Actually From the Onion
By Keith Dans
July 16, 2008 | ISSUE 44•29
I’m a busy man. If you know me, that’s old news. Chances are, if I’m not standing in line for one controversial art exhibition, I’m on my way across town to another. It’s no easy schedule, but if I’m going to keep on top of this year’s Piss-Christs, I can’t be dillydallying. It’s got to be bim, bam, human fetus in a Coke bottle. No time for second-guessing or slowly soaking in the dynamic, geometric tension of the upcoming Cézanne retrospective. Not while there’s a guy in the East Village who’s going to vomit Cheerios into a piggy bank and smash it open with his penis.
When it comes to appreciating the diverse world of highly objectionable art, you’ve got to prioritize.
My love affair with boundary-pushing art began more than 10 years ago. Back then I had a ton of energy and a lot less responsibility. I had time for each and every marginally disgusting effrontery to common decency within a 50-mile radius. These days, my schedule is pretty packed. Take this week, for example. Monday: Abu Ghraib flip books. Tuesday: a blackface reenactment of the Reagan assassination attempt. Wednesday: drive upstate to watch an amputee roast and eat his own golden retriever. You get the picture. I swear, if my wife didn’t spend her weekends making plaster sculptures of Catholic saints being fisted by famous serial killers, I’d never see her.
Bottom line: If people aren’t protesting, becoming nauseated by, or threatening lawsuits against an artist’s work, you can look around for me, but I’m not going to be there. Using light and shadow to mythologize the pastoral and create a setting where human beings and the natural world can coexist peacefully? Best of luck to you. If you need me, I’ll be watching a heroin addict use his own HIV-positive blood to paint Hiroshima victims on the side of a school bus. You know, with all the other real art buffs.
The only thing these so called “masters” have in common is that they didn’t have the balls to shake things up. Why would I waste my time solemnly staring at a meticulously painted portrait of an aristocratic woman when I can see someone drink glow-stick fluid and vomit onto a canvas covered with pictures of Nelson Mandela?
The whole scene changes so fast, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Used to be I’d get one urine-soaked Jesus a month and have to flesh out the rest of the days with stock S&M photography and the performance art open-mic night at NYU. These days, I can’t even turn around without knocking over something 10 times that morally offensive. Do you know how many people are displaying works mixing bodily fluids and religious symbols this week? I’d have to look on my PDA to give you an accurate count, but it’s a lot. Of course, I didn’t attend any of them, because the three to six hours I have for viewing art each day must be devoted to only the most sensibility-accosting exhibits. And shitting on things is so 1999.
You have to be on your toes, because the next big repugnant masterpiece could happen anywhere, at any time. More and more I find myself traveling to Sweden, California, or wherever Yale University is just to get a glimpse of a duck being force fed pâté-filled Oreos. But if the love for controversial art is truly in your blood, as it is in mine, there’s nothing like watching the Thai police arrest a gallery owner for displaying unflattering pictures of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I thought the pictures were actually quite tame, myself, but the outrage and subsequent brutal beating of the artist was more delicious than many of the works I’ve seen in my own country for the past few months.
Explaining my hectic lifestyle to you has already wasted several precious moments, and in the art world, time equals flesh carvings of The Brady Bunch. Right now I’ve got to get to “America In Action”—an exhibit in the basement of an abandoned textile factory, where men dressed as African slaves are anally raped by actors posing as the founding fathers while a Go-Go’s cover band plays “We Got The Beat.” I don’t have high expectations for this particular show, because the last time I went to a showing in the same gallery, it ended up being some really tame, pop-culture schlock where a naked guy swallowed just one handful of his old baby teeth. Yawn.
If I hadn’t seen Jeff Koons get hit by a car outside the gallery, the whole night would have been a bust.