PRINT October 2004

A Roundtable

“JEFF KOONS MAKES ME SICK.” The words are Peter Schjeldahl’s, and the occasion was a review in the SoHo weekly 7 Days, back in the ’80s, before Koons was quite the museum-certified star he is today. In the course of the write-up, Schjeldahl would turn his conceit around, explaining how undeniable, unstoppable, finally essential the experience of the artist’s work was for him. What makes Koons’s art simultaneously so toxic and so compelling? And why is it both institutionally embraced and yet seen by many as an art of diminishing returns, a symptom of all that is wrong with culture today? Koons is, of course, one of the artists—one of the few artists—for whom, in any pure or immediate sense the oft-used designation neo-Pop has a certain self-evidence. The present panel—and this special issue of Artforum—comes out of a desire to look back at the past several decades of artmaking and to ask where, when, and why we have evoked Pop art in its post- and neo- compounds—and what it is we mean when we do so. Is there something in the Pop paradigm—but also in the grumbles of Pop’s discontents—that points to what is at stake in making art out of our contemporary world? How much does historical Pop (not just high New York Pop, but also British proto-Pop; not just the Warhol of the soup cans, but also of the films and the capacious art/life jugglings) tell us about the myriad ways artists work with, through, and even in pop culture today. The mission of this issue is to consider the art/pop dialectic in its broadest sense—and to do so we convened an online symposium, the results of which are published in the following pages. Our seven panelists include contributing editors Thomas Crow and Rhonda Lieberman, artists Jeff Wall and Stephen Prina, curator and critic Alison M. Gingeras, cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen, and Artforum editor Tim Griffin. To make the straw man of this preface real, we dispatched Artforum senior editor Scott Rothkopf to Koons’s studio to subject Olive Oyl, one of the artist’s recent feats of digital remastery, to the old-fashioned “Jeff Koons Paints a Picture” treatment. —Jack Bankowsky

Jack Bankowsky: Maybe my first question should be: Is there life after Warhol, and if so, what does it look like? Does it look like Jeff Koons? Do we like what we’re looking at? To jump in headlong, consider the range of ways art and pop come together today. Koons’s traffickings in the realm of mass taste largely take place in the form of objects and paintings. Whereas Murakami, in his play with and penetration of the Louis Vuitton logo, for instance, finds “art” in the realm of commerce and advertising. Finally, a meta-band such as Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw’s Destroy All Monsters comes out of a lived relationship to pop music subcultures, while Alex Bag’s samplings constitute a deep (if slapstick) archeology of the nuances of life lived through TV. What can we say about these various practices and the kinds of pop/mass material in which they trade?

Jeff Wall: Koons’s work doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t inspire me either. It’s just very characteristic of this dominant ethos of contemporary art—what we are calling neo-Pop.

Neo-Pop has four main sources: Duchamp’s discovery that anything can be art if it is so designated; Beuys’s proclamation that everyone is an artist; Warhol’s assertion that making art is the same as making any other commercial product; and finally (also from Warhol) the idea that, since there is no essential difference between creating art and creating anything else, artists can share in the wider recognition that other makers have enjoyed and do not have to be restricted to the esteem of an elite.

People we used to look to as artists—those who had unusual abilities and the unusual intuitions that seem to be somehow connected with these abilities—are not looked to as much anymore. Artists today work as “creative directors,” employing skilled artisans to make things according to their specifications. Other abilities have come to the fore, one of the most important of which is the ability to sense meanings in the wider culture and to contemplate the evolution and significance of those meanings and the products that express them.

The creative act here is to find a means, a form, or a format to make those meanings available. The form and the technique are usually drawn from the original’s production process—a film (or a moment in a film), an architectural trope, a social situation of some kind—like remaking the HOLLYWOOD sign and erecting it near Palermo, or re-enacting a fragment of a performance by a famous film star as a video, or making gigantic sculptures that are enlargements of toys.

Neo-Pop art is based on this discourse about meaning, about the relation between the first and second appearance of things—the first as some mass-cultural event, like a news photo of a car accident, and the second as that photo as a painting by Andy Warhol. But it’s probably an open question whether the second appearance is more meaningful than the first—a question that should probably be asked more often in the face of the deluge of second (and third, and tenth) appearances.

Alison Gingeras: To me what Maurizio Cattelan puts forth in the HOLLYWOOD project has nothing to do with the Duchampian readymade, with the object or the aura of fame as evoked by the object-sign. HOLLYWOOD was about Cattelan positioning himself as an impresario who had digested and built on Warhol’s own “business art” legacy, taking it further to put his finger on what makes our contemporary world tick. Filling a privately chartered plane with curators, dealers, journalists, collectors, and glitterati during the height of the Venice Biennale and flying the “art world” to a garbage dump in Palermo to witness his “sculpture” was the crux of the piece.

Cattelan carefully deployed his own celebrity to create a highly visible frame for the exclusive event, capitalizing on the art world’s desire to partake in it. I would argue that this work was the culmination of years of careful orchestration of his public persona.

Jeff Wall: Yes, and my question is about the legitimacy of art’s aim being to “put one’s finger on what makes society tick.” The value of such an endeavor—as art, as opposed to some other activity—is not self-evident to me. There have been (and are) other artistic aims.

