The End of Art?

by Titus OBrien September 9, 2008

one month down in Chi Town. I think I’m finally
starting to settle in. I’m teaching too many classes, but that’s got the ol’ bean
cookin, as I bone up on some theory and comb through library art stacks hunting
for illuminative tomes for the homies (the Art Institute libraries leave me
speechless with silent joy). I’m only teaching art students, which is a novelty. At least one
can generally assume they care to some degree. I like teaching, for what the
Dalai Lama called “enlightened self-interest,” which is all we can really hope
for I think. I stumble along, revealing my ignorance to myself, and a little bit better
what it is I like to look at, and maybe even need to make.

today – I concocted a studio assignment for a class of first year students at
SAIC that’s inspired by Rauschenberg’s Combines , and apocryphal stories of how
he used to walk around the block of his studio and just make art out of what he
could find that day. We also looked a lot at Richard Tuttle, among others. Then
I sent them out for a few hours to scavenge. One girl came back with a homeless
man’s beat up begging box with writing on the sides, that she traded for a Ding Dong, a
bag a chips, a Sharpie, and a new box. A big chunk of rusted steel, empty dime bags
from the park, a straw hat from China Town, a shiny can, and a light fixture were
some of the first finds of a salvage operation that’s to continue through the



We talked
about a bunch of Rauschenbergs, a first look for many, which led us to the
inevitable discussion of Duchamp and those pernicious, inescapable Readymades.
I was struck by the contrast. Bob’s art is so generous in comparison – one that
extends to the men themselves. The fun-loving gay Texan struck me suddenly as a
much better model now for creative practice that the uptight misanthropic Frenchman.
Sychronistically, while my students went a-hunting, I read the early chapters
of Donald Kuspit’s The End of Art.
Donald Kuspit hates Marcel Duchamp. He really seems to loathe the man.




holds Barnet Newman up as the other criminal mastermind behind the demise of
the good, the true, and the beautiful, but he spends so much time dissecting
the overrated silence of Marcel D. that Newman gets off relatively easy. So far anyway. He’s
dismissed with utter finality, but without nearly so much blood letting.

wanted to read Kuspit again now, since I was so fascinated that he would
champion the art of that guru-guy Adi Da Samraj, that I lambasted at length in
what I guess was my last post before the move. The book makes an ineluctable
case for how a bitter Duchamp shit in the pool, spoiling it for everybody.
Kuspit claims that it was largely because he couldn’t compete with Matisse and
Picasso that, like a jealous school boy, he just negated their game entirely.
He would after all "abandon art"  to become a chess master, a man obsessed with outwitting his opponents
in a zero-sum game. His ultimate opponent was maybe art and beauty itself.



Kuspit convincingly points out, Duchamp’s statements and work show that he clearly despised and feared women, sex, and the
human body.

Don, let’s just give you all that, and allow that Tony Oursler is a terrible artist, Sherrie Levine a tedious hack, and of course Hirst deserves your cover. But what’s up with Adi Da? Is that your
answer? I’m only half way through to the end of The End of Art, and maybe Kuspit’s Achillean heel is yet to be
revealed. His rabid definitiveness is to me a little suspect; but so far, his case is
compelling, and more or less in line with my own feelings. To wit – art should
be a rigorous, serious, affectionate, deeply personal, absolutely useless inquiry into and expression of the quagmire of our
beautiful fucked-up humanity. Nothing more, nothing less.



b.s. September 10, 2008 - 06:33

Kuspit can suck my bawls. That formalist bastard is throwing his lot in with the backward-thinking assholes who believe that there is some kind of objectivity out there. It is the last resort of a desperate man, who clings to Modernism like religion and guns. Compared to Takashi Murakami he’s basically Amish.

If you really think that Freudian blinders help you understand Duchamp better, go ahead, but I think that he’d laugh at you from his damp French grave.

titus_obrien September 10, 2008 - 08:21

You get so bent anytime anyone mentions beauty (which always contains elements of the tragic – you’re Irish too. Come on, dude.) Kuspit may be this or that, but he makes some good points. The Duchampian/Warholian snicker-in-your-cuff I’m-so-clever anti-art gambit is pretty well played out. As are the droopy products of the adolescent neo-sincerity posse. Screw Henry Darger already. Put the push pins away. Down with rainbows trees deer and unicorns.
I don’t think we can “go back” or should want to. But I’m hardly alone in thinking that art can do better than Damien Hirst and Martin Creed. Who both crack me up. But I’m over the easy goof. And Takashi Murakami for that matter.
Formalism just gets sexier and sexier…

festoonedbaboon September 10, 2008 - 09:51

Duchamp did not give up art, but continued in secret:

titus_obrien September 10, 2008 - 12:16

“abandoned art”

b.s. September 10, 2008 - 18:27

Beauty is all well and good, but you’re a formalist andronicus, and those principles are dashed in the 21st century. The Duchamp/Warhol/Burden/Santiago Sierra/Orozco/Gonzales-Torres/Acconci/Cage/Komar Melamid/Kaprow/Gilbert George/Tracy/Neuhaus thing is not about taking anything away from you beauty-lovers, it’s just that we’re taking art out of the hands of individuals and giving it back to everybody.

I saw a girl yesterday with a bag that read SPECIAL $1.29.

Modernism is the illusion of objectivity, and I’m just not going to put up with that sh*t.

tobrienwriter September 11, 2008 - 07:02

I don’t take anything away from those guys – a number of whom I’m big fans of – but that’s not the only valid lineage (and arguably you’ve cobbled together some people who suffer by association) or way of working now. Duh.
Modernism is dead, and the Stuckists are idiots (and terrible artists). But I’m not alone in thinking they there was a lot of territory opened up by a wide range of makers in the last 100 years, and art shouldn’t just be just a continual intellectual game of oneups(wo)manship, or detached exercise in puzzle piece shifting, or clever clever winks and nudges.
Nor should it be a denial of any realm of experience in favor of another – which much of the Modern formalist urge boils down to. Mondrian could have used some more curves and tertiaries. It’s different now. You can be formal, and still get your kicks.

I want to feel it, baby. That’s all..

b.s. September 11, 2008 - 08:10

Art is, and has always been, a game about people. Art is soylent green. 🙂

tobrienwriter September 11, 2008 - 08:56

I assume you aren’t aware that I’m participating in Ludwig Schwarz’s “Sold on Soylent” show at And/Or this weekend.
Synchronicities abound.

b.s. September 11, 2008 - 10:53

who gives a shit? that’s in dallas.

titus_obrien September 11, 2008 - 13:22

you’re such a partisan.


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