New York

Futura 2000

Tony Shafrazi Gallery

Theodor Adorno has written, “Vulgarity has no history because it undialectically imitates social debasement in its invariance; graffiti are among the phenomena of eternal recurrence. Maybe in art no subject matter will ever be beyond the pale as being too vulgar. In any event, vulgarity is not a fixed taboo but a relation between the subject matter and the public one addresses. But vulgarity has meanwhile expanded its scope, becoming a totality, and in so doing it poses a threat to anything that goes on pretending to be noble and sublime. This is one of the reasons for the demise of the tragic.” In Futura 2000’s work vulgar, graffiti has expanded its scope to the extent of pretending to be noble and sublime, even at certain moments, as in Golden Boy, 1984, vulgarizing the tragic so that the “debased” public will feel comfortable with it. There is no question that a certain kind of beauty emerges from these paintings, but it is not the beauty that dialectically dissociates itself from the life-world subject matter it starts from, warning against overinvolvement with life. It is rather a kind of abstract ornamental beauty—disguised vulgarity, by reason of the dialectic missing from it.

The first subway graffiti used far from individualized means to proclaim individuality where there was none. To get a certain stream of paint flow from the spray can was enough to make one “individual.” Technique was relied on somewhat over-heavily, then, and now that “vision” has entered, and with it more authentic individuality (and the recognition desired in the first place), the hollowness of the original graffiti adventure becomes self-evident. The early subject matter was the artist’s own narcissism, transmuted entirely into the delicious eroticism of spraying. That’s not much different from the eroticism of pouring or staining, but those activities were long ago tied to a preconception of what esthetic beauty is. Without that preconception the painterly act becomes vulgar decoration, essentially invariant for all its temperamental use of technique. Futura 2000’s triumph is to have reconciled the tragic beauty of high art with individuality as it is understood vulgarly: making one’s mark. The masterful gorgeousness of his art eschews the psychological dimension, leaving an ornamental abstract residue which brilliantly mimics authentic art with all the vulgar power at its command.

Donald Kuspit