PRINT February 1987


knowing who your friends are.

And, gasping to begin some speech, her eyes
Became two spouts; the fury spent, anon
Did this break from her: "Good Antigonus, Since fate, against thy better disposition,
Hath made thy person for the thrower-out
Of my poor babe, according to thine oath,
Places remote enough are in Bohemia,
There weep, and leave it crying; and, for the babe Is counted lost for ever,
Perdita, I prithee, call’t.”

—William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, act 3, scene 3

PLACES REMOTE ENOUGH ARE IN in Bohemia, and bohemia has itself never seemed more remote. With the arrival of a commercial class of artist employers, gallery owners, artist restaurant backers, grant experts, foundation directors, museum trustees, corporate consultants, and artist commodities brokers, the occupational heraldry and social patterns of the culturati have surely reflected some change.

Take, for instance, the artist team. While there is ample precedent for such intensive cooperation in other fields—songwriting, for instance, and fringe politics—at no moment since the heyday of the guilds and ateliers, or certainly not since the Federal Art Project of the WPA, have so many artists worked so well in unison. The Bechers, the Poiriers, Gilbert & George, and Art & Language—those pioneering Kunst-kibbutzniks for the ’70s—helped to establish an atmosphere of creative groupthink for a whole generation of artistic collaborators that by now includes, or has at times included, the Starn Twins, Liz & Val, Komar & Melamid, Keith Haring, and LA II, as well as such larger compound organisms as General Idea, TODT, the short-lived Warhol-Basquiat-Clemente nexus, not to mention the kind of cultural dating services provided by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s “Next Wave Festival” in recent years, or the pivotal relationships among artists working in different mediums, such as that between Philip Glass (or David Byrne) and Robert Wilson, Trisha Brown and Robert Rauschenberg, and David Salle and Karole Armitage.

There is also the trumpet call of a return to the spirit of the atelier, what with so many artists hiring artists as assistants and so many still-young masters relinquishing the last shreds of youth by assuming the roles of inspirational patriarchs. It seems to me that all of this is evidence of a revival of the good old buddy system, designed to protect swimmers and scouts from the dangers of drowning or of being eaten up by bears.

To those Perditas who haven’t yet found a friend, I propose an item of apparel through which to recognize one another in the forest, and which one can flash at kindred spirits across the pin-striped, button-down sea: the resurgent beret, with its little antenna, or wee umbilical cord, can lead you safely on your way.

The beret has been the uniform of scouts and soldiers, schoolgirls and boys, peasants and rebel priests. It was once a badge of honor for artists, along with the palette. The beret—its literal shape and the semiotics of its meanings—is defined completely by the nature of its wearer, collapsing into nothing when off the head and declaring intentions when on. So, argonauts away from home, take this cue and find your friends, for all artists in this winter’s tale, with stakes so high, tracks so fast, success so volatile, and guiding lights so fleeting or so dim, need a pal.

Lisa Liebmann is a writer and critic who lives in New York. Her column appears regularly in Artforum.