New York

Don Celender and John Fawcett

O.K. Harris Works of Art

Don Celender’s art is an entertainment. It takes the form of a one-man letter-writing campaign whereby Celender, in the name of a newly instituted art movement, contacts high officials in various organizations asking that they each execute a preposterous proposal. The proposals are written with an ingenious literary wit, eliciting responses ranging from sympathetic interest to outright anger. For example, as part of his Political Art Movement he sent a letter to Lawrence O’Brien, chairman of the National Democratic Party, asking that he “Train the orangutans at the Oregon Primate Center to master the abstract expressionism style of painting,” and then to “supply them with art materials for the making of signs and banners for the 1972 National Democratic Convention.” The repartee, from a special assistant to the chairman, expressed interest in the proposal but decided that the idea was precluded by a previous commitment to the “chimpanzees at the Miami Zoo who have apparently mastered Miró.” Other responses took all forms from new proposals directed back to Celender for execution to vehement replies requesting that he please stop cluttering up the mail.

In 1971 Celender issued a series of Baseball Art Ball Cards, where the heads of various managers and players on baseball cards are replaced with a photo of an artist, art critic, or dealer. Among others we have Duchamp as the Cards manager, Warhol as Yanks outfielder, and Ivan Karp as the Dodgers manager. In a similar series called Art Ball Playing Cards we have Stella as the Chiefs running back, Noland as Packers cornerback, and Barbara Rose as the Jets wide receiver.

In Celender’s recent show he presented pages taken from the 1974 edition of Olympics of Art, where he places humorous superlative classifications on diverse aspects of the current art scene. These factitious “olympic awards” are the academy awards of the art world. Although I would be inclined to agree with most of Celender’s decisions, my votes certainly would not have gone to the winners of the “Least Known Genius Artist—Gregory Gillespie,” to the “Dullest Critic—Michael Fried,” to the “Worst Dressed Critic—Max Kozloff,” or to the “Most Predictable Art Journal—Artforum.” In the case of the latter, just the fact my review finds itself on these pages does away with such a restricting classification.

John Fawcett similarly employs humor in his work, but its manifestation is more subtle than Celender’s. Fawcett’s dream world deals with the cartoon as imagery in fine art—an old problem. Pop artists employed elements of popular culture in part to satirize American consumerism. Cartoonlike imagery remains idiomatic to much contemporary painting, as is exemplified by the recent “Extraordinary Realities” exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Fawcett’s iconography is more accurately described as a fetish—he has been drawing “Moose Mouse” and “Darn-old-Dock” from “the tender age of five,” long preceding Oldenburg’s Mickey Mouse fantasy that culminates in the Documenta Mouse Museum. The underlying point is Fawcett’s satirical allusion to the Disney fortune and a people mesmerized into its support by that cute little rodent that so many young Americans grew up with.

The recent paintings suggest problems of optical perception, in this case one’s perception of the flaccid pages of a comic book. The characters are stretched out of shape and are so distorted as to suggest either that we are viewing them from an acute angle, as the anamorphically distorted skull in Holbein’s painting of the French Ambassadors, or that we are viewing the characters as they would appear in reflection off an irregularly curved circus mirror. We then have a case where we are presented with the synthesized results of a long series of transpositions; beginning with the mouse, to the mouse with humanlike characteristics in cartoon, to the comic book page, to the distorted mirror image of this page, to fine art on the surface of a canvas, and finally to us. How should we react? I laughed.

Francis Naumann