New York

Larry Clark

When I walked into “punk Picasso,” Larry Clark’s first New York gallery exhibition in several years, I thought I had entered a Conceptual-art installation. Here were many juxtapositions of photos and texts, photos and photos, texts and texts, texts and heroin wrappers (the latter artfully arrayed à la Richard Tuttle), as well as related objects, e.g., Untitled (Severed head of ‘Vincent’ from Teenage Caveman), 2001. This surfeit of information—kind of like Hans Haacke’s, or Hanne Darboven’s, or Gerhard Richter’s, but not quite—transmitted an overriding impression that here was lots of important stuff to read and study.

It turns out, though, that this Conceptual-art “look” arose from the fact that the collages are page layouts for Clark’s limited-edition artist’s book, also titled punk Picasso. The gallery makes no secret of this, but as soon as one realizes it, the aesthetic value of the exhibition effectively evaporates, and cult value appears in its place. Larry Clark is notorious; Larry Clark is a star—isn’t that so much more than “just” being a really good photographer and filmmaker?

Though the collages/page layouts reflect art as well as infamy—there is no shortage of pictures taken directly from Clark’s photographic series—in essence, this show is for groupies and about being a groupie. A young artist and writer told me he had spent hours there. “It was so incredibly moving,” he said. “I cried. And I read everything.” (Everything? Why not read Tolstoy, or a book on economics, or even W—you know, something useful and improving or beautiful and fun?) By contrast, another artist friend commented irritably, “I’m tired of a middle-aged man’s obsession with teenagers,” and “I have two teenage kids. I’m sick of teenagers, period.” Then there’s me—not quite worn out by teenage lust, at least as a voyeur, but also not convinced that the autobiographical “thrust” in Clark’s work overall fully redeems slogging through his e-mails.

Maybe Clark’s obsession with teenagers isn’t the problem; maybe it’s obsession itself. A romantic belief persists that the only kinds of sexual, romantic, and aesthetic pursuits of real interest are those fueled by delusional manias. Though obsession is where heroin-shooting, jackrabbit-fucking teens and the enumerative and documentary strategies of Conceptual art meet, the tabloid exploits and incoherent musings of this obsessive artist, his packaged ephemera and desiderata, snapshots and Post-its, serve here as fuel for the fixations of his fans. Cult value may overlap with such wan sentiments as interest and appreciation (for the photographic series “Tulsa,” 1963–71, and “Teenage Lust,” 1972–80, for Clark’s various films), but in this case, unfortunately, it superseded them.

Was it all pretty much a waste? Not entirely. A series of collages documents and comments on the suicide of Justin Pierce, one of the stars of Kids. Clark adds a comic-strip text balloon to a picture of the late actor: I’M DEAD. Heartrending. Well, maybe I did feel a little bad. Pierce was so cute.

David Rimanelli