Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Anthony Haden-Guest, "True Colors" (1996).

Because I can't get enough of the bickering and twisted maneuvers of the New York City arts scene, I decided I 'd plunge ahead and read Anthony Haden-Guest's True Colors (1996). Coincidentally, this book picks off where Burnham's The Art Crowd left off. The year was 1973, and the auction houses were beginning to drive the prices of contemporary art to ridiculously high prices. The Abstract Expressionists were ceding their position at the top of the heap. Pop artists like Jaspar Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were commanding six and even seven figures for their work. And at the same time a group of young wise-assed conceptualists were getting ready to pronounce painting "dead".

Haden-Guest does indeed manage to maintain an extraordinary diplomatic approach to the parade of freaks that inhabit his book. Perhaps he really respects all of those 'revolutionaries' who seemed intent to drive art to its ultimate conclusion. Dennis Oppenheim made his name by making designs on his bare chest with a 2nd degree sunburn. Chris Burden one-upped Oppenheim by having a couple of friends nail him to a Volkswagen and then drive him down the street in the spirit of crucifixion. Still not content, he had himself shot in the arm by another buddy, and displayed photographs of the provocation. Piero Manzoni showed his respect for the dialog by shitting in a series of cans and trying to sell them to collectors. Shortly after that he committed suicide.

Things were moving fast and furious in the 70's. Leo Castelli finally began to show his age, and gallery owners like Mary Boone and Holly Solomon started their ascendancy. Just as people started to sour on performance art, Julian Schnabel and David Salle ushered in the era of Neo-Expressionism. Donald Judd and James Turrell worked their formally academic magic in the harsh austerity of the desert. And a second wave of pop artists hit the island, merging itself in complex and confrontational ways with Graffiti and other forms of street art. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring received the approval of the Great Andy Warhol, and became household names.

True Colors documents the ridiculously excessive 80's, which ushered in an art boom that mirrored the 16th Century Dutch obsession with tulips. Larry Gagosian became So-Ho's super dealer of the secondary market, and consolidated his ever-growing empire of power. It was a time marked by Jeff Koons, who seemed to exemplify the perversity of the era by issuing a series of photographs that depicted him having some very distracted sex with his future wife- an Italian model named La Cicciolina. His excessive whimsy (or whimsical excess?) somehow distracted an entire generation of critics and collectors. And while the market seemed to outlast the economic downturn brought on by too many years of Ronald Reagan, a crash was imminent.

The 90's would bring a significant lull in the excitement of the NYC arts scene. Warhol was dead, and no one was buying. But a new generation of art stars like Matthew Barney and Damien Hirst were waiting (not-so-patiently-in-the-wings) to receive their fair share of adulation. So the story continues apace until the end of the century. And it's a brisk read. Unlike Burnham, Anthony Haden-Guest doesn't spare us the bitchery so endemic in the epicenter of the art world. That's a good thing, because the reader is all-the-more-entertained by this fortunate choice. There's nothing that can make us feel truly one with the scene than a heaping dollop of oil-based gossip. Who said what about whom, and why does it matter? Haden-Guest was there to tell us about it later.

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3 Comments:

Blogger John Morris said...

I read that one but I must admit to being a bit bored. I met Anthony at least once at parties--and he's even got a british accent.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Is he British, or is it affected?

10:05 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Don't know him, but i think he's British.

12:37 PM  

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