PRINT November 1982


There’s a foreign legion of women, too. But we have no uniforms—no flags—and no medals when we are brave.
—Marlene Dietrich in Morocco.

THE CONSPIRACY OF EXCELLENCE is a federation of eyes. There is an intimate surveillance, and one’s behavior, one’s merest gesture, too much muscle, the wrong shade of lipstick, a casual word, influences and can ruin the campaign of a lifetime.

In society culture is a matter of individuals. One must never make the blunder of mistaking someone at the center for someone at the periphery. One must have the sense of the moment, and the real story, the truth if you wish, doesn’t come prewrapped in newsprint. You meet the moment in the form of individuals, and you pay attention because the delphic utterance is often accompanied by loud farts and spoken through rotten teeth. The piss-faced drunk beneath your feet, the loudmouth boor at the next table, or the one getting beat up by his boyfriend in a disco may be sheltering the divine spark. One acquires a tolerance of ambiguity; the gatecrasher you eject tonight may turn you down for a job tomorrow.

One day, Artist Zero was having a drink at a cabin in the Hamptons where I was a houseguest. The Marchesa de X was not present. The artist, coming upon a rare essay by X in this magazine, observed casually, “Isn’t it nice that she [X] has a piece in there. It’s nice to see someone getting the recognition they deserve.” A shudder of gaffe circled the lawn.

I patiently explained to the artist that any writing by X was “as eagerly anticipated as it is avidly read. Rather than betoken recognition, her appearance in a magazine bestows it. Editors would run her laundry bill. One of her paragraphs alone could be padded into an entire essay by an inferior writer. With this, her first long text in a year and a half, critics can finally stop mining the last one.”

“Well I always thought she was amusing, witty.” Trimming sail the artist tries to set a new course.

I pursued ruthlessly. “I believe the Marchesa de X to be in possession of the most vivid intellect of my generation. There is no aspect of contemporary art to which she hasn’t opened an avenue of access.” But she is also a deserter in the great sense that she abandons success like a general abandoning her troops on the eve of victory. Zero had misconstrued this as a failure; this is X’s greatest triumph and insures her position at the nexus of creative forces.

By coincidence the people sitting around who’d shuddered were all top brass and agents of X, a front united in a conspiracy of excellence to defend art against taste. Zero hadn’t seen that we were all confederates. Zero thought it was a lawn party. It was a mine field. A little blunder, minimizing X’s impact, and Zero went up in smoke.

Individuals create the moment, and culture is mass acceptance of individual will. It isn’t even that individuals are symptomatic of the moment in some occult way; the moment is caused by idiosyncracy. Culture operates independently of politics. Politics is autonomous and only deals with its own expediency. It doesn’t even supply the climate that culture is produced in. Politics is the manipulation of culture. When an artist manipulates culture we have art. When media manipulates culture we have politics. When politics manipulates culture we have war.

We are living in a time of war: war remembered, war actual, and war anticipated. The sense of the moment has led us to the encampment where deserters from all armies are burning the small fires of discourse.

When I was 19 Paul Morrissey told me, “your best days are behind you.” When I was 20 Andy Warhol said to me, “Gee, Rene, you look so terrible in real life, and so good in the movies.” Many years ago Brice Marden said to me that “Andy Warhol has done more to change the world than any president.” When I reminded him of it recently he laughed and said, “That’s full of shit.” I think he was right, however. Everybody wants to be the next Andy Warhol. Andy of course is still very much around. The ’60s are seen retrospectively through a diffusion lens. It’s strange to see a period that was so ahistoric, so self-consciously about the moment, so hard-edge, in the soft focus of nostalgia. Each moment must focus on someone.

Now as Patti Astor comes in for her close-up we see her more distinctly.

During the shooting of Eric Mitchell’s movie Underground U.S.A., when I was complaining about not knowing how to play a scene because I’d only been given my sides that morning and had no idea how the scene would resolve itself, Patti, the star of the film, said that in a movie you never “play the end.” She explained we don’t know what the end will be so never play a scene with a preconceived idea of taking it someplace. The end can be edited any way they decide, from happy to tragic.