Thomas Crow: Well, Koons’s appeal has mystified commentators for decades now (at this point, he has enjoyed nearly twenty years in the limelight) and led in each instance to the default theory that he, like Warhol before him, erased any operative distinction between commerce and the old, disinterested, aesthetic ideal, enacting a “euphoric celebration of art and the market—business joined hands with creativity.” (The phrasing is Paul Ardenne’s, but it could belong to a dozen others.) The corollary to this translates as some achieved breakdown of the barrier between popular and elite cultures.

The problems with this mindset are huge and disabling. For one thing, it equates the commercial and the popular while remaining stubbornly behind the times in terms of the actual evolution of marketing techniques. Trying to shoehorn either Warhol or Koons into this model ignores how they’ve both exploded the unsustainable category of “the popular” into its fractious components: the statistically popular, regionally popular, campily popular, shamefully popular, abjectly popular, subpopular, and antipopular. There’s an encyclopedic quality to the range of subcultural zones from which both artists have drawn, the sense of a varied and conflicted world being created, which maps the world we know in ways that make it just recognizable—but fascinating on account of that strangeness.

Diedrich Diederichsen: To return to Jeff’s comments, the central invention of commercial art was that of the art director: a person working with several media, art forms, and formats without necessarily “touching” anything. Classic Pop referred to this production model dialectically: The art director, a symptom of Taylorization and the end of craftsmanship, also held the potential to reintegrate the visual arts. Warhol was not a commercial artist turned multimedia artist but an art director applying himself to fine art. Classic Pop art was interesting when it believed in the promise of this integration and at the same time took the promise of the commodity (speed, instant gratification) seriously—if, of course, against all critical common sense. It was the alternative to Minimalism’s ascetic attempt to avoid the commodity by all means (whether out of spiritual or political motivation). Classic Pop art realized that the commodity had changed, that a whole system of visual communication had developed around it.

Contemporary Pop artists think of the system of visual communication built around commodities as no longer linked to commodities. They seldom see this aspect of contemporary visual culture in relation to its historical development out of the old separate spheres of commercial and autonomous cultures. They don’t see how it is, in a way, already falsely integrated, but now by a different postrevolutionary logic of consumer culture, which is offering the literal belief in the commodities’ promises already as a promise. Which leads me to the case of Takashi Murakami, since here somebody is trying to work with today’s communications culture, or at least its novelties: on the one hand with super-sponsoring, branding, and all over-marketing tools, and on the other, with digital animation, suggesting a kind of virtual über–art director analogous to the classical Pop model. The problem is that Murakami’s work makes it appear as if the new digital culture of commodities and advertisement were just like the old one of looks and visuals, instead of about a lot of invisible things at the heart of marketing and commercial art.

Jack Bankowsky: If Murakami’s art ends up looking and feeling like the old Pop world, are there artists, ways of working, that deal with the “new digital culture of commodities and advertisement” more decisively?

Diedrich Diederichsen: I might have to correct myself a little, as I do respect artists who are able to present and expose certain contemporary mechanisms and visual strategies for the first time outside their regular contexts and at least make them identifiable or nameable. Murakami is such an artist for me. But it would be something else to translate the logic governing the visual production he exposes into a practice rather than just decontextualizing it and reproducing it in an art context. Perhaps there’s a digital artist who gets closer to this—or perhaps no artists manage it—but now I’m only speculating.

Tim Griffin: So we are talking about what happens to a “Factory” metaphor in postindustrial times. If commercial culture at the beginning of the last century was concerned with supplying individuals with objects and experiences by which they organized or even obtained a sense of identity, then commercial culture today is so evolved in this respect as to concern itself specifically with providing emotions (and even entire lifestyles). As an executive put it in the late-’90s business primer The Experience Economy, “The customer is the product.”

Any number of contemporary artists use the signs or motifs of commercial culture, but most merely provide maps, presenting logos, cartoon/anime characters, or the infrastructures of corporate networks that circulate products (of course, in a sense, these conduits of information are themselves products). I think the most powerful neo-Pop art underscores the ways in which subjectivity itself is conditioned by, or better, displaced into, the pop-cultural media.

Ford designer J Mays says he most admires Steven Spielberg because the director is a master at toying with audiences’ emotions—supplying emotions, in effect. This is the function of design today, in both individual objects and branded flagship-store environments, where architectural detail is conceived (often with the aid of focus groups and on-staff anthropologists) to induce specific, consistent emotional response. In this respect, I still think it’s interesting to consider Koolhaas’s Prada stores, in which Situationist models are employed for a commercial endeavor, such that the experience supplies novel sensations not only in and through objects for sale but in and through the social context of the store environment. A favorite line from Koolhaas’s Prada store book regarding the consumer: “Our ambition is to capture attention and . . . hand it back to the consumer.”

Along those same lines I still find Pierre Huyghe’s Snow White video interesting, as the singer’s voice is separated from her and made into a media property. Huyghe’s work with Philippe Parreno in the Annlee project flirts with the anthropomorphizing of media by engaging an idoru, the Japanese term for a virtual celebrity. In fact, I experienced the work best at a collector’s home in Miami, where you turned a corner and saw it on an ordinary television set in the living room. In the gallery environment, where the art context was clear, it did not have the same uncanny effect.

Alison Gingeras: Huyghe and Parreno begin by participating in commercial and/or pop culture by purchasing the copyrights to this manga figure Annlee, but the work ultimately exemplifies an analytical/critical approach that distances itself from the commercial/pop sphere. Huyghe and Parenno slip into Annlee’s skin, but just as quickly slip out, filling her mouth with la parole and using her as a vehicle to pass judgment on the entertainment industry. To me they operate at the opposite end of the spectrum from artists who blur the line between art, consumerism, and entertainment—which brings us back to Murakami’s entwinement with LVMH. Murakami’s refusal to critically rationalize his various activities extends Warhol’s business art model. I am not so sure Murakami really does anything except to integrate his activities by marrying the aesthetic traditions of Japanese visual culture to the global marketing machine of corporate business; he just seems to be even more efficient and literal than Warhol.

