Archive for the ‘Review: The Balloon Poodle and the Butt Plug’ Category

In the way of famous artwork there is worse than meaningless, there is mean, but first the meaningless, and where less is more—as they say in the world of art—let us use the king of less meaning (read nonsense), Jeff Koons, as example.

What, though, hasn’t already been said about his work? Well, how about that there is nothing to say about it to begin with. It should go without saying, as it were, that such stuff has no artistic quality, artistic quality implying innovative, intellectual, technical prowess. What is interesting to talk about though, perhaps even fascinating, is why Koons’ mindless work seems to be so successful, why it has so many admirers. We could simply say—because it’s famous, it’s ‘in’, which is the ‘must’ for the fashion conscious social creatures that we are. Certainly, but what made such stupid stuff famous, made it a must? Well, the businessmen, the marketing wizards behind the worthless stuff—as usual. Indeed, if there’s any ‘quality’ to be mentioned about the success of Koons’ ‘oeuvre’, it’s in the purely money-making capacity of those on the business end to sell this stuff to the public.

In 2013, his sculpture “Balloon Dog (Orange)” fetched $58,405,000. To think that this is nothing that millions of street entertainers and children’s birthday party clowns have not already done, and each one of them, hundreds of times over.

In 2013, his sculpture “Balloon Dog (Orange)” fetched $58,405,000. To think that this is nothing that millions of street entertainers and children’s birthday party clowns have not already done–before him–and each one of them, hundreds of times over.

Not that the public is an innocent victim though either. Come to think about it, how about we stop talking about Koons and the shortcomings of his work per se and begin to talk about the shortcomings of the public, those silly enough to go see his cookie-cutter crap. Such a discussion, however petty it may seem, should go a long way in helping us to understand the Koons phenomena, the overwhelming success of his work despite its outrageous shortcomings, and, along the way, ‘enlighten’ ourselves about another subject—that we must consider even more important—that being ourselves, however disappointing our findings, however ‘dim’ we, the subject, may prove to be.

The herd instinct is a commonly understood concept explaining the thoughtless desire of the masses to identify with their fellow man, to belong to what sociologists refer to as ‘the group’, and what better way to ensure yourself of this than by associating yourself with something that is as famous, as well recognized by the group, as Jeff Koons’ work definitely is. And today, with the mass media, it is ‘massively’ famous. Now, as you know, anything in society, anything whatever, that has the attention of the mass media has the attention of the people. It is, for this reason alone—for better or worse—even seen as important. It’s as if people today have forsaken a sense of pride in realizing some superior achievement, elitist accomplishment, to rise above the pack—which should be something appreciated out of common sense—and instead feel good about belonging to the group, period, belonging to what the masses see as popular, however mediocre. Indeed this relegation of elitism, of rising above the pack, is due to the fact that people today, particularly the lonely and lowly who sense that excellence is beyond their reach, feel that the very power in society today is—due to the mass media—in the hands of the people anyway, not the government or some elite group within the government. This transfer of power, this take-over of law and order even in many cases, is now, today, an integral part of our collective consciousness—examples: Amnesty International, Cop Watch, Anonymous, WikiLeaks, crapola blogs the likes of Gawker or Perez Hilton’s, and whatever the birdbrains can get to go viral on twitter.com. In the spirit—and unequalled eloquence—of the popular masses, it is “awesome.”