It’s noteworthy that in the course of shooting Underground Patti didn’t ask me about Edie Sedgwick, the superstar on whom her character Vicki was loosely based and with whom I’d co-starred in a couple of movies. The essential qualities of then and now can be seen in the different personalities of these two blonde stars. Patti uses art. Edie was used by art. Patti can’t fail the way Edie had to. This moment won’t allow it. She will use art to win. Edie was a victim of art. The three supreme female icons of Andy Warhol, Jackie and Marilyn and Edie were tragic. We wanted our stars tragic in those days. We wanted another Marilyn, and Edie graciously complied. Warhol didn’t kill her. Art did. She was the suicide blonde again and she has fulfilled her iconographic destiny by becoming a history star. Patti uses art to star in. She is in a tight shot now. She is Edie in a way but she is also Andy Warhol and . . . Leo Castelli. In fact, when I look back on the ’60s what I’ll remember as the high point is Kenny Scharf’s opening a few weeks ago at Patti Astor’s Fun Gallery.

The Fun Gallery was misnamed, perhaps to throw the culture vultures off the scent. Like the epithet Fun City, where, as we know, it’s like a jungle sometimes. Walking into an art opening filled with eight-year-olds who are intimately conversant with the artist’s work is an estranging, transubstantiating experience for a grown-up art expert who’s scared to death of kids. It’s like getting out of the subway and not knowing if you’re headed uptown or downtown.

Kenny Scharf thought up the name Fun Gallery. Patti liked it because it sounded so lame. There is little coziness or classical comfort at the Fun, just a backyard on the Lower East side. One won’t find the bourgeois operatics of a Gérard Garouste here, the solid meat and potatoes of art. In fact, the only generality here is an aggressive infantilism that offers small beer to the critical personality that has convened around the current appetite for bulk. In the year that the Fun has been open we’ve seen art before our perception has OD’d on the Procrustean tie-ins of theme-hungry news pushers. We want the part the media misses, the early days, the days of Claes Oldenburg’s store, the Tenth Street days, before the hype; the excitement of the Fun Gallery is that we’ve seen it here before the media killed the fun. I want to be there when they put the ball in the cannon. One doesn’t open a gallery to attract artists, one opens a gallery because one has them already. The Fun wasn’t started because Patti Astor suddenly wanted to become an art dealer; she knew artists who’d already made themselves noticed and wanted to “give them their first show.” The Fun is a culture more than a gallery, and I find it funny that artists from all over the country send her their slides. Nobody wants artists. Artists are supposed to create a culture around themselves to be noticed, set off drumbeats in the jungle, then get a gallery. Nobody wants to see slides; they’re a pain in the ass. Open your own gallery. You can have your own fun. Start your own war.

In New York right now we are going through a fashion war. Reconnaissance has brought us right up to the minute with lines in every direction. People seem uniformed. So it follows that in a time when everything looks like something else, rather than subjecting themselves to the dangers of a point of view (a moving target is harder to hit), free agents merely accept it as confusion and look for the biggest possible mix-up, because that’s where to find something that doesn’t look like anything else, or is the something everything else looks like. Patti Astor is a beautiful example of what John Ashbery would call “An Exhilarating Mess” in operation. She isn’t a businesswoman; she’s currently starring in Charlie Ahearn’s movie Wild Style, and her opening of the gallery coincided with (or caused) a definite shift in the social pattern of the last two years. The underground movie scene played itself out. The rock scene, sperm of the great club period in the second half of the ’70s, has run to water, losing the music war and now, except for a few skinhead arsenals, barely exists. Painting became big news. I once asked Francesco Clemente if he wouldn’t rather be a movie star than a painter and he gave me a look of horror. When Futura 2000 (appearing in Wild Style) or Dondi White (appearing in Wild Style) walk into a club it sparks the same sparks usually reserved for rock or movie stars. Economics have influenced this power shift; new bands don’t make the kind of money that very young painters do. The winning musicians are DJs, and they play wheels of steel, not guitars. Run by an actress, the Fun shows paintings by artists some of whom also make records. It is epitomized in the person of Frederick Brathwaite (appearing in Wild Style) who more than anyone else has entrepreneured the crossover. He paints, stars in movies, and records. Fun is the apotheosis of what Edit deAk has called “Clubism,” but just happens to be taking place in an art gallery. The Fun is the hub of local intelligence operations and is firmly entrenched as the bunker where the action truly headquarters. In painting right now we are going through a fashion war.

