Some art-boom heroes (Lisa Yuskavage) feel suddenly dated. Others (Rudolf Stingel) are perfectly present.
(Photo: Ellen Page Wilson. Image Copyright Rudolf Stingel and Courtesy of the Artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.)
We’re on a historical cusp. No one knows what will come next. But in the art world, an aesthetic sorting out is already beginning. I’m not talking about the purging or comeuppance some critics have gleefully cackled about or howled for. I love art galleries, and worry that a wave of them will close this June when, looking ahead to the traditionally dead months of summer, dealers will be forced to throw in the towel. As for art, I admire much of the work that came to prominence in the last fifteen years. Recently, though, much of this art has been looking either dated or not so relevant. At this year’s Armory Show it was stunning to see almost no work by stars of last season like Murakami, Hirst, Koons, Prince, Reyle, Struth, and Gursky. Partly this is a natural process and doesn’t necessarily mean these artists are bad or not passionate. But the hypermarket that justly extended the careers of many artists also delayed the winnowing process of many others. Now all this winnowing is occurring at once. Artistic qualities that once seemed undeniable don’t seem so now. Sometimes these fluctuations are only fickleness of taste, momentary glitches in an artist’s work, or an artist getting ahead of his audience (it took me ten years to catch up to Albert Oehlen). Other times, however, these problems mean there’s something wrong with the art. One sign that this is happening is when the same things that were said about an artist a decade ago are still being said today.
The same bogus arguments come up every time there’s a Lisa Yuskavage show. Is her work feminist? Is she, oy, “critiquing the male gaze?” At the opening of Yuskavage’s current solo outing, I was standing between two paintings: Figure in Interior, a picture of an anorexic nude on her knees with her legs akimbo, shaved vulva exposed, white cream/semen dripping from her face onto her breasts; and Reclining Nude, a picture of a recumbent girl in a glowing green glen, her breasts pointing in two directions, legs splayed to expose pink genitalia protruding from blonde pubic hair. A well-known museum curator sidled up and swooned, “Lisa’s paintings are as rich as Vermeer’s and Boucher’s. They’re as sumptuous as the background of the Mona Lisa.” I blinked silently until she mentioned Courbet. Then I bitchily snipped, “If you think these paintings have that kind of mojo, you’ve either never looked at those paintings or you know nothing about painting—which I’ve written about you.” We smiled at each other and parted. I love the art world.