The second point for us not to miss is that—to the extent that this herd instinct is true—the ‘super herd instinct,’ as I will call it, is even truer. Or let’s say closer to some truth in the sense of a quest that so many people seem to be on—looking for some answer to their, let’s say, ‘questionable’ life. Today, for many people in this hyper media environment we are talking about, being part of the herd is no longer enough. They want, and expect, their “15 minutes”, as Andy Warhol (the eminent social scientist?) pointed out. Being part of the herd in order to be popular is one thing, standing out from the herd—getting your 15 minutes—in order to be more popular than the others is even better. Jeff Koons’ work often depicts popular icons: Michael Jackson, copies of The Hulk, Popeye, balloon dogs, etc., which all goes back to the herd instinct we were speaking of, a person’s wanting to belong and satisfying this desire by associating with that which is socially popular. And today, what could be more popular than the bling bling culture, which Koons taps into without reserve? But the bling-bling nature of almost all, if not absolutely all, of Koons’ work: glaring bon bons, balloon dogs, or ornamental hearts of polished metal with a precious-jewelry allure, goes beyond wanting to belong, it’s about belonging but in shamelessly rich fashion, like a ‘star’—being rich and being a star, other plainly common desires of the common man. All this, wrapped up into one, is typical of the bling-bling culture, which in turn, is typical of so many lost souls trying to sense some value in themselves through the attention that this moneyed, star status procures. Precious-jewelry ‘allure’, now that I think of it, Koons even did a piece depicting precisely that—XXXL phat—a monumental ‘sculpture’ of a big blue diamond in its big gold setting.

We don’t want to waste any more time on this false god of a Koons and his vain, naïve, and vacuous icons, which, on top of this, are not even of his own creation, but instead, are nothing more than vulgar rip-offs of popular figures copied from our popular culture; but let’s do add one final observation: Pop Art, whose use of popular symbols in society was already largely plagiaristic when Warhol expropriated the concept from advertisers, was at least original in the context of fine art at the time when Warhol introduced it to the fine art milieu—but with Koons today, nothing is original about his work, neither the visual aspect nor the intellectual concept.

Now for the worse than meaningless

In the way of publicly recognized artwork that is polluting our social environment there is worse than meaningless, there is mean. Indeed, the work we are talking about here can be worse than talentless, visually sterile hype, it can be talentless but also purposely ugly and mean in a personal way. There is no redeeming ‘provocative’ aspect to it. There is no socially redeeming message of any kind, politically, religiously, philosophically, or otherwise—just an intent to provoke certain people they somehow see in opposition to themselves in society and to take pleasure in doing so. A prime example of this meanness in artistic expression can be seen in the work of Paul McCarthy. What could one possibly see in a pile of shit imposed upon his person, ‘dumped’ in public, in his community living room so to speak? (See picture below.) If someone took a crap in your living room, you certainly wouldn’t like it—so it must be something that one doesn’t like about himself, or at least the society he lives in that makes one feel McCarthy should be shitting on us. Ultimately, he must feel he is, with McCarthy as his intermediary, shitting on those certain people he sees in opposition to himself…who make him doubt himself ?…who call to mind certain things he’d rather not see about himself you think?

Mccarthy Crapola

Too big to step in—there you go !

At its roots: according to psychologists, an individual, his psychological being or identity, feels constrained by the society he lives in (by the conflict his will has with the will of others living in the same society and the resulting concessions and/or compromises that must be made). These constraints, or limitations on his person are ill felt by the psyche, which naturally reacts against it. Another primary factor of discontent is inequality: class, racial, religious, or other inequality, that a person naturally reacts to—no one wants to see himself as inferior. And such reactionism may be witnessed coming from the opposing side of the social spectrum but with the same result: a person who sees himself as superior, but who comes to feel guilty because of this perceived superiority, may react negatively against that which symbolizes or represents his superior status. Regardless, if you fall a certain way in life ideologically, and hard enough—once you are knocked off balance psychologically—finding peace of mind comes easier by convincing yourself that acts bearing a ‘negative’ image, and the negative product of these acts, is acceptable, even preferable, compared to ‘positive’, ‘constructive’ acts and their resulting products. For those benefiting emotionally from artwork such as McCarthy’s, the goal is to provoke the public. For anyone connected to the business end, the goal is to make the artist famous, and when famous, to rake in the bucks.