We look to art for the truth. Painting, philosophy, poetry—these things are supposed to give us a sense of ourselves in that we take them up and believe in them in direct proportion to the illusion they give us of truth. Since these arts are by custom the products of individuals, individuals can embody the common truth in the sense that they give us confidence that we have found the truth in their works. But of course truth like glamour is an illusion: we can’t know it; the painter, the poet, the movie star merely give us the true illusion, the illusion that we have been given an insight into the world and, so it would follow, ourselves. But it isn’t really about us, it’s about the artists; we become them. We must feel that somehow somewhere someone must know what’s going on because we can’t believe that everyone is as confused as everyone is. Solutions, reasons, the most flawlessly worked-out methods are in fact the most delusive and corruptive expedients: anyone who propounds the truth is a liar. We attempt a truth.

Duncan Smith, the philosopher/movie star (Underground U.S.A., etc.), would never propound the truth. In his labyrinthine texts, that read like translations from another language, he attempts to sort out of the language what is innate to all language, using letters as a key to great preverbal influences that must manifest themselves and since all manifests itself in words, all words that are written contain in their component letters correspondent structures through which one can divine secret codes. His method is anagrammatic. In abstracting letters from words, Smith has been able to decontextualize meanings; this is necessary because “context” has been taken hostage. The circumstances in which the meanings of words have been placed, their text, have been misappropriated, The word “peace,” for instance, became “just peace” in low Nixonese. A phrase can evaporate the meaning from a word like the perfume from a rose in a florist’s refrigerator. (Context: the new motorcycle from Yamaha is called “Virago.” The ads show a man getting on a “Virago.” It’s not the meaning of the word “Virago” that sells. It’s the perfume. It’s that virile-scented old Motown glamour, tropical storm, power. It has the sound of a powerful wind between the legs. “Virago” as defined means a mannish woman, a termagant. Here it’s the real meaning of the word that sells on the level of fantasy and sublimation: he is mounting a lesbian.)

In an extensive text on the word “diamond” Smith reveals through false connections nothing about diamonds and economics, but everything about the dilemma of knowledge. His is a syntax of recombinant particles in constant motion. Through his fractionated erudition, fake philology, mistaken etymology, and wild, improbable connections based on the reappearance of letters in words from many unconnected languages, is the pathos of understanding. He attacks the sum of knowledge with a fragmentation grenade:

Norma Desmond can flip into Norma Diamond, the “diamond” being the first word Norma Desmond called out in the bridge-game sequence in Sunset Boulevard. Diamond and Desmond both have an initial “d” to their sequences of identically number letters as well as the final “mond.” Now that Norma Desmond is Norma Diamond, Norma Jean is Norma Diamond as well.

“Norma” refracts into the French word for love, amour. With Norma Diamond or Norma Jean we can obtain the transformations of “love diamonds” or “love jeans,” since amour or love lies buried in Norma. I have already shown how “love” and “diamonds” symbolize each other, the diamond “ring” that is already a diamond stylus that “rings” out songs of love. Such a diamond reverberates Neil Diamond signing “Forever in Blue Jeans.” (His first name is an anagram for “line,” the lines or grooves his voice sings from? He is also the one who sings the Jazz Singer lyrics “Love on the rocks . . .”) “Forever in Blue Jeans” translates into “Forever Listening to Blue Diamonds”; there are blue diamonds (blue diamond styluses?), like the Hope Diamond, as there are blue jeans. Neil Diamond sings the “blues.”

Jeans are made of denim. “Denim,” as anagram, is “mined.” The mining of oil needs diamond drills, the playing of vinyl records diamond styluses. Our dancing to this sound is fulfilled when we wear jeans or “denim,” such sound the vinyl oil that has been “mined.”