Stephen Prina: Artists cannot locate themselves “above the fray” since they are embedded in the capitalist system, but, as Alison demonstrates, there are different ways for artists to give form to their positions as subjects. Does Murakami extend the business art approach of Warhol, who encouraged a reappraisal through doubt about the appropriate role of the artist to perform, or does he revert to a type of realism by replicating the overt signs of business art as a defense due to his refusal to interfere with the workings of the world at large? The redeployment of a strategy of Warhol’s does not necessarily reap similar results decades after the fact, which makes the perpetual phase-shifting of Martin Kippenberger all the more effective.

Tim Griffin: I’ll agree that these projects might be more productively disarming when appearing in the original contexts of their source material. Perhaps it’s not a matter of an artist being above, or even to the side, but of managing to turn things inside out. Think of Richard Prince in this respect. His images appear in any number of fashion magazines, and yet his work remains his work. Weirdly, it’s precisely his work’s grunginess that allows it to remain somehow “high” on the “high-low” continuum. And for him I don’t think you can say he’s trying to “blur” boundaries. Instead, he rides them.

Alison Gingeras: Prince makes a good contrast to Koons. What can be said about the practices of these East Village “rivals” when they’re considered side by side? If we ask how each has transformed the initial conceptual and formal tools of historical Pop, it might reveal at least two different strains of neo-Pop. In the European context, Kippenberger is also worth comparing with Koons. Kippenberger is key in identifying the shift from the moment of high American Pop to the subsequent European engagement with popular cultural forms and strategies. Both Prince and Kippenberger excavate less accessible, grittier cult forms of popular and vernacular culture that completely escape a classical Pop sensibility (this clean/dirty dichotomy happily coexisted in Warhol’s own oeuvre, not only in his pictorial iconography but in his films and the whole social scene he constructed at the Factory, etc.). Are Pop and/or neo-Pop adequate terms for a European artist like Kippenberger?

Jack Bankowsky: In Prince’s work one discovers a whole range of Pop modalities: On the one hand, the unmediated display of photos of biker chicks or the juxtapositions of autographed celebrity head-shots, on the other (in the most recent Whitney Biennial, for instance), a curiously buried reference to muscle cars served up as unimaginably elegant post-Minimal “paintings.” Finally, Prince ranges into extra–white cube lifestyle experiments key to the persona problem, with “Spiritual America,” “First House,” or the “Upstate” project, endeavors that only make it into our consciousness by rumor—and Prince’s strategic manipulation of his mystique as an artist.

Alison Gingeras: Prince’s late-’80s invention, in collaboration with Colin de Land, of a fictional artist named John Dogg (whose true “identity” remained unconfirmed until Colin’s untimely death) perfectly falls into this “rumor” category as well. Not only did Prince mobilize rumor, he hid behind a nebulous use of the third person in writings like his faked interview with J.G. Ballard or his novel Why I Go to the Movies Alone. What emerged is a highly constructed aura that infuses the viewer’s reading of his work. Kippenberger, on the other hand, depended on the first person. He started the Buro Kippenberger with Gisela Capitain in 1979 as the platform for his “self performance or self promotion” (to cite Diedrich Diederichsen’s text). His drunken and subversive antics were fodder for instant legend; they not only fueled the substance of his paintings and sculptures but also engaged with society’s thirst for celebrity. Both Prince and Kippenberger have cultivated personae that do not fall into the slick, media-savvy model that Koons embodies, yet they work because they have tapped into the way our culture has seized upon celebrity (cult figure, punk hero, bad boy, mystery man, etc.). Being a salesman is not the only guise in which persona work manifests itself.

Diedrich Diederichsen: What Kippenberger shared with Pop artists is his quasi-religious faith in his ability to create a world that would negotiate with another world and yet be complete, like the Church or the Communist Party. The main difference is that he was not a man of singular objects but of narratives and contexts. His strategy was so contextualist; he would constantly force you to look at the next image/object, and then the one after that, since nothing was ever complete. This contradiction—and complexity—makes him for me an artist beyond the Pop art aporia.

I like Alison’s point about personal appearance and its relationship to contemporary pop. The celebrity replaces the art-director model, and the model comes from pop music. A constitutive feature of pop music is that, unlike other cultural forms, the recipient never knows with certainty who is talking: an authentic person or a scripted character. This is the institutionalized version of the inability to separate the world into opposing fields: Where other cultural formats still adhere to a “natural” division of production and reception, of advertisement and the commodity advertised, pop music had to internalize a split in order to be able to continue to produce, you could almost say, a credible discourse of autonomy or authenticity.

Alison Gingeras: Diedrich, do you think that this current model only comes from pop music? We could also identify other highly self-conscious celebrity figures who embody positions that are more promiscuous and troubling, for example Klaus Kinski. Kinski was a self-confessed “whore” who would act in any role if the price was right. I am thinking that the strategy of baffling heterogeneous practices, which might characterize the work of many of today’s neo-Pop/Eurotrash artists (Ugo Rondinone, Piotr Uklan´ski, Cattelan, etc.), is indicative of the adoption of these extreme pragmatics to engage the art market and the cult of celebrity. Could Kippenberger be seen as a forerunner to such an approach?

