Wonderful article !
Our author asks, “Did it mean anything?” and “Am I missing the point?” In the context of this snotty and dismissive piece, I am sure he meant these questions to be rhetorical. Yet they beg to be answered.
Yes Andrew, you missed the point. And there is meaning there, many levels of it. If you had actually been interested, maybe you should have asked the woman in the elevator what she thought. If you can't get the Cliff's Notes, at least try to find a secondary source that will help you. But if you are too jaded to look, you guarantee you won't see anything.
Just to give you a very superficial glance at this piece which is a deeper look than you gave it a baseball bat speaks of homophobia to queer people, almost as clearly as your remarks that reverse the cauality of marginalization do. Being invited to touch somebody who is in a state of highly sexualized pain speaks volumes to anyone who allows it to be real to them. Really real. Not funny. Not gimmicky. Stop judging for a minute and have an emotional experience. It was soulful communion with a kindred spirit for me. Given a chance, it could have been transformative for you too, unless you are too cool to have feelings beyond irritation with the subway.
Art doesn't need to teach you about immigration rights to be political. Politics are about power, who has it, who is excluded from it. You should know something about that. Clearly you enjoy the power of being able to publicly judge someone's work and congratulate yourself for being politically aware enough to reference Modern Primitives and Marxism in the same piece. You have a voice and a place where it is welcome. Try imagining what it would be like if you didn't. If you can't, ask somebody who can.
Good art has many possible interpretations. It challenges its audience to create and participate in meaning. If you aren't up to the challenge, don't try to pretend superiority. Instead, try a little harder to pierce the veil of your own predjudices and allow yourself to view art without your patronizing attitude.
Nothing indicates your failure to understand better than the claim that meaning is absent. Next time, look a little harder.
So, dagger, you are saying this is a bona fide experience. I'm not clear on how. I think the flippancy on the part of the article stems from the same skepticism one might resort to when having to listen to the tired old prayers said at a wedding or funeral. The words having long since become ghosts of the initial prayees. We have seen in the last three decades numerous body mutilations in the safe confines of the antiseptic gallery.
Don't you think the writer might be saying the baseball bat as a synecdoche for heterosexual hatred toward queers is a stereotype? Can't the extremities exhibited fall into an exotic staging? Moreover, one can always look at the efficacy: how many gays have been removed from violence because of this piece? How many gay bashers can view this and say 'dam straight, that's what the queer deserves!', thus serving to reenforce rather than educate the hatred?
Ahh. The sweet smell of psuedobohemian criticism. I'm wary of writing whose rhetorical aim is to produce the author as holier/more-political-than-thou, and as cooler-than-thou (turning his nose up at Athey's durational performance as both not sensational enough, and as not cool enough - meaning, in his eyes, underattended during the bit of time he was there). The author of this piece does all this while sidestepping the hollowness of his own gesture towards “the real” (“the people” marching somewhere else in NYC, outside the gallery walls).
If the author of this piece were REALLY concerned about immigrant rights he might have attended a march himself, rather than open a piece of criticism whining about his slow subway ride, and then invoke this strike and march to cast Athey's work as a bad-faith political action. For many of us, the urgency of the fight for the rights of immigrants is far more than a rhetorical crow bar we use when it's convenient in an essay. If it mattered that much to the author, why didn't he write about artists actually engaged with these issues directly - Coco Fusco, for example?
Shame on artforum for giving this platform to a person so ill informed about the relationship between art and politics - if a gay artist isn't narrativizing his homosexuality, or if a working class artist isn't producing ‘institution-critique’ within a gallery space then sex and class politics aren't there? That's his suggestion.
If what the author wants is that version of ‘gay’ art, well, maybe he should check out Tim Miller. Fact of the matter is, Athey's work - even when it more explicitly responds to politics - never does so literally.
And regarding the Marxist critique: Think twice before taking that on from this podium. Artforum very, very rarely even acknowledges art that happens outside gallery spaces - one of the reasons why Athey's work is barely acknowledged by the artpress (funded by the ad menu for galleries to your right!). Fact is the author would most likely NOT have attended this performance at all had it been staged in a bar, or in a theater - as Athey's work often is.
Bravo to the respondant above (or below - not sure where on the page this will show up) who thought long enough about Athey's piece to describe the weirdness of being invited to touch someone in such a state.
A friend of mine made a great comparison between Athey's piece and Matthew Barney's preoccupation with Vasoline. I mean, why not make that link? Where Barney gives us the hysterical male body as reified object (gorgeously produced photographs/video/installations), Athey's durational performance gives us his own body as hysterical object (masculine/feminine), as messy, leaky, vulnerable, tough - and right there for you to touch.
Weirdly, the vast majority of the “touchers” were women - something the writer fails to mention - though it was true right from the start.
And, it came as no surprise to me that a writer for Artforum would mock a women's attempt to engage him on the piece. God forbid we allow sincerity and feeling into the gallery! Or into our writing! Yikes!
FYI : There's an essay by Amelia Jones in the current issue of TDR on Athey's work with the artist Juliana Snapper (the operatic performance piece “Judas Cradle”). Anyone interested in a more informed and provocative critical take on Athey should check it out.
And, in the interest of revealing one's location: I am ‘Professor Doyle’ of one of the photos, also described as the ‘young assistant’ (!). I collaborate with Amelia Jones, and I did help out with Ron's performance. So, my perspective is very much informed by my friendship with the artist, familiarity with his work, and by having been at the event for the full five hours. (Too bad our guy missed the last hour - great crowd, with a nice sense of humor.) I was excited to see Artforum take on Athey's work, even in the ‘blog’ setting - horrified to see it down so badly, and with so little respect for either the artist and his audience.
Unlike most of the writers who review for this magazine, I'll actually tell you what my investment is, and trust you to decide for yourself how to read my perspective on the subject.