PRINT May 1988



WHEN I THINK ABOUT the possibility today of what used to be called an art movement I think about what Andy Warhol called “Business Art.” You could take his remarks on the subject as flattery of the collecting class or as a send-up of the art world, but I think there’s a lot more to it. I think Andy saw that art was losing large areas of its former purview. Even though art had more value on paper than ever before, it had less clout. It was less about vision and cultural leadership and more about perceived worth. As much as Andy Warhol was a creature of the art world (and of fine-art auctions), he never rejected the commercial-art world he came from. He had a big, heroically inclusive concept of art, and in a lot of ways he was the only Pop artist who lived up to Pop’s platform.

You could say that Business Art had to happen. (Presuming the world were to continue.) But the actual appearance of Business Art still seems radical and Dada-like in its deep and mysterious pizzazz.

I think what Andy Warhol saw in Business Art was power, not just collecting-class power but the kind of power that comes from a positivist, ambitious approach. I think he saw Business Art as a means of escape from the tragic tradition of art declaring itself dead again and again. Business Art subverts that tragedy through deus ex machina surprise tactics. It is about escapism, about taking the easy way out, but so was some great art of the past. Art before Andy wasn’t all the dangerous leap that we sometimes expect of art that’s like art, art that buys into the tragic idea of art history.

Art like something else is easier and can often be passed off as useful and therefore harmless. It is unlikely to compete directly with social, religious, or political mores, lessening the likelihood that it will be quashed. At a time when the artist for art’s sake has become an estheticized stunt person, more and more of the stuff that turns me on has a label, not a signature.

Art circulated as business materials often reaches the broadest audience and is able to escape the immediate clutches of the usual art-detention forces such as magazines, galleries, universities, foundations, and intelligence agents. Its cover is its denial of purist ambition. It is in service.

By serving commerce, commercial art is able to attain a corporate, communal “I.” An I like the I of the Order of Assassins, or the Knights Templar, or the Ras Tafari. The corporate artist is immune to assassination, literal or figurative, whether by ideological enemies, rival artists, or dealers and collectors with a vested interest.

Legally, a corporation has a personal nature, but at the same time a corporation is noncorporeal. Legal persons are immortal, at least temporarily. Mortal persons, on the other hand, are always on their way to becoming estates and inheritances. The personal artist may prove to be more valuable dead than alive. The corporate artist never dies, but is amalgamated. The corporate subjectivity is anonymous and pure.

The corporate I is superior to “we.”

We is a euphemism.

We is ex cathedra. I is divine.

“Pure subjectivity is the starting point of human feelings such as pity, friendship, love, passion and sympathy.” —Yohji Yamamoto.

Sixth Sense is the publication of Comme des Garcons Co., Ltd., the extraordinary Japanese fashion house of Rei Kawakubo. Comme des Garcons is a perfect art company. The clothing it manufactures and markets is like art in every respect except being art. And now it has created one of the great art magazines of our time, except that it’s not really an art magazine, it’s a clothing catalogue. Sixth Sense has everything that an art magazine must have, and it is more beautiful than other art magazines, but it has something more. It has an excuse for being that grants it a certain immunity.

Sixth Sense also has decoration and design. Here is an excerpt from an unsigned introduction to the magazine:

In the beginning, decoration was born of the free imagination. However, in the flow of time called history it has always been reduced to an empty shell: the African’s tattoo; magnificent cathedrals in the Middle Ages; the Rococo of court life; elegant Art Déco in the early 20th century.

20th century fashion has sought simplicity by stripping and destroying form itself. The original meaning of decoration can now be rediscovered and freed of association with static images from the past. Sequins glint under the sun, frills dance like butterflies, a diamond-like crystal swings at the hem.

Here is a magazine with an I, where almost none has even a we. The I is plural. In the current issue, which is the first, the I is Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, André Kertész, Eileen Gray, Jean Cocteau, Dziga Vertov, and others—first-person collaboration beyond the grave and beyond copyright.

Vertov writes: “I am eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see.”

Ads are the real commie art. They take it to the people as well as to the collector.

Original art made for the collector is, in Zen terms, the sound of one wing (usually the left) flapping. As vision if not as commodity, it soars on that wing above commerce, just as heaven is said to be above the earth. In the name of or at least in the interests of the people, it soars to the extraterrestial realms of value, conferring objectivity on the ephemeral, seizing the future by its shadow and mounting it.

Fashion, design, advertising all lurk below among the masses. Have you noticed how beautiful they have become? Perhaps the gods will return.

Glenn O’Brien is a writer who hoes in Brooklyn. He contributes this column monthly to Artforum.

Jean Cocteau, in 1939, wearing a 1988 suit from Comme des Garcons’ Homme Pius line. Superimposition of 1988 photograph by Shinji Mori on 1939 photograph by Gisèle Freund. From Sixth Sense 1.