To the editor:
Lisa Liebmann apparently wished to solicit my aid in her parochial review of Dave Hickey’s book The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, but the interpretive skills she employs in citing my brief book-jacket blurb are as strained as those she brought to bear in dismissing most of Hickey’s exceptional text.
For having extolled his “immensely important little book,” I am told by Liebmann’s review that I have displayed “the faintest punitive streak.” While I try my best not to be faint whenever I mean to be punitive, my unconscious slap is apparently to be found in having described the book as “little.” At 64 pages, it does seem little to me. But then, perhaps my sense of proportion is skewed by living Way Out Here in the Wide Open Spaces of the Wild West. In this expansive context, many things look small.
Liebmann, from her perch on West 53rd Street, has looked uptown, looked downtown, and found Hickey’s discussion of imperial esthetics wanting. Engaging in that peculiar brand of provincialism that comes from not getting off the island often enough, she points out that Hickey was Texas bred and now lives in Las Vegas. (This last is accomplished through error: Liebmann identifies the academic seminar with which the book opens as having taken place at the University of Nevada, where Hickey teaches. It didn’t.) Then, turning heel to salute the Museum of Modern Art, she waves away his incisive commentary on Alfred Barr’s early tenure as director by invoking a “revisionist” exhibition about the ’40s that the museum mounted in 1992.
Well, we’ve heard rumors, Way Out Here, that Barr is no longer working at the Modern. Still, it’s anybody’s guess how the 1992 show’s “riotous assortment of stuff,” temporarily displayed fifty years after it was made (not to mention a good twenty years after revisionist history became an institutional norm), in any way vitiates Hickey’s discussion of esthetic positions developed and championed by Barr in the ’30s.
Of course, it is a long trek by Conestoga from Death Valley to Manhattan, so Hickey might be a bit out of touch. Me too, I guess: Liebmann left me in the dust with her closing remark, wherein she implores the wayward rustic to abandon his foolish flirtation with the writings of Gilles Deleuze, recent gay and lesbian political theory, and any other such “huffy puffy” arcana expected of city folk, and to return to his “chronically incorrect” (shit-kicker?) musings of yore.
“Come hack to the five and dime, Dave Hickey!” Liebmann finally wails. To which I must shamefacedly inquire: what’s a five and dime?
Lisa Liebmann replies:
Although pleased to be the focus of attention on the part of the art critic for the Los Angeles Times, I feel I must redress a few errors he has committed. I had no desire to solicit any aid of Mr. Knight when, toward the end of the review in question, I quoted from his book-jacket blurb. I wished, rather, to suggest the enthusiasm of Hickey’s admiring fellow writers, while hoisting Knight lightly on the breeze of his own “immensely important little book” pronouncement. But I think Knight already knows this. I do, furthermore, venture forth off the island as often as I possibly can. Indeed, Knight has spotted me at large himself several times in his own jealously husbanded territory.
As for MoMA, I willingly confess to considerable, if residual affection for an institution that I grew up with and that weaned me off the comforts of the Frick. I do not, however, occupy a “perch on West 53rd street,” and feel no specific allegiance to the museum’s past or current directors. Hickey’s Barr hashing just struck me as a rehash of existing theories on mid-century American imperialism in the visual arts—Serge Guilbaut’s How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art among them. To my view, this was not Hickey at his best. Perhaps Knight likes it better that way.
I do regret the misplaced seminar, but its location was not mentioned in the book, and in any case has little bearing on my point, which is that Hickey, on surveying a sea of students, constructed a paper tiger out of the faux subject of Endangered Beauty.
Knight, I believe, has seized the occasion as an opportunity for a bit of intercollegial boosterism and in order to express an abiding, standard-issue hostility toward New York.
To the editor:
Two weeks before the publication of your April 1994 issue a friend of mine asked me who Sean Landers was. As I had just been to see a show of his in L.A., I was able to be of some help, but had my friend waited another 14 days all he wanted to know (and see), plus a great deal more, including a display of Sean’s rather unimpressive genitalia, would have been revealed in the nine-page eulogy to Mr. Landers published that month in your magazine.
In fairness, the articles themselves were thoughtful critiques of Mr. Landers’ work, methodology, and, indivisible from the work, public persona. But any publicity is good as long as your name is spelled correctly, and “Sean Landers” is an easy name to spell. Ultimately the writing was a great deal more interesting than the work, and I found myself seduced by the criticism’s lucidity while remaining indifferent to its subject. I have no objection to the promotion of young and emerging artists, and in fact believe this is probably the most valuable investment a critical forum such as your magazine can make, but I am angered by the narrowed focus that the article promoted. We are talking about validating an established status quo here; the promotion of a particular attitude. Editorially, you have to be aware of this choice. Although an attempt at balance was implied by juxtaposing the Landers articles with the “Man Trouble” feature that followed it, the 5 writers and over 20 artists showcased in that generous and inclusive work unfortunately only enhanced the feeling of authority generated by the nine-page minitome promoting Sean.
The degree of empathy, or even interest, I can summon for somebody who is essentially using his adolescent complaint in a similar manner to bombastic, ’80s-style, aggressive heterosexuality is limited. Whining as an advertising strategy may get you nine pages in Artforum (congratulations, Sean), but it doesn’t get me anywhere. Landers’ attempts at a Mike Kelley–esque dialogue in pathos fail to engage, for he fails to achieve an intellectual distance from his subject matter. Kelley takes his white heterosexual adolescence and twists and transcends it, forming a sickly-sweet brew of edgy inferences that include many different experiences. Landers illustrates his adolescent angst and excludes all those without the luxury of time to worry about their insecurities.
In nine years, Landers will he 40, which will give him plenty of opportunity to exploit the onset of the mythological male-middle-age crisis. I expect it’s too much to hope that he will reach a hiatus of thoughtful introspection and honesty between adolescence and midlife, but I doubt very much that the art world will find the mournful, misspelled meanderings of a wealthy white male as interesting when he’s 40 as they did when he was 30. It seems ironic that Landers exposes the disingenuous nature of the art world as business, yet receives such serious consideration in your blatantly art-world publication. Like a finger-pointing art-world in joke, sealed off from the realities of everyday life, Landers’ work mocks both the respect your article bestowed on it and the time I spent reading about it.