Diedrich Diederichsen: Yes, Klaus Kinski! Have you got the new CD box set with his public readings (Rimbaud, François Villon, the Bible)? Kippenberger loved Kinski; he was a pop musician without music. But in his field he had to establish himself as the exception; in pop music you’re always between Act and Self. It is a law of the form, even for, say, James Taylor or Britney Spears.

Thomas Crow: I’m not so sure the primacy of visual imago marks a clear-cut distinction between eras. But Diedrich and Alison are both articulating, better than I have, the key phenomena: Alison points to Richard Prince’s cultivation of a persona steeped in mystery and shape shifting, one that infuses the viewer’s reading of his works. I also felt that Diedrich anticipated my main point when he described Kippenberger as manifesting this “quasi-religious faith in his ability to create a world that would negotiate with another world.” Like Warhol, he was a “man of . . . narratives and contexts” rather than of aesthetically compressed single objects, and the same crafted ambiguity between authentic person and character in a script had to be unfaltering, if his project had any hope of success. The fact that all these artists have exerted an influence that can’t easily be ascribed to some inner quality of the objects they generate just points to the more fundamental activity of world-making and launching narratives enacted by the entities with which they populate or furnish those worlds.

Stephen Prina: To return to Jeff’s comments on first and second appearances, Richard Prince’s work is based, or so it seems, on the secondary appearance, with the re-photography of advertisements being one of the first occurrences. It was generally understood that this secondary appearance is Prince’s primary appearance as an artist. A number of years ago, circa 1997, when his joke paintings incorporated gestural fields to the point that the jokes were nearly occluded, he introduced a hand-drawn figure of a male taken from his pre-appropriationist phase, using his own prior work as if it were Pop source material. The weight carried by this figure was palpable, reframed as it was by his subsequent work. We’ve come to expect such a confusion of primary and secondary, or the primary reinscribed as secondary, from Prince.

Rhonda Lieberman: I often think that the thrilling part of the second or transformed meaning of pop stuff/strategies in art is not that it’s more meaningful but that it’s less meaningful—and what is exciting is how it is somehow emptied of the received meanings it comes with in its original context. The original meaning-baggage is still there, but we’re encountering it in destroyed form, as if the second appearance turns it (back) into dumb matter, and that’s what the aesthetic experience is—not the standard aesthetic experience. To see stuff so empowered in mass culture turned into a “thing” by art is kind of a zen revelation—about how we’re so programmed by received meanings, and how mass culture is constantly playing on that. But when it comes down to it, this power that animates us, forms our identities, toys with our emotions, desires, and money is just a projection on a screen or print on a page. The second appearance of pop material in art reminds us that culture is literally just stuff.

Tim Griffin: Neo-Pop strategies might be said to complicate the very notion of the second appearance. While Pop might be said to have doubled images, neo-Pop takes advantage of the fact that an image is already doubled and is in some way already “emptied out.” This is made completely literal in, say, the Annlee project, which bluntly presents the idea with the title No Ghost Just a Shell. This kind of literalization shows how prevalent, for better or worse, such conceptions of production are.

I think it’s worthwhile to mention someone who turns to art-historical material as well as contemporary commercial material. Kelley Walker took Warhol’s Red Race Riot and re-presented the picture in digital forms—CDs, scans, etc. (these images were also laced with scanned mouthwash and toothpaste smears). I don’t think this is a re-animation of the original image, or an emptying out (it’s already empty), yet I wonder what the effect of this appropriation is—a kind of seance?

Thomas Crow: I think that one place where the discussion can take a wrong turn, thinking in longer historical terms, is in the idea that art has traditionally been about creating that “first appearance.” My sense is that this expectation is a quite recent one, only as old as the Romantic theorists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—figures like Goethe and Coleridge. From that point it worked its powerful, cultlike effects through advanced artistic culture until the crack-up of the Abstract Expressionist generation demonstrated how high a personal cost had to be paid to make it credible. Young artists who were beginning their careers in that orbit—Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Smithson too—took their lessons from that litany of individual tragedies and found their way back to an older, more enduring concept of artmaking, where it was expected that the poet, preeminently, but the visual artist by extension, would fit already existing materials into artfully novel new arrangements. There was a gamelike, competitive sense that everybody was working with the same repertoire, each seeking to excel in its use. Nor was there any restriction, in terms of cultural level, on where these preexisting materials could be found. The conventions of the pastoral genre encouraged the imitation of “popular” forms as evidence of the poet/artist’s universal range of sympathies and understanding of the essential human qualities on view in simpler forms of life, which were assumed to be free of courtly ceremony and metropolitan dissembling. Prototypes here go back at least to Virgil’s “Eclogues,” and the continuing usefulness of the strategy keeps those ancient models current. That these artists chose bits and pieces from any particular cultural ambient is less important than the strategy they followed. Rauschenberg’s drawing/monoprints after Dante’s Inferno offer a good diagnostic instance of this interplay of ancient and modern.