True failure. Wasting the true, beautiful potential and power of art: What McCarthy’s work really shows is man’s desire to shit on his fellow man. Now, if by this statement he was trying to unmask so much of the petty yet grave personality flaws that most assuredly define the human being, McCarthy might have to be considered one of the more important artists working today, unfortunately however, that’s not where he’s coming from. He would like us to believe that his work elicits, and in so doing demonstrates, some unacceptable intolerance on the part of certain people and their intention to deprive others of some legitimate ‘freedom’ (which is consummately effective (read exploitative), since freedom is registered in our collective consciousness as being the defining characteristic, the definitive value, of our Western civilization, and thus, to be accepted without question, without any reservations). However, in perfect contradiction to himself, he is not trying to defend freedom, freedom of expression or any other sort of freedom; he is only mocking his responsibility as a fellow member of society, mocking the duty he or any member of society has to be considerate of others in a shared environment, and by consequence, only destroying freedom, a freedom whose very foundation is based on this social contract. And to any bone-headed fan of McCarthy who would offhandedly reject any ‘conceptual’ critique of his work such as this, note that regardless of McCarthy’s conceptual confusion mentioned above, there is a more fundamental problem, one having to do with the very basics of art: the art medium he has chosen to express his idea in is visual, and his work, such as this pile of shit contributes absolutely nothing new visually to the world of art, to the human experience. Indeed, no research, creative talent, or technical prowess is demonstrated in an inflatable pile of shit.

mccarthy_monnaie de paris

Posted throughout the city—as any good advertising campaign would do.

In Paris 2015, while the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) was going on, McCarthy managed to garner his share of public exposure. At the Monai de Paris, McCarthy’s garden gnomes holding dildos and other sexually trashy subjects—for those who want to go slumming—were on display. And the official poster of the exhibit, showing a gnome dildo-in-hand, was posted throughout the city in—as any good advertising campaign would do—the most visible public places of the city. Monai de Paris is not a private gallery where those wanting to indulge in a little ‘risqué exhibitionism’ can keep it to themselves—it is the oldest institution in France, still in the business of minting coins, and is where the French history of minting coins resides, anything but a place intended and/or reserved for those wanting to take a walk on the wild side. But more than this, common sense should tell us that sex should not be flaunted in such a way, sex being a subject which by common sense is personal rather than public, and virtually sacred given the fact that it is the act responsible for life itself. As a minimum at least, it should not be poster boarded in public, endorsed by our public authorities as ‘fine art’. The innocence of children—their helplessness in respect to adults, their very protection—is at stake.

During the same aforementioned art fair, McCarthy’s big inflatable but plug sculpture, “The Tree,” (see image below), was put up at Place Vendôme, another prestigious lieu in Paris. This act of his was so controversial that it was finally deflated by some or someone who found it to be a terrible and unbearable aggression against the public. Like, what does he take us for?—idiots?… assholes you think?

McCarthy Tree

Parisians taking the butt plug in stride.

OK, he calls it “The Tree”…but it’s a butt plug and everyone knows it. And McCarthy supporters know this better than anyone, but they don’t say this because the whole idea is to accuse those offended by it of being paranoid puritans, simpletons—paranoid, intolerant squares. They should at least admit that they want to be bad. In fact admitting this anti social attitude on their part, and at the same time letting you know that they don’t care, would put even more force behind their intention—if their intention is to “stick it in your face,” stick it in the faces of the puritan, intolerant, squares. But no, as it is, they just set another example of hypocrisy, offer another form of taboo.

But people don’t want to be logical, do they? People don’t want the truth, don’t even want to be good—so, at the risk of sounding silly, I point out the following contradiction. Bruno Julliard, assistant to the mayor of Paris, in charge of culture, had this to say in response to the vandalism carried out against McCarthy’s The Tree: “It would be unacceptable that the artist be once again the subject of intolerance and extremism. In view of the reactions these last days, one can see to what point our society needs to be shaken up. I understand that certain people are shocked, but I don’t accept the hate and the violence.“

