Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

March 22, 2009 - 9:18pm

March 22, 2009 - 9:18pm -- Carol Diehl
The greatest advantage to a blog is that I can write about a show I haven’t seen and don’t intend to see (I’ll use my broken foot, now mending nicely, thank you, as an excuse, although I’ve probably seen all the Lisa Yuskavage paintings I need to in one lifetime). But I will use it as an opportunity to rail against the idea that an artist’s gender, or his/her intention or surmised intention, political or otherwise, has anything to do with the aesthetic value of a work of art. What if we suddenly found out that all of Yuskavage’s paintings had been done by Russ Meyer? Or the seven dwarfs? What if they weren’t on exhibition at David Zwirner, but some of the “unique images” offered by Arcadia Fine Arts? What if Yuskavage had been trained, not at Yale, but by a Bob Ross certified instructor? What would that change, really?

I found a Washington Post interview from 2007 that delineates thought pro and con about Yuskavage, and then this, from Jerry Saltz’s latest piece in New York:

The same bogus arguments come up every time there’s a Lisa Yuskavage show. Is her work feminist? Is she, oy, “critiquing the male gaze?” At the opening of Yuskavage’s current solo outing, I was standing between two paintings: Figure in Interior, a picture of an anorexic nude on her knees with her legs akimbo, shaved vulva exposed, white cream/semen dripping from her face onto her breasts; and Reclining Nude, a picture of a recumbent girl in a glowing green glen, her breasts pointing in two directions, legs splayed to expose pink genitalia protruding from blonde pubic hair. A well-known museum curator sidled up and swooned, “Lisa’s paintings are as rich as Vermeer’s and Boucher’s. They’re as sumptuous as the background of the Mona Lisa.” I blinked silently until she mentioned Courbet. Then I bitchily snipped, “If you think these paintings have that kind of mojo, you’ve either never looked at those paintings or you know nothing about painting—which I’ve written about you.” We smiled at each other and parted. I love the art world.

While I don’t necessarily draw the same conclusions as Saltz about what is important now, we agree, that with the social and economic changes of the last few months, the era of forced cynicism, as evidenced by Murakami, Hirst, Koons, Prince and others, including Yuskavage (and perhaps Currin), may have come to a close. It’s not enough to make work that comments on art; we want the real thing.


While I wouldn't put Yuskavage (or Currin) on the same plane as Murakami, Hirst, Koons or Prince, I couldn't agree more with your conclusion. I was aghast at Jerry Saltz's praise for Josh Smith's work in that same piece; I find his work as cynical (and empty) as it gets, and I do hope we are entering a new era where attitude won't trump substance any longer.

Totally agree that L.Y. along with similar are quickly going to be seen to belong to a past and frankly deplorable era. And it probably stretches right back through the 90s - so it's not one that strictly coincides with the last Bush administration.

For me this stuff has always seemed to signal an approaching crisis of some kind, from quite early on (say mid 90s). In as much as it centers on America, I've always suspected it signalled an unmistakeable decline, at a deep aesthetic or moral level before economic or political matters.

There's that corny view of art whereby it's supposed to pick up on a culture or civilisation's symptoms, like an early warning system and I learned about all that studying classical culture and the Renaissance, but it always seemed it bit idealized, a bit wise-after-the-event.

Strangely, as I get older, I'm starting to think there really are these larger patterns, maybe it's because you have to have lived through them to really perceive them.

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