Jean, the word jean, cryptically advocates identity since “jean” angulates into “I am,” the “I am” a translation of “jean,” the piece of cloth or the Jean in Norma Jean. “Jean” is also a homonym for “gene,” the repository of the DNA molecule and the building blocks for chromosome formation, a 20th-century positivist’s pleasure-word. (DNA, a pleasure-word too, has at least two letters common with jean; besides, are not jeans also called “denim jeans”? Respelled, “d[—] [—]an[-]” echoes DNA, a significant idea when one confronts genetic scientists who like to wear denim jeans.) The Je in je an is identical to the French “I,” made possible by our memories of that language as well as j’s proximity to i in the alphabet. (A study of American culture and its origin in the thinking of Jean -Jacques Rousseau would be interesting; Davy Crockett with his raccoon hat and blue jeans is echoed by Rousseau’s similar headpiece, but did he wear the cloth of/de Nimes as all those 1950’s youngsters did?) Furthermore, “denim”’s anagram, “mined,” congrues with the “I am” idea within “jean,” my jeans, the jeans of mine, etc. (Homosexuals usually wear a pair of denim to the Mine[d] shaft.)

Even in “diamond” there is an “I am” moment. The letters after its initial “d” are “i,” “a” and “m” exhibiting the “I am” that is a refraction from “jean,” or the proper name “Jean.” Diamonds can then be respelled into “djeamonds.” Furthermore, in “America” one finds the “I am”: “I am erca,” or “I am e car.” The latter phrase could translate into “Jean a car” or “Jean, a car,” a truism for stars (Norma Desmond/Jean) are supposed to be cars. Getting into a pair of jeans is an allegory of getting into a car. Jeans that cover legs for walking are met by cars that somewhat dispense with legs for driving. Besides every American has a particular brand of jeans as they have a particular model of a car, a Levi’s or a Ford. And every American takes care of their jeans or car, the phrase “I am erca” from “American” now splintering into “jean care,” “care” embedding “car” and “ear” as well. (“America” also anagrammatizes into “I camera.”) . . .1

Smith’s writings are absolutely true because they are absolutely false. Knowledge, no matter how extensive, tells us nothing; the connections are occult, and must be made arbitrarily. The truth is kept from us. The germ is buried under layers of misinformation and if it does sprout comes out twisted, etiolated, and probably infertile. His writings do pertain to us because they are the product of an intellect disarmed, of the mind in a labyrinth without a string, of a brain mal armé.

And so are Kenny Scharf’s paintings the truth? His work is nothing if not egregious. It is as morbidly unpleasant as a Busby Berkeley production number. It’s just tap-dancing on The Button. It isn’t even offensive; it’s just awful. It offers no possible dialogue with the viewer unless they have some personal Hanna-Barbera lust wadded up in their memory (Julian Schnabel can still draw a perfect Fred and Barney). No irony can be inferred. And yet these blue-collar troglodytes, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, seem to have set up permanent housekeeping at the nadir of archetype. We are here confronted with an almost mystical mediocrity. As far as I’m concerned Hanna and Barbera are so low they have to crawl from under a rock to get to the pits.

What are the pictures responsible to? Can we explain art in terms of public mood, i.e., a civilization was such, therefore the art followed? I don’t think they must correlate of necessity, because the same audience that’s stuffing itself on Anselm Kiefer (this metaphor will not, thank you, extend to plates) is washing it down with the watery sherberts of Kenny Scharf. What did TV do to his mind? What did WW II do to Anselm Kiefer? Can it all just be come hideous culture nostalgia—for the bombed-out myths of a postwar masochist ruin—nostalgia (Kiefer) on the one hand and ’50s appliance-lust on the other? Of one childhood nurtured on rubble and the other on Teflon? We seem in both cases to be glorying in the recent catastrophes of the past, in the technocratic lies that destroyed us as they made us great. Better living through chemistry? Next a fun bomb painting? The future is the recent catastrophe of the past.