It follows that the creator appears in the work as a product of its artificial world and that the two need to be congruent with one another. There’s a strong sense that Koons’s world is one in which the bunny, Michael Jackson, and the Pink Panther coexist, where all its creatures navigate in magic cast-metal inflatables, where puppies are giant and carriages miniature, where the king and queen engage in ritual public sex as a sign of their quasi-divinity, etc. People, obviously, are drawn to this scenario in ways that nobody can quite articulate. Its Lewis Carroll–style outlandishness positively requires the lighter-than-air sort of persona that Koons cultivates. But the managed persona need not inhabit a fantastical world—one can aspire to high seriousness without changing the mechanism. The “Montaigne” conjured up by his “Essays” and known throughout Europe by the end of the sixteenth century was no more the real individual designated by that name than “Jeff Koons” is by his. The shape-shifting “Robert Smithson” contained but did not define an authentic self, as well he knew.

Diedrich Diederichsen: But Montaigne, like Ezra Pound, was neither a performative nor a visual artist, hence his face was an empty screen, open for projections. In the model that Kippenberger, Koons, and Warhol exemplify, the visibility of the artist’s face and his production are interrelated. The difference between these artists and, say, the Abstract Expressionists and their sense of authenticity, in my opinion, has to do with the fact that the Abstract Expressionists simply accepted an extant model for the relation of artist and self, maybe radicalizing it, whereas Pop artists looked to other models in other fields.

Thomas Crow: I was trying to do a couple of things with that historical leap to a grand figure in the pastoral tradition by contemplating simple, uncultivated forms of life alongside the fragments of wisdom left by the ancients. One was to point out that we can overemphasize the power and ubiquity of modern media. The known world where such communications are pervasive is only inhabited by a fraction of today’s population, and, even then, what percentage of that population really knows who Jeff Koons is? The other was to remove this Pop-allegorical procedure from expectations that it occupy any one thematic territory. So there was an intentional coupling of Montaigne with Smithson. I’ve brought Smithson up before, in part because his strong Pop streak is only recently coming to light. Some of his future Minimalist friends stigmatized him as a Pop artist when they first knew him around 1964, and he never abandoned those fascinations. But he combined them into a self-created universe in which fragments of Nabokov, Eliot, and Beckett (his ancients) carried equal weight. The archaizing, neotraditional side of Eliot carried immense appeal for him, and his art was driven by an ethical imperative.

Jeff Wall: Tom, there is a difference, in degree at least, between the idea of artists skillfully reworking existing high-art models with the aim of producing high art and artists skillfully reproducing mass-cultural models by the same technical means by which the models were themselves made. Previous high artists were obliged to make a judgment about the validity of the model, and the judgment was connected to the values I mention above. This was an accepted cultural norm, and the art we identify with it easily stands comparison with what comes after. Popular subjects and styles were always included in the canon but did not dominate it, either as technique or for their implicit point of view. That is no longer the case.

Thomas Crow: I’m not sure that I can accept that artists in the main command the technical means that generate their source material. Warhol, after all, had to expunge his refined skills as an illustrator in order to gain credibility as an artist. When I watch one of Matthew Barney’s expensively produced Cremaster films, I’m not conscious of their exceptional production values for an art product; I’m much more aware of how far they fall short of even a minimal Hollywood standard. Their aspirations just make this clearer—and of course Barney is an old-school allegorist or he’s nothing. The issue is just how good he is at it. The themes and motifs that went into traditional courtly art—from feudal romances, ancient mythology, Christian legend, etc.—were by no means sequestered within a “high” culture either; their tone was simply different from the overtly pastoral subjects.

Rhonda Lieberman: I’m amazed that you’re not conscious of the exceptional production values in Barney’s work! That’s all I notice about his pieces, especially when they appear near other art. It’s very hard for anything to compete with big-budget seductiveness—even if it’s all dressed up with very little to say.

Thomas Crow: Better to say, I’m not conscious of those values except as an irritant, because they don’t live up to their evident desire to impress. In any race toward technical mastery, the media industries will always win, so the task of the artist using analogous procedures or materials is to make a virtue of that deficiency—or, better, to put the work under another description whereby that technical shortfall is no longer any sort of deficiency.

Rhonda Lieberman: Point well taken when it comes to Barney and the artist’s task vis-à-vis mass media–style technical mastery.

Stephen Prina: I can’t help asking if the Pop model, established forty years ago, is the only viable model to which an artist can aspire, regardless of morphological similarity? As made manifest in recent returns to Pop art, or Conceptual art, or figurative painting, or whatever, the basic model of swift reception, consolidated effect, immediately recognizable signature, and repetition ad nauseum prevails. In the process the “difficulty” that might have been originally associated with these modes of working is relinquished. Are points of resistance relinquished as well? In the so-called plurality of current art, does it always come down to dressing up the same model? It seems that this is the point you make, Jack, with the example of Destroy All Monsters.

Jack Bankowsky: Well, you might be overestimating how invested I am in the “Pop after Pop” conceit. It’s really just a starting point to cast the differences into relief.

Stephen Prina: Jack, my reference to the prevalence of the Pop-art model in its many guises is a reaction to my observation of the current state of artmaking. A variety of practices have been identified in our discussion—Kippenberger, Kelley, et al.—that outdistance this Pop mandate even while accommodating it, but the ability to mobilize these types of practices today has become increasingly challenged. There is a massive pressure on younger artists to streamline and consolidate: yes or no? Or is this perception an example of my overactive fantasy life?

Rhonda Lieberman: I corroborate Stephen’s fantasy re: the “pressure on younger artists to streamline and consolidate.” What for Warhol was a boundary-blurring act, to make “Business Art” (just as he made original “copies” and famous nobodies), is today a requirement at the door. (That is, for artists to take the commodity form as the template for their practice.) It is interesting to see how what was originally so rad about early Pop (blurring high and low, art and product) has been flattened out by the marketplace into a rather conservative mandate.

