New York

Mark Bidlo

Leo Castelli

In 1967, in a brilliant talk on “Critical Schizophrenia and the Intentionalist Method,” Max Kozloff called attention to the “sensibility” of ‘Warholism,’ in which nothing has to be proved or justified, and that is designed to invalidate“ critical consciousness, with its apparatus of subtle distinctions and discriminations. ”Aggressive" Warholism is still with us, and alive and well in Mike Bidlo’s art. By neutralizing the critical spirit, a Warholistic art gives itself unconditional validity and sovereignty. It caters to our gullibility, our unconscious wish to be taken in, to believe indiscriminately. A Warholistic art reduces us to a state that is as prone, accepting, and unresponsive as its subject matter. Above all, the Warholistic attitude exists to mask the parasitism of the Warholistic artist, whose principal message is that we are all in a position of blind dependence, which critical autonomy hardly alters, so why pretend otherwise?

I would be accused of missing the point if I argued that Bidlo’s copies of the works of modern masters—in this show, it was Picasso (80 “treatments” of women, 1983–87), it was Morandi in 1986, and, earlier, Pollock—reduce the debate between original and copy, and painting and photography, to trivial absurdity, and run Duchampian receptivity—the notion of the artist as passive medium, a conception inseparable from Pop art (if not an exhaustive explanation of it)—into the ground, trivializing the idea of antiart. Clearly, the point here is simply to enjoy the irony and “originality” of copying—to have fun playing this particular language game of modern art. The apparent aim of such art is not to examine art with a certain judicious skepticism, in hopes of determining its basis, validity, and relationship to its time, but to provide entertainment. Instead of analyzing, I should matter-of-factly notice that Bidlo is celebrating celebrity. I should appreciate that today Picasso’s treatment of woman seems excessive, soap-operatic, and passé, that art in general has become amoral attunement with a simplistic notion of the “demands” of the Zeitgeist, that reproduction has come into its own as a model for painting (for Bidlo’s paintings are not after the Picasso originals but after photographic copies), and that supposedly superior cool (evident in Bidlo’s dull, aphysical anesthetic surfaces) has returned with a vengeance after expressionistic hot, signaling a new trend. The exhibition of the works salon-style in the gallery’s basement space also suggests the changed meaning of “underground”—its neutralization into “fashionableness.” Indeed, the ultimately nihilistic point of Warholism is that there’s no arguing with fashion: what’s “in” is mysteriously, contagiously in, and there’s no point in critically examining the mechanism of its “in”-ness, for the contagion is irrefutable.

Maybe, but let’s get the full point of what’s going on: it’s not only the critical spirit that’s being trivialized by Bidlo’s works, but Picasso’s achievement. All reproduction is uncreative and facile in comparison to that power of creative transformation we call originality, and with his facility Bidlo makes Picasso seem facile, invalidating his creative struggle with style, history, and the subject of woman, among other things. Bidlo’s copies eliminate our sense of Picasso’s ego strength, his unusually sustained power of engagement with these issues. He sets out to disillusion us with Picasso’s art and person, both of which may be problematic but neither of which can be discounted with such shallow facility. By reducing Picasso entirely to his recognition factor, Bidlo tells a big lie about him. Oscar Wilde once praised plagiarism because it carried good ideas out into the world, but the plagiarism of blatant copying elevates plagiarism as an end in itself, making it a substitute for having any ideas.

What Bidlo is in effect saying with his copies of Picasso “once removed” is that he, Bidlo, hasn’t the intelligence or character or energy or will to risk the struggle to find an artistic solution to the problem of living in the contemporary world and making art today. It is as though he is saying that what was good enough for Picasso and Paris several generations ago is good enough, even in its tarnished, reproduced form, for today’s New York artist. What hard times New York art has fallen on in Bidlo! The transposition from painting to photograph back to painting (of photograph) is hardly worth the theoretical trouble, although no doubt it is commercially viable (which I suppose makes it valid). There are apparently enough people out there who want to own an ersatz Picassso to support Bidlo’s project of producing such collectibles. Warhol declared himself a businessman rather than an artist; the same must be said about Bidlo. Warholism makes clear that we are more likely to buy in an atmosphere of contagion than one of reflection, and it is the contagiousness of Picasso’s art that Bidlo is cashing in on.

Donald Kuspit