New York

Hans Namuth

Leo Castelli

This was a meretricious show; it was about the selling of artists. It was even meretricious stylistically, with the forwardness of the color in these photographic portraits and the posturing of the artists who are their subjects. Why write about it, then, why not let it pass unnoticed into oblivion? Because it is a symptom of that adulation of the artist as a “phenomenon” that Clement Greenberg long ago condemned in the treatment of Picasso, but which is still prevalent. It is a symptom of art’s condition as entertainment, and very much a part of that social order of events in which popular entertainers celebrate themselves. For that reason, I think I should mention none of the artists, who already have enough publicity, but rather deal with the disease. Its symptoms are familiar; the greats are grouped together in a pantheon which not only has about it the aura of hierarchical exclusivity and idealization, but also conveys the sense that all the work that issues from it, whether good or bad, is a sign of genius. And that is just the point: to make one overlook the work, or at least not seriously evaluate it. The work becomes secondary to the persona created by the photograph, which through its visual hype converts a fallible, mortal artist into an infallible creator. The worship and self-worship of artists, and the cult of creativity, can be fatal, for they prod the artist into delusions of grandeur. Finding significance in their own persons, these artists hardly seem to have to worry about significance in their art. In the end these pictures are about privilege, wealth, and the upper-classness open to a few star artists. This may all seem platitudinous, but what it speaks to remains seriously rampant. Of course, since an entertainer has become president, why not an artist—after he first becomes, all-out, an entertainer?

Donald Kuspit