Tim Griffin: I think it may be safe to say that what has evolved most in pop culture is marketing. But would it also be correct to say that, in pop culture, with that evolution, marketing has become the content?

Rhonda Lieberman: Tim, I think one could say that the art world mirrors pop culture here regarding marketing, albeit in a more coy manner. Don’t you think that to some extent in the art world (as Alison pointed out in her sharp read of Cattelan’s HOLLYWOOD sign), as in pop culture, marketing of the artist-persona commodity is a huge part of the work’s content, how it circulates, acquires value, etc.?

Tim Griffin: It’s precisely the opacity of art’s marketing that interests me, and this could also enter into a discussion about persona. When it comes to the artist’s persona, I (like many younger artists, I think) take into consideration the logic of the brand—those narratives spun around work (or, in mass culture, around merchandise), which shape that work’s reception and psychological use-value and help establish interrelationships among “products.” With the explosion of the media around art comes the exponential growth of the role of the artist’s persona, which may exist parallel to or infuse the work. There’s been a kind of feedback loop from mass culture into art such that the pervasive models, metaphors, and motifs of commercial culture often serve as signatures. Of people we’ve been discussing, Barney, with his overt use of logos and multiple display platforms, etc., might provide a clear example. But I wonder how this model could relate to Kippenberger or Cattelan, or to any number of other artists not usually associated with business.

Thomas Crow: This, it seems to me, has been largely achieved in the film business, where weekend grosses, on-the-set gossip, deals and tie-ins, etc., now form the bulk of what actually gets talked about in connection with movies. A “discourse” about theatrical film seems an antediluvian fossil. The reviewers we have, if they retain any self-respect, seem to assume the basic mediocrity and place-holding function of every film product. This is true to a degree in the fine-art world, but the finances are far from transparent, so one can’t follow the money in the way that one can with movies. It’s only at auction—and that means mostly established artists—that this particular game gets played. Back to Barney, though, he is indeed that sort of marketing phenomenon—unless you know people who can get genuinely interested in the thematic interplay between Jim Otto and tapioca. We’re all supposed to swoon and say, “Look how much money they must have spent on that film,” while we’re given a few cheesy props to look at in the gallery.

Stephen Prina: The juxtaposition of public persona and the opacity of the market intrigues me since it suggests a joining of opposites that are, in fact, not opposites. The public persona extends, in an illusory gesture of generosity, imaginary access to the artist as individual. The development of this persona, and that it can be described as such, reinforces that this access is limited if not nonexistent And so, an opacity of the market is linked with an opacity of persona. Perfection. Your description of the acknowledgment of branding serves as a useful example to this process.

Thomas Crow: It occurred to me that this topic requires that we turn our attention to Frank Gehry. We’ve had occasion to think hard about his example here in Los Angeles, as the Oldenburg/van Bruggen sculpture has just been “unveiled” via digital mock-up in its position dominating the entrance to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gehry not only encouraged this Pop figurative work—a discarded, old-fashioned, stiff bow tie—to complement the abstract vocabulary of the building, he asked that it be doubled in size from their first proposal. It’s likely to be a powerful juxtaposition.

Gehry’s forms, seen in that light, are themselves saturated with vernacular references, and this may have a lot to do with his having been thrust into the epicenter of the phenomenon of the architect as modern cultural shaman. And this has, as we know, in turn excited a lot of flak from the art world, jealous of sculpture’s prerogatives in a touchingly old-fashioned way. Richard Serra—“architecture is plumbing”—has received lots of support, but it seems like a blinkered, rearguard effort.

Rhonda Lieberman: I like Stephen’s description of how the opacity of the market and the opacity of the persona go hand in hand. Are we affirming this MO as a pragmatic acceptance of how the “system” works, or is there something more interesting about it that I’m missing?

Stephen Prina: Any pragmatic acceptance can be recognized as a place where work can be. There is the dual reading, of “this is the way things work” coupled with potential—of redirection, derailing, re-ascription, etc.

Thomas Crow: My sense is that your interest in the marketed persona links to something I was reaching for, which I saw supported in Alison’s and Diedrich’s observations about Prince and Kippenberger. What I would call the allegorical premise of the best Pop (not allegory as it was understood circa 1970 as hollowed-out and ruined, but a strong, resilient device) entails the installation of a fictional persona within the landscape mapped by the work. In a commercial environment that requires branding and celebrity identity, it’s a natural move to use the invented protagonist of your allegory as your public persona. Being fictional already, it’s a whole lot easier to manage than your real self.

Jeff Wall: Tom, persona and celebrity are not inseparable. Celebrity may only be a specific instance or form of persona. For example, Ilya Kabakov’s invention of the “mediocre Soviet artist” is very subtle, as beautifully formed as any other, and independent of the celebrity form.

Thomas Crow: Did I say inseparable? Let’s say “hard to separate”; or, better, I would simply propose that there is a strong congruence.

Alison Gingeras: We’ve identified a few, sometimes conflicting models and/or artists that engage popular culture. Leaving Koons aside, I am in accord with Jack’s impulse to see if we can parse the field a bit more in terms of alternatives. Take Prince and Mike Kelley, two Americans who mine the various precise substrata of American culture but use very different formal and conceptual strategies; Cattelan and Martin Kippenberger are two very different Europeans. These four figures (just by way of example) suggest specific points of rupture or hybridity in their use of Pop.

