Michael Bulka, midnight rant

Number Nine


Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1999 02:00:14 -0500

Subject: All culture is pop culture

Less art and fewer words. More rant this time. Mostly it gives me a chance to send along some comments.

This is America where all culture is pop culture. If anyone still read Catcher in the Rye, we wouldn't need the affluent, self-absorbed, sexually-obsessed characters of Sienifeld, Friends or Dawson's Creek in their weekly watered-down re-hash of the same drama. On the other hand, if you can just push a button and actually see the nubile thangs and young hunks living out your fantasy life with clever dialogue and the occasional special effect, who needs to bother with reading.

Closer to the point - I finally made myself see Charles Ray at the MCA. I went on free Tuesday, so was treated to over-hearing several shocked,offended,patronising, or puzzled versions of "This is Art?!?" Why is it that most Americans would fight at a challenge to their competance at or knowledge of sex, sports, money, pop music and movies, but are proud of their ignorance of mathematics and art? "I can't even ballance my checkbook, tee hee." "I can't even draw a straight line" and "Oh, those crazy artists!" But just try to suggest that someone is a bad driver.

And the museums play up to this, forsaking their educational role for Disneyland.

I did get to see a seventy-year-old docent explaining Ray's daisy-chain self-portait to a flock of tourists. "He had to work really hard making each piece." Presumably the tourists are thinking "I don't understand it, but at least he worked really hard, so it's OK. And, anyway, he's an Artist."

But what could she say? That there are hundreds of people in Hollywood prop departments who do everything Charles Ray does, and then break for lunch? But Ray is smarter. Why should he settle for union wages when he can market himself as a personality. There seems to be a vast herd of art-ignorant, disney-fed, would-be culturati, and plenty of art professionals ready to cater to the market. Oops, have I started to talk about the Cows again? Later for that.

This is what I learned after the last rant:

I think you're right about art now not really being exciting as the acoutrements that go with the art- the crowd, the fashion, the spaces emerging from the woodworks etc. Even the names of the shows sound like the next gig playing at the Double Door. It's funny. Like somewhere in-between spoiled milk funny and clown funny. It feels like art is just another object for consumption, like the latest cd in the import section at the Virgin Megastore.

POMO made everything a little more cool, a little more aloof. Now we're swinging back to moderism but with a sexy high tech utility and survivalist bent. Which is vaguely interesting, but actually i'm referrring to restaurants and fashion.

There, my little rant.

And one late note about the art expo and the film & video screening room. I loved it. I sat through the 2 hour program in my totally excellent packing cushion chair swivelling around and clicking my headset buttons between show A and show B feeling like i was in a ad for some eurotrash home theater system. Sadly, the actual films and videos presented were on the lame side with a few exceptions.

1) Remember "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem"?

that led to:

2) If you really want to change the world, change yourself.

In other words, become a more highly evolved human being, and raise your consciousness. Enough people follow that path, and we got a higher quality of world/life. Yeah, right.

It's not just PoMo and it's not just the art world. We have all, in every field, entered a state of ennui. The response is either the philosophy of simplification espoused in Your Money or Your Life, or it's a slacker attitude masquerading as cynical participation in the capitalist wheel. Either way, it's a rejection and dismissal of our environment, like it or not. Passion still exists, -- witness local press annual surveys of best pizza or Italian beef in Chicago. But then people have always found food more relevant than the latest trend in the art world. You're looking for commitment to something other than making rent? Paying for day care? I wish art were more important than a menu, too, but the fact remains that it is an endeavor very few feel privileged to participate in (and please don't give me rising art school enrollment statistics, -- the average art school student is white, middle to upper middle class, and incredibly well versed in the declining quality of imported balsamic vinegar).

This is not news. When Balzac wrote The Masterpiece, the majority of the population didn't give a flying rat's ass who he was writing about. Romance vs Realism? AbEx vs Minimalist? Those battles have always been fought on rarefied fields populated by the overindulged, the eccentric and the misfits. They have not been battles about achieving the vote, organizing labor to get a fair wage, equal access to higher education and the workplace.

The history of political activism goes back further than Woodstock, only that's our cultural benchmark, and so everything, music, art, fashion, reverberates from that moment. The art world used to have passion, used to have individuals committed to changing things, used to be about something other than overly civilized behavior. Bullshit. The World (which still includes that Elysian Field filled with individuals devoted to contemporary art practice) used to have those things, in a small way, for a short time. That shared commitment to change (and it wasn't shared universally, either) has vanished and is not likely to return. In the meantime, we have inherited, as you so aptly said, so many dabs of color they have become gray. But wasn't that the 'color' for the fashion forward last fall?

I think that the"thinning of rhetoric" is a product of metaphor oriented work or in Jessica's case ,the poetry driven ideas of decadence. . . . The party will always overwhelm the art just as anythig else. Art becomes trivial in most situations.

I could not agree more with your dissatisfaction. The acceptance by Ann Wiens of marginalized spaces as additional markets is sad. The little "artists" play sideshow to the BIG names and venues. What a horrible acceptance of class structure.

The cow thing is the last straw. We, the artists, have been preempted and bypassed in a media corporate takeover. I feel no pity for the misguided involved, politicos, artists and their corporate partners, and us the saps that pay for it all.

The best art is not in any gallery or museum anymore, but is used in the marketing of goods and politics.

We are fast becoming invisible.

By the way did you see Karen Finley in the July Playboy?

Most everything I see qualifies as NOT ART. As you put it so well the Hotel shows are nothing but parties. And I might add, very private parties at that. If you are not in on the joke you won't even notice it.

Me again. On the culture watch: on the same stage within 48 hours of each other, at what the polls annually rate as the city's best cultural event, Taste of Chicago - relapsed icon George Jones and then TV cook Emeril's "Food Concert".

To new (and old) people, the disclaimer - This is a periodic mass emailing from a guy in Chicago with nothing better to do, sent mostly to people who have asked for it. Repost whatever you want, wherever you want. If you don't want to hear from me again, tell me and I'm gone . If you read me on some repost, same address and you're on the list.

Oh, and re: credit and blame - I think I can tell the differerence between personal email and stuff that is pertinent enough for reposting, but if you object to being part of the dialogue with an unattributed quote, tell me and I won't do it. Except if it is really good I may not be able to help myself. If someone REALLY wants to know who said something particularly clever, and if I can remember who said what, I'll ask you first.

Peace Love Dove