(While writing, modifiers, clauses, etc. occur to us in groups of three. Gags in films are set up according to the Rule of Three. Our thought runs along the past, the present, and the future almost inescapably.) There is nothing in English to approach the Japanese “Ma,” the pause between space and time. In English, time is an allegorical notion. Past, present, and future are almost characters, and Kenny Scharf has allegorically deified Hanna and Barbera into an allegory of time.

Psyche, who at first lived a primitive sort of existence [Flintstones], has been so refined by Philology that whatever beauty and embellishment Psyche had she acquired from the polish Philology gave her; for the maiden had shown Psyche so much affection that she strove constantly to make her immortal [Jetsons].2

In his ignorance Scharf is a philologist painter of internally cross-referent tenses. The Flinstones personify the past and the Jetsons are the future but they are here in the present. They live in a syntax of the present. But not quite: four-year-old walking into Scharf exhibit: “These are old-time cartoons.” They are all from the past, and Scharf’s outer space is merely the earth. He’s given us an outer space civilization: our own. The two things we’re most afraid of are the future and the bomb. The bomb represents the future for us in mushroom iconography, but the bomb is from the past. The Japanese have the true understanding of outer space because racially they saw the future. The future flashed before their eyes. I have declared war on the future; the future is the enemy. The future will kill us. It was last sighted in Japan on August 9, 1945.

And am I the truth? The other night someone in a bar told me that I was the establishment. That is six kinds of rubbish. There is no establishment and I am not in it. All I have is a morbid love of art, that has some arcane influence and makes artists rich. I loved painting as a kid. In the ninth grade the art teacher asked me to take over the class; I gave lectures on painting. For some reason people listened when I spoke about art. They still do. But am I the truth? I have researchers and lawyers now to check my facts. I can look right in someone’s eye and lie to them. Writing is a little different for me. It’s, and I don’t mean to be funny, my art. I am not someone who’d die for his beliefs. I’d surely turn coat. The biggest lie is the fraud of purview. The illusion of omniscience. This is the basis of the first person in literature, the narrator as the only sensible person in a world of fools. We see it in Voltaire, we see it in William Burroughs. It’s a good way to make your readers think you are a genius. Readers are suckers, they’ll believe any pose. I have the artillery to pull off that old con. I can pull out organ chants, music of the spheres, Lady of the Lake, the whole Pacific Fleet of technique to impress the reader with my great mastery. Why bother. I have too great an urge to take my clothes off in public, to be ridiculous. Why would anyone trust me? When I was 19 I stole two little flower paintings from the Factory; the same year I forged a Hyman Bloom and sold it to a midtown gallery run by a friend. When I was 21 I bought a picture from Harcus Krakow and never paid for it. I forged and sold an Alex Katz portrait of myself to a collector in California. Oh I’m a caution. But it all adds up. Establishment? In the establishment it’s perfectly all right to write praise for artists you think are junk if the gallery pays you enough. I’ve turned down thousands of dollars because I thought this was sucky. No, I was going to be the grand one, the real sureshot, write little catalogues for friends and refuse any pay. For money I would only write for great museums. That would be all right. I’d worshipped museums, as a kid would hitchhike miles on Saturday to get to one, and now I’d write about Julian Schnabel for the Stedelijk for $2000. Well I made it. And you know what? I never even got to see the show. The trip would have taken the pay. That, kids, is the establishment.

Yo, Barbara Rose, Fulbright fellow, curator, editor, lecturer (Yale etc.), author (Alexander Liberman etc.), critic (Vogue, etc.), what do you think about your 1979 “American Painting: The Eighties” show now? Doesn’t it make you cringe, Barbara? Did you get paid for that swill? Your crystal ball was a little cloudy, wasn’t it, hon? Run out of Windex? Where was Patti Astor and the Fun Gallery in your boring academic projection? And it’s only 1982. How much more wrong will you be by ’89? My guaranteed foolproof crystal ball says “Who predicts the future reiterates the past.” Why weren’t any of the “Fun Boys”—Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, or Futura 2000—in that stale rehash? They weren’t launched yet. These are the troops that will come up the rear of the advance guard to cover its back with a united front before the onslaught of critical apathy when the fashion in hype shifts ground. We won’t know the future till it sits in our face and smashes our glasses. The bomb will throw the planet back into its future.