Thomas Crow: Or for that matter Pettibon. He’s a master of his medium, if anyone is, and that medium is virtually as old as Western art, yet his formation and experiences beyond fine art—which range, as everyone knows, from immersion in the Huntington Beach punk scene to the fringes of evangelical religion—show vividly in the work, as does a deep literary culture, carried lightly, that stands out among contemporary artists. Where do you put him in this conversation?

Alison Gingeras: Pettibon’s films are so complex—and at the same time visually boring or unimpressive in contrast to his drawings (almost Brechtian in their strategy). I’m curious about these completely unspectacular, sometimes almost unwatchable feature films on trash-cult subjects (Manson, Morrison, the SLA, etc.). They are absolutely challenging if one actually digests the scripts. And to make those films but a short drive from Universal Studios!

So what kinds of compounds can we identify? Pop mixed with other strains, schools, strategies, and forms . . . Pop + Conceptualism (Prince), Pop + the historian model, Pop + abstraction (à la Michel Majerus), Pop and dirt or trash in some younger artists like Urs Fischer or Gelatin or hobbypop?

Rhonda Lieberman: I think hybrid (practices and discourses) are vivifying. To refer back to the points made earlier about early-life encounters with pop “texts,” I think it’s the way we metabolize these received materials that is interesting—personally, as well as by cross-breeding them with other art strategies. I taught a course called “Proust and I Love Lucy” several years ago, in which I assigned students to explore their “voluntary” memories of old sitcoms. My point was that we metabolize this mass-produced stuff and filter it through our individual consciousnesses. We are all hybrid amalgams. Pop mixed with other strategies is interesting when it expresses this.

Stephen Prina: I agree that the recourse to examples has solidified a bit; reading our discussion one would get the impression, for instance, that no women artists were active in the last forty years. Perhaps women artists simply don’t maintain the same investment in perpetuating the Warholian mantle.

Alison Gingeras: What about Tracey Emin? Her subject matter is almost straight autobiography, but the vehicle is pure Warhol (spoken with a British-tabloid accent!)

Stephen Prina: I’m inclined to agree that Emin’s most lasting legacy is her tabloid persona, which feeds my question concerning the available range of models to which artists aspire today. My focus has been on those artists who have chosen a course other than pursuing the Warhol/Pop example to its logical conclusion, but at the same time do not repudiate it. The Pop accretion model you propose seems helpful, but what about a taxonomic model that accords Pop its place amongst myriad possible approaches and not one that privileges it a priori?

Jack Bankowsky: I’m curious what others will say. Certainly Warhol is engaged in the work of Louise Lawler, who references his art at least twice as frequently as the next most-referenced artist in her oeuvre; and Rachel Harrison, in her recent show, directly references Warhol in a work. But Lawler probably falls into Stephen’s artist-as-pop-historian model more than the performative and/or neo-Pop one we’ve been emphasizing.

Stephen Prina: When Lawler references Warhol, it does not lead to her adoption of a Pop model of production. When I made the film Vinyl II a few years ago, I attempted to make the Warhol reference inescapable and then to offer up a film that could not plausibly be identified as Warholian.

Thomas Crow: What about Vija Celmins from the ’60s generation and Annette Lemieux from the ’80s as examples of artists whose superb, empathetic work with vernacular sources tends to slip under the art-media radar? Also, Glenn Phillips recently curated a video evening here at the Getty that combined a historical survey going back to the ’60s with a number of pieces by Alex Bag, who came and spoke at the event. Her presentation was something of a revelation to me, as her sensibility seems far from the indie/DIY romance of artist’s Pop and a lot more about simply dealing with what you see if you watch television around the clock.

Jeff Wall: I am gazing out the window at the ocean, and losing the thread a bit. I would like to change the topic here and consider whether anything essentially artistic has altered with neo-Pop or whether the changes have to do with the social order of art. Tom’s description of Pettibon would fit thousands of artists going back thousands of years. Artists who make reference to mass culture in creating works that aren’t copies of mass-cultural objects are pretty much all in the same boat, from Pettibon to Kelley and even to Koons in a large part of his work. I think it’s the self-imposed obligation not to make something “in reference to” that represents the “severe stream” of neo-Pop, and it seems to emanate from Warhol and then to be extended via Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince, and so on. There is a decision to decline involvement in what has traditionally been understood as creating and to “create” as a performance, even as a polemic. This act has opened the door to all kinds of things, as we’ve pointed out here. It has not remained static, though. It has not been confined just to versions of “reiteration,” because the context of seceding from what art used to be has become the mass-cultural situation. So, when the secession takes place, we don’t get to a “non-place” except in those most “severe” styles; we just get an opened-up cultural context, dominated by mass-culture forms, which may then appear feasible to us in a new way. Therefore, art (which has already been defined as “anything”) can be anything and everything, but not in an independent, neutral way. I am focusing on the work. The persona question, the celebrity question is, I think, separable from what is made, because artists have got quite the persona going while making very different kinds of things, from Prince to Schnabel to Emin to Cattelan. The celebrity thing was set in motion by Warhol, and it has something to do with the kind of art he made, but not everything to do with it.

Thomas Crow: I like your idea of a “severe style” (with all its overtones in classical art history and rhetoric). Christopher Williams exemplifies this potential for me, which works to greatest effect when the pent-up meaning (constrained by the self-imposed discipline not to add anything new to the motif) finally bursts out.