First of all, one should see that it is McCarthy who is being intolerant, insensitive to the sensibilities of others. But in saying “shows just how much our society needs to be shaken up” Juillard admits that one of the principal goals/qualities of the artwork in question is to provoke but at the same time he takes exception to the fact that people are provoked by it. One thing for sure: if the only quality of this work—and this is true for any work in the visual arts—is provocation, then the work is a failure by any commonly recognized, scholarly, academic, common sense, civilized definition of visual art because visual art is supposed to have—and most fundamentally at that—accomplished visual qualities, which this cookie-cutter scrap certainly lacks. And if it is not to be considered provocative (for, at the same time, Bruno Julliard takes exception to the people being provoked by it), if it is not even to have provocation as one of its ‘qualities’, then what does it have at all as a quality, visual or otherwise—what good is it at all, in any sense? What is it, if anything at all, other than a giant butt plug rammed up a non consenting public’s ass. Indeed, the “hate and violence” that the protesters are being accused of—it should be obvious that it is McCarthy that is the guilty party. The provocation on his part is nothing less than violent—psychological violence—which, by the way, may be more difficult for a human being to come to grips with than physical violence, and more destructive in the end.

But again, who wants to be logical?, who wants the truth?, or even to be good? Indeed, we shouldn’t need to explain why McCarthy’s work is worthless, point out his contradiction or even the intolerance or psychological violence on his part—this should go without saying, be common sense. The fact that it doesn’t go without saying, that it’s not common sense, that’s what’s interesting. In fact, it may even be fascinating, and a subject of great importance—but not in the field of art. It would be in the domain of psychology and sociology I guess, perhaps on the subject of mental health related social disorders.

Given the Great Importance We Place on Art

Given the great importance we place on art in society in general and the considerable importance given to this artist in particular, a more thorough analysis of his work is called for, particularly this butt plug piece with its ‘homosexual’ theme, a theme that has all the attention of the public today. And we should note at this point the following: we do not mean to single out homosexuality—in the public context that we are talking about here, a disrespectful representation of sex from a heterosexual perspective would be unacceptable as well. Note also that McCarthey is just one of an ever growing number of ‘contemporary’ artists, and maybe not the worst, imposing such graphically explicit themes on the public. Others are the internationally renowned, Takashi Murakami, with his monumental sculpture of a masturbating ferry-of-a-boy or Bjarne Melgaard, working out of New York, who was graced with a retrospective exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo where photographs of young boys originally published by NAMBLA (The North American Man Boy Love Association) were produced as paintings and exhibited. (See accompanying article “Just Plain Nuts.”)

Murakami's

Murakami’s “My Lonely Cowboy”

To better understand the situation today, let’s refer to our position at the beginning, around the time that the “sexual liberation movement” began (latter half of the 21st century). On the particular subject of alternative sexuality at this time, the commonly recognized form being homosexuality, the collective consciousness of the society had adopted the following understanding of psychology in respect to it: if you question it in any way, it means that you yourself are, subconsciously, a homosexual (“latent homosexual”), consequently, people were not only indisposed to criticizing it, but they were given to support it. At best, someone criticizing homosexuality was considered backwards and out of it—out as in ‘not in’. In reality, however, even heterosexuals who publicly embrace homosexuality find it unthinkable (the idea of it is automatically rejected by the mind if reflected inward onto oneself) but by readily accepting it in society they are consciously avoiding the aforementioned image of being some kind of closet homosexual, but more important than this image issue, they are actively trying to reassure themselves—on the subconscious level where this is dealt with by the mind—that they personally don’t have any homosexual tendencies to worry about. In effect, not fearing it is proof to them that they themselves are not personally afflicted with this condition. Another rationalization process that must be mentioned and that can be considered a natural part of the mind’s thought processes is the following: by not exercising ill will upon another, or even harboring ill will for another, one avoids the opposing reflex notion, and/or fear, of himself being the victim of such ill will. There are numerous common sense formulations of this, “bad karma” and the handling thereof being a popular one.