The Flintstones’ bomb was the volcano, of course, and in the two Scharfs reproduced here there is a logical time sequence surely not consciously depicted by the artist. The bomb in the large painting is the bomb of time that went off at the instant of the volcano in the small picture, and our poor little characters are caught up in the time-space amalgam of Ma, where they are not only within its purple horror but at once attacked by it. They are strangely inside and yet outside the purple wingéd serpent of time, caught in a psychedelic transformation from the past into the future, allegorically represented as Flintstones into Jetsons, in absolute horror at the transitoriness of the moment. Look at their eyes. They don’t know what hit them. Neither will we.

In Lee Quinones’ (appearing in Wild Style) June 1982 exhibit at the old Fun (it moved during the summer) was a painting as radical and as difficult as it was pretty and decorative. It depicts a bird on a cliff in front of a nuclear sunset. It is spray-painted on tin in what could be termed “Van Style.” The bird, the dove of peace, is like a cartoon character that we are already familiar with. It has the same recognition impact as a Donald Duck, but a Donald Duck who has failed and who, without melodrama, confronts the viewer with embarrassed helplessness. Everything about this picture defies currently approved traditions. It is extremely sentimental. It looks like a poster. It has no brushstrokes. Like all of Quinones’ work this painting is the product of a personal and introspective sensibility that has earned him the reputation of a seer and prophet. His colleagues don’t speak about him the way they do other artists. His technique alone, the way he blends colors using the impossibly unwieldy nozzle of Rust-Oleum cans (the cognoscenti call it “Silent Thunder”) sets him apart and makes him one of the masters of touch. His touch is inimitable (I couldn’t forge it) and as invisible as his feelings are pronounced. There is a lack of con here that inspires a contagion of belief. I’ve never seen the kind of reverence for art that I did at his opening, mobbed as it was through the invisible network of a mafia of 12-year-old art experts. Don’t ask me how they know, but the effect on jaded sensibility was chilling. I am not one to argue with such reason.

There is a dreamy sense of departure in much of Quinones’ work: a longing for past pleasures that can no longer be regained; the romanticism of a GI remembering Mom through a nostalgic shimmer; the memory of a girlfriend whose features are obscured by light that carries much the same emotional weight, as well as coincidentally identical iconography, as the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Quinones is a great prima donna. He brings his work into the galleries late and is generally uncooperative with the publicity machinery. He turns down interviews and photo sessions if he’s grouped in with other artists. He had to desert because armies don’t believe in individuals. His paranoia is not without foundation. There’s altogether too much lumping together going on, rotten artists thrown in with real masters, so a demand to be treated with singularity isn’t caprice but an absolute necessity for self-preservation. We are soldiers of fortune, and we have to make our own history and quick. There is no future, only the moment scanning the horizon with searchlights for a new target. Protecting one’s work is important and will always be vindicated. When I say I’m writing a piece, a piece is a gun.

We become so accustomed to the art-type product that we often forget that it is the very art quality of a thing, simply the look of serious art, that is in constant reassessment. An innovation isn’t always unremarkable because it doesn’t follow the usual pattern of brutism. We see innovation in heroic terms, as a self-conscious act of pictorial daredevilry. An innovation that doesn’t have this sensational effect will not be recognized as such. Jackson Pollock today is usually considered a great artist and innovator. When people write or speak about him it’s often in the heroic terms of a brooding Kerouac-ian genius. Robert De Niro would play the part in the biopic. Very, you know, butch.

Pollock’s great energy is thought of in masculine terms. Julian Schnabel is always getting the same flak. His paintings are called “phallic” and he is spoken of in the same breath as Pollock. If these guys had been women they’d be called viragoes.

