mind of the curator. Or the curator notices a trend developing and seeks to focus on it. Then the curator explores the art world for examples of the theme, finds out what's available for lending, determines if there are enough works to justify an exhibition, and then does the hard work of lobbying the owners of the works, making insurance arrangements, and having them shipped out to the venue.

Not so in this case. Lineberry and Zeitlin, with Waitoller trailing behind carrying their Blackberrys probably, just drove up to the Weithorns' Scottsdale house, then flew to their place in New York City, and did an eenie-meenie-minie-moe on all the stuff this well-heeled couple has collected over the years. Tough job. And this is the second time Lineberry has carried out this Sisyphean labor. No wonder she's the interim director now. Come on. It was the Weithorns who did all the curating here. The ASU trio just scooped some of it up. Easy as apple pie.

So what have they wrought?

True to its name, the exhibition reflects the dominance in the contemporary art world of artists from diverse backgrounds working with new issues of identity - a new “mainstream.”

Using the word "new" twice won't revive an old dead horse. I don't know the exact works that will appear in the exhibition, but I've surveyed online images of works of all the artists listed at the end of the press release. With the sole exception of the Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, every other artist is flogging moribund identity aesthetics: politically correct, liberal fascist notions of white oppression and capitalist injustice. As Barack Obama is learning --too late and to his dismay-- most of the American people have grown beyond such retrograde myopia.

But not the artists, because there's still some gold in them worn old hills. They have to mine them, because they have nothing else to offer except ethnicity and old history.

The bi-racial couple [McCallum and Tarry] confront continuing concerns of racism in America drawing on photography from the early twentieth century of lynchings and the Civil Rights Movement. Their video installation, Exchange, poetically and powerfully refers to the “One Drop Rule” in which a person with one drop of black blood in their heritage was considered “colored.”

That is so last millennium. What's funny to me is the solemnity and gravitas with which it's presented, as if they're revealing to us the real skinny, the deep news we must be made aware of. But they're the only ones with "continuing concerns of racism," because that's the only subject their impoverished imaginations can conjure for their so-called art. Without it, they've got nothing to offer. Instead, they proudly advance the simplistic as the profound. And that just makes them look silly.

More pompous solemnity:

With most of the works in the exhibition created since 9/11, the collection is bold in imagery and in its commentary on global societies. It reaches beyond simply examining the assigned powers in politics, gender, and race, and moves to a broader examination of our humanity through humor or fantasy or blunt honesty.

These "curators" never get tired of trotting out the limited elliptical vocabulary of the social justice dispositions --issues of identity, commentary on X, assigned powers, broader examination, continuing concerns-- but if you examine the output of all forty-eight artists, as I have, all you find is cartoon surrealism, pop-culture appropriation, and nihilistic collage, and an abiding contempt for humanity. In this exhibition you will find no nobility, no beauty, no mystery, no wonder, no tenderness, no psychological complexity, only cookie-cutter stereotypes spoon-fed to these fools by their charlatan teachers. If you can get away with it, it's a lot easier than dealing with reality.

Not long ago I would have been outraged and angry at such a narrow view, such a blinkered, astringent tunnel vision of the human race. But now I know these artists are just commenting on each other. And they don't even know it. While they rise up harrumphing and point accusatory fingers at "the other," their shriveled souls don't recognize that they're pointing to a mirror. There is no other but themselves.

Call me perverse, but I think that's funnier than hell.

[Eudora crapped out on us just as Movable Type did, so if any reader wants to respond, scroll down to find our new gmail address.]

Posted by Jerome at August 5, 2008 12:50 PM | TrackBack