As for Pettibon, I wouldn’t be so quick to typecast him as traditional and leave it at that. His means strike me as both time-tested and also aggressively simple, refusing the media-tech arms race I was talking about earlier. They also bear the imprint of untutored styles of both visual and verbal expression, joined to an undeniable sophistication, that seems to me to take up a line that extends from Courbet through Johns—and it’s a good, lately neglected line to extend.

Jeff Wall: Tom, it’s not type-casting, it’s just a gentle, old-fashioned sort of categorization. Again, the way you describe Pettibon would also work for thousands. Maybe the problem with the “severe style” is that it doesn’t remain severe for very long. Because once you secede from distinguishing your practice (as high art) from other practices, you will need to find another viable practice (or quit art, which can also be a possible performance). But mass culture is so seductive that it will almost inevitably determine that new practice, and it will do so not in some open and neutral way but in exactly the way it’s being described today, by leading to mimesis of its worst qualities. Warhol understood and played on this. That mimesis and its results recall Greenberg’s caution in “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” more than sixty years ago—that high art needs to maintain its distinction from mass culture at all costs. He stated that so incisively and definitively that his admonition inspired a curiosity about what it would be like to violate that admonition. And, in the context of the transgressive ethos of the same avant-garde, the curiosity was about the most extreme consequences of violating the taboo.

Thomas Crow: I don’t think that what I’m trying to describe could in fact be discovered in thousands of artists. I evoked Courbet and Johns because each of them reached for some overlooked vernacular artifact and then kept it visible in work that no one could deny within the most demanding fine-art context. It can’t be that common, I think, because each of these artists could only manage it for a short time: Courbet in his incorporation of the rural Epinal print manner in his monumental Salon paintings of the early 1850s; Johns, almost exactly a century later, finds a way, for just a few short years, to graft into the Modernist stock a folk-art restraint and obsessive craftedness, a rural vernacular tropism toward symmetry and embellishment of entire surfaces, as well as masking private meanings in these self-imposed disciplines. Both moves had huge effects on later practice, but their epigones can’t claim the same originary stature (I know, nobody’s entirely original; Johns couldn’t have done it outside of his dialogue with Twombly and Rauschenberg, but the synthesis had an impact not reducible to its context). So I guess I’m claiming quite a lot for Pettibon, perhaps because I don’t see strong parallels around him at the moment.

Jack Bankowsky: Jeff, I am gazing out the window at an ordinary urban rooftop and it is making me think of your photographs. This is not exactly a rebuttal to your resistance, but I am recalling Tom’s remarks about some of your images and their relationship to mass culture (via Impressionism, organized leisure, the terrain vague trope, etc.). I’m also thinking of what Alison said about “submerged pop” and less obvious relationships between art and changing technologies. I don’t know if this leads anyplace . . .

Jeff Wall: Jack, I think we could imagine a freer relation between art and mass culture. That is, it now seems both orthodox and obligatory to assume that serious art is inseparably bonded to events and forms of mass culture, but artists (the apparent subjects of “artistic freedom”) are free not to be so bonded. If we can’t conform to Greenberg’s admonition (or anyone’s admonition), we could simply decide to be free of this or that shift or flicker of meaning emitted by Hollywood or wherever. This presumes there is some individual freedom in “free societies.”

Thomas Crow: With Jack’s indie-band model from the talking points in mind, I wonder if we might take a new tack—and I’ll try to get off my deep historical jag. What I’m thinking about is whether actual pop forms necessarily carry the street-level vitality that seems generally assumed, as opposed to the mandarin fine-art culture that always seems in need of a kick from that direction. I’m struck instead by the extreme conservatism of pop-music forms—and not just the corporate packaging kind of conservatism. Three guitars, three chords, and a drum kit have been with us since Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash started up a half-century ago (allowing for the old stand-up bass). In one sense, that set-up never grows old, but it has survived basically unaltered for a very long time. Rap and hip-hop are by now fully half that age, pursuing a similar path of variations on a theme. And what would one say about electronic dance music? The basic idea has been going for a couple of decades. Durable and useful, quite obviously, but visual art has changed enormously over the same spans of time, often while referencing the same relatively static pop-culture background. The main innovations in the latter have been in economics and marketing rather than in the content, where the art-world is conservative in the way it does business, changing only incrementally, but avidly forcing change in the matter to be traded.

Stephen Prina: The “three guitars, three chords, and a drum kit” model may prove, as our contribution to culture, to be tantamount to that of the form of the string quartet in an earlier period. I agree that the forms of popular music have become as regulated and deeply rooted in convention as their counterparts in the classical tradition, but those artists that mine these conventions as self-professed historians of their respective fields—OutKast and Morrissey—stand out ahead of the rest, in my estimation. Of course, a visual artist who assumes the moniker of historian in the field is branded and discarded, paradoxically, as an academic.

Tim Griffin: Given our earlier discussion of the marketed persona in art, I become interested in your thoughts about, say, OutKast, and their methods of historicization. What, if any, “redirections” might be happening there?

Stephen Prina: When OutKast deal with history they do so in a literal way, for instance, Andre 3000 describing a period in his life when he was a student of black music in all its forms and how it was important to their process that he engaged in history in this way. This process is not so different from Thurston Moore assuming the position of resident indie-rock archivist. How this tampers with mass-culture expectations is that these figures make it abundantly clear that they take the conventions of their disciplines seriously. This attitude was once the sole purview of the fine artist.

Thomas Crow: Stephen, your string-quartet analogy makes (I think) the point I was reaching for.

Stephen Prina: I am sitting on a chair. After the “overcast” burns off, I, too, may see the Pacific.