In Art-Rite #11–12 (Winter/Spring 1975/76) in the “Women’s Section” there appeared an article by the editors called “How Very Bicentennial.” It is an abridgement with commentary of an article that originally ran in Life magazine: “15 distinguished critics and connoisseurs undertake to clarify the strange art of today.” The meeting was held in the penthouse of the Museum of Modern Art in 1948. One of those paintings, Pollock’s Cathedral, earned these remarks: “I find it quite lovely”; “It would make a most enchanting printed silk”; “It seems to me like a panel for wallpaper”; “A pleasant design for a necktie.”

In short, Pollock’s pictures when they first came out looked light, flimsy, and decorative: sissy. Of course Schnabel’s work is literally “heavy” and wouldn’t make an enchawnting printed silk. But the point is well made, to me anyway, that new art like Futura 2000’s is often misappreciated as flimsy or “light.” We are in a period of “heavy” painting. It’s become academic. It’s become . . . taste! Modern is finished? Avant-garde is retrograde? Sure, just like painting is dead. But when painters talk about painting what they talk about is light. They mean the light in the picture. I think they get it from their art teachers, along with “space.” (This quality of light is inherent in certain colors; cadmium red is one. Paintings done in this color always excite painters. I think the real reason is because painters know that it’s $15 for a small tube.)

Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . the Futura 2000 has broken away from the earth’s gravitational pull. Stars wheel their arcs and the beauty of men never dies but drives a blue car through the stars. Futura is sending back soulphonic soundings from the planetary depths. Mars and Venus. The cold white burn of a comet’s tail through the deep time of astral eternity.

Time in space is measured with light and charted by sound, the pulses of stellar information, charted on a draftsman’s grid. Futura’s paintings shimmer with the inner light of outer space. They are light in every sense. They look like a projection of light. They don’t seem to be there as paintings; they seem to have coalesced for an instant. They have the weightlessness of outer space. It’s the special effect of a painting that dematerializes into true illusion. Nicholas Ray told Patti that in a movie actors must always “keep their light.” Movie acting is basically just that. Find your key light and don’t budge from it. During Underground I tried to knock Patti out of her light and it was like trying to raise the Titanic with a fishing pole. Keep your light. Futura keeps his light. In the painting Jeanette, 1982, Futura has used the canvas to strange tenebrist effect: where the canvas shows, where it hasn’t been covered in paint, through the black seems to beam light from infinite space. This is a difficult effect to achieve with spray paint on canvas because canvas tends to absorb spray paint and look dull. It’s the spray that creates this nebulous shimmer, and the sound of the spray as the paint travels through space imprints the sound onto the surface like a laser.

The very name Futura 2000 gives one a sense of the moment. His paintings are sensitive mood pieces, with an unusual quality of sound that emanates from their depths. The sound is Gagaku, ancient Tang, old future, the oldest music in the world, as weird as the ondes Martenot or theremin, still played in Japan while gazing at the full moon. Futura 2000’s paintings require thoughtful hanging and lighting to bring out their sound. These are sexy and romantic works that are easily sabotaged by improper hanging. Improper in the sense of lighting and proximity to other works. In the September 1982 Futura/Scharf show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery the giant sizes and flourescing primaries of Kenny Scharf burned the retina, making the optical transition to the more exquisite nuances of Futura’s smaller, autumn-hued works almost impossible. Futura needed spotlights and the gallery offered none. You could see the Scharfs in the dark. This is not an implied criticism of either artist. In the hanging wars a large bright picture stands a better chance. I often think now about hangings, and how pictures look in collections when they are all hung together. Futura, for example, would be seen to better effect next to an Olivier Mosset or a Brice Marden. The thought of a fancy room hung with Scharf, Dondi White, Keith Haring, and Futura 2000 gives me a toothache. Keith Haring for instance is a master at show-stopping. Put him in a group show and he’ll hang a mammoth Da-glo that fizzles eyeballs. It’s brilliant strategy, but viewer beware: it is not a criticism of the other work, it’s a physical effect.