This situation, outlined above, has evolved to a point today where such a psychoanalytical interpretation is less present in the minds of the people. Those having certain reservations on the subject are still considered backwards* compared to others—what has evolved is the overall rapport in society. Today, a “normalisation” has taken place: heterosexuals in support of homosexuals and their alternative lifestyle may be viewed all too simply as being understanding or compassionate, without any layered psychoanalytic interpretation to discredit them. However, this still doesn’t mean their position is not ultimately a self interested one. In effect, it is virtually impossible for one to free himself of the primacy of his own personal ego in group relations. When, for example, this alternative lifestyle subject (a subject contrary to traditional thought) comes up in conversation, the person’s underlying intention may very well be to demonstrate some superior intelligence, sense of understanding, or compassion compared to the person he is speaking with. If, however, it were possible to rid oneself of such self interested motivations, I should think that one would simply want to make it clear that such fellow members of ours in society should be viewed and treated in the same way he himself would want to be viewed or treated, that is to say, with common decency. I should think also that one would agree that such fellow members of ours in society are not to be discriminated against in practical matters such as employment or the civil union between individuals, a contract (for love as well as general organizational and financial reasons), for couples living together (without, however, calling it marriage), which all reasonable people agree on—and leave it at that…but such reasonable discourse is, obviously, not what life in society is all about now, is it?

As we can see, it’s really all quite egotistical—each person, and adults at that, thinking about themselves, protecting themselves. And the children seem to be left out of the equation with no say in the matter—where instead—we should be considering them first, for they are innocent, without a voice, defenseless otherwise. Indeed, the extent to which such graphic and gratuitous public displays, such as McCarthey’s, affect them—they, with their minds/identities at the earliest, most crucial development stage—is a real issue, perhaps an injustice, for which, we adults are responsible. As we can see, there is reason to believe that the thoughts on these subjects by the general public are something less than complete and much artistic expression on these subjects dubious—and certainly so when we are extolling the work of so many of these so called art masters, in public, in our religiously respected temples to humanity, that is to say, our museums.

On a final, most important note: it is not, of course, within the scope of this article to draw a complete socio-psychological picture of sexuality in society. The sole point is to show that our thoughts on the subject, this profound subject, may be seriously limited—whatever side we tend to take on the issue. And, if we are honest with ourselves, the ideas expressed here should in no case be interpreted as discriminatory. There is good and bad in everyone…and good and bad art to go along with them. I would like to think that anyone today, whatever his sexual persuasion, feels comfortable enough in society today to admit that this giant butt plug rammed up a non consenting public’s ass is, all too simply, not good art, and furthers the interest of no one in the society we all share.

* ‘Backwards people’ at heads with the “arrow of time”: The arrow of time, as it is referred to in relativity physics, is not only a physics phenomena. So thoroughly is it present in our lives, in our being, that it is thought to be part of our very psycho-biological make-up. It is a process registered in our brain whereby we perceive the flow of time, from past to present—and in this way alone—through the countless changes taking place before our eyes: clouds moving in, the sun disappearing, branches beginning to shake, leaves falling, rain hitting the earth, rain stopping, a door opening, people leaving the house, the door closing… There is not a second that goes by without us witnessing these changes and being subconsciously aware that we are going forward in time, along with this time arrow—into the future, and we can’t imagine it any other way.

Arrow of Time

—and I don’t know if I’m being serious here or not—

Now—and I don’t know if I’m being serious here or not—if a person perceives a change in lifestyles, ‘alternative sexuality,’ in the same way, he will undoubtedly associate it too with the future. And the future is not to be denied, at least not in our sub Einsteinian minds. It’s impossible to imagine things any other way, seemingly unimaginable not to admit it, consent to it; seemingly unimaginable not to identify it with being modern and by consequence as a sine qua non to being in—for heaven’s sake. Note however, as equally strange, that the possibility of a ‘backwards’ direction for time, or “time reversal,” is also commonly accepted in physics, at least at the level of fundamental particles. Consider too, at least at the level of human beings, where cyclic societal phenomenon hold true, that automatically writing someone off as backwards just because he has a reservation about alternative lifestyles may not be forward—thinking—either. In any case, one thing we should not find strange, that never seems to change: If you give someone a hand, they take an arm—with no end in sight, always with a fight.

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