More than double ruin, Rome in two thousand years will contain a triple set of ruins—the ruins of today, the ruins of the past, and the ruin of the future, overgrown with weeds and crawling with ants. I pledge allegiance to the living and I will defend art from history. I will rescue art from the future, from its attrition into taste, and from the speculative notion that it will become more valuable with time. New art is most valuable to us when it’s brand-new. Perspective destroys art. The feeling of new art is fugitive, like the Fun: here for the moment, gone forever. It’s only truly valuable before it’s surrounded by the mystique of money, while it’s still owned by culture, before it becomes booty. At least to me. But I’m a street fighter. In the past I’ve lost some future battles. I know that if I’d seen Sigmar Polke’s work in ’72, to be honest, it wouldn’t have been my taste. It would’ve looked like leftover Pop art then. But it is leftover Pop art, and that’s what makes old Polke great now. I was looking at something else then. The point is that it wasn’t even relevant then that Polke would turn into an important influence because the artists he would influence weren’t yet being influenced by him and it is his current influence even more than his current work that makes him currently valuable. We can’t know a forebear until they’ve been foreborne.

I suppose I’m just a part of the old avant-garde, but no matter what it’s called the sense of the moment will always be with us even though it gets eclipsed during neoclassical periods by notions of the “universal.” Culture is a matter of individuals.

Do the times make the artist or does the artist make the times? Both at different times are correct—I guess. Some times got Shakespeare others got Pope, one period got Lady Murasaki and Sei Shonagon at the same time. What can you say about a period that got stuck with . . . me. I really wanted to be great but the times didn’t need it of me. The times demanded my failure. I wanted a nice apartment to hang my pictures in, a drawing room somewhere above the din, and found the war was going on in my brain. I hitchhiked up Olympus and it turned out to be a volcano. How can I know what’s politically correct? I didn’t have time to stop and think whether what I was doing was right; I had to make my history quick because there would be no future, merely a gossamer world blown about on the zeitgeist, till zeitgeist, the wind of the times, is blasted away by kamikaze, the wind of God.

The Conspiracy of Excellence is a federation of eyes. We’ve seen beautiful things, explosions of talent, and burnouts. We’ve seen the entire world focus on one guy. I want my soldiers, I mean artists, to be young and strong, with tireless energy performing impossible feats of cunning and bravura the way Jean-Michel Basquiat has.

This is just a small town of individuals and they want to see you pouring that stuff out, no once-in-a-while thing. They can smell it when you’re hot, there’s nothing mysterious about it. No review no article can fight it out for you: it’s right there in your hands to do. That’s how artists get famous; nobody makes you famous, everybody sees when you’re onto something that doesn’t quit. This past year has seen an unbelievable quantity of work come out of Jean-Michel. For a while it looked as if the very early stuff was the primo, but no longer. He’s finally figured out a way to make a stretcher that looks like . . . say you tried to explain to someone who’d never seen a stretched painting before what a stretched painting looks like but forgot to explain the miter. The way they’re put together is so consistent with the imagery that warped and messy as the pictures are they look correct. Not just an art of found materials, the art looks found. They’re like something left in a small town after the carnival pulled out, hung in a shack, like a billboard in a migrant worker’s shed in a Walker Evans photo; they do look like signs, but signs for a product modern civilization has no use for. His New York show this year will be at the Fun Gallery.

I have made my liaisons in print and as these artists’ fortunes rise and fall so do mine. I will be forever in league with them, and if they slip I’ll look like hell. I have championed them. I’ve pledged my allegiance, I’ve signed my name, and there my reputation sits.

I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve been around so many years; how did I get to be so old. I’m pretty beat, and scarred like a whale from a million harpoons, but I’m still in the swim, y’all, I’m still out there. Oh I’ve seen so many waves. You ride it and when it crests you keep your balance or you get washed up. So I keep in the swim, go with the current, try to keep a sense of where I can land, sometimes swimming against the tide when I feel it’s getting too far out until one day I’ll drown or get stranded on the beach.

Rene RiCARd is a poet and movie star.



1. Duncan Smith, “Why Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” extract, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 1, Spring, 1981.

2. Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, vol. II, “The Marriage of Philology and Mercury,” trans. by William Harris Stahl and Richard Johnson with E. L. Burge, New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.