Picasso was crap

by Alex Wisser


orig­i­nally pub­lished on 2009-12-27 at Carnivalaskew.com

The other day I got together with some artist friends to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of putting on a show.  We met at a pub and drank beers and tossed ideas into the air where they van­ished won­der­fully in front of our eyes.  In the end we left the table with a few words and an image sig­ni­fy­ing the pro­duc­tive futil­ity of our process.  Engi­neers and econ­o­mists would have been uncon­solable at the out­come, but as artists, we were quite encour­aged to have worked so hard and ended up with noth­ing – it’s a more dif­fi­cult trick to pull off than peo­ple assume.  I think the first thing an artist does in prepar­ing a ground for work is to clear it of all con­clu­sions.  So, once the con­clu­sions were out of the way, and we were warmly ine­bri­ated, we wan­dered up to a restau­rant for some food and argument.

We ate at an Islamic Chi­nese restau­rant at the top of China Town, shar­ing some amaz­ing food that shall remain unnamed because I was too busy eat­ing it to learn what it was called.  Even­tu­ally the con­ver­sa­tion took a turn toward the eth­i­cal as it inevitably does and the argu­ing began in earnest.  I think I must have started it with a story I love to tell about Tracey Mof­fat, whom I once videoed for the MCA when she had a show on there.  It is a story I tell with rel­ish and a cer­tain amount of admi­ra­tion about how Tracey would walk around the gallery smok­ing and drop­ping her butts on the floor.   It was great to see Tracey, from her posi­tion as the great beloved, show such dis­dain for the petty tyran­ni­cal appur­te­nances of the insti­tu­tion.  For me, it was a deli­cious trans­gres­sion not only of the holy holy white gloved hushed toned sacro­sanc­tity of Thou Shalt Not Touch The Art Work, but more a sat­is­fy­ing dis­re­gard of the mod­ern prud­ery that decrees pub­lic space ster­il­ized of the dirt and death and haz­ard of our liv­ing in it.  It is the kind of prud­ery that is only pos­si­ble in the most afflu­ent of con­texts and if given its own life, will often con­tinue to that ster­ile extreme that excludes the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of life itself.  It’s ideal is per­haps the nat­ural museum tableau (minus the dust and bad light­ing)… So it was grat­i­fy­ing to see the great star drop her ashes on the pol­ished hard­wood floors and gather in the silent side­long glances of the gallery staff, purs­ing their lips in con­ster­na­tion and pre­tend­ing either that it wasn’t hap­pen­ing or that “it’s cool”.  But when I told the story, embell­ish­ing it a bit by adding a gallery assis­tant scur­ry­ing around after the great artist, sweep­ing up the ashes as they fell (they did have some­one clean the ashes up, but com­fort­ably after the fact) – my friend’s reac­tion was sim­ple: “How spoiled”.

I hadn’t con­sid­ered this posi­tion, and sur­pris­ingly, found I liked it, if only because it com­mu­ni­cated with a cer­tain posi­tion I have been try­ing on like an impos­si­ble hat.  And its this, I DON’T LIKE PICASSO.  I don’t admire his work as much as every­one else seems to, but what I really don’t like is PICASSO.  There I said it.  One thing I would really like to be able to do is to dis­like the man despite the high posi­tion of his art, which is some­thing we are per­mit­ted to do in pri­vate, but which is not a ter­ri­bly valid pub­lic posi­tion.  “Oh yes, he was very bad to his women, but what a GREAT artist”.  And, when I admit it, I want my moral con­dem­na­tion of the man to dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of his art.  He was a self­ish lit­tle tes­ti­cle and I’m will­ing to leave it at that.  I don’t see why I have to gape at his stu­pid suc­cess just sim­ply because so many peo­ple agree he was suc­cess­ful.  As far as I’m con­cerned he’s the foot­ball star of the art world, and frankly I don’t like foot­ball stars.

As I jumped on the band­wagon, another friend bravely stood up for the now maligned class of the art star, and rush­ing into the breach began fir­ing away at our slightly post mod­ern posi­tion by argu­ing that artists should demand what they’re worth and why should we con­cern our­selves with defend­ing large, afflu­ent insti­tu­tions like muse­ums and bien­nales to which we sug­gested that he was argu­ing so because one day he wouldn’t mind being the star.  These argu­ments we have all had, and con­tinue end­lessly to have.  We won’t give them up and of course they won’t resolve and we know this and some­how we know that this is the nature of the world we live in, an aspect of decline that is some­how more advanced in that neigh­bour­hood we call the art world.  The strength of con­tem­po­rary art is the advanced state of its deca­dence – the fact that within it all moral and eth­i­cal value is imme­di­ately unsure of itself, caught up in a con­stant cyclone of rel­a­tiv­ity which ren­ders it unsta­ble and inca­pable of sus­tain­ing the sin­gu­lar, deter­mined posi­tion from which it can be defended or advanced.  I think this is a pretty good descrip­tion of con­tem­po­rary exis­tence, except in most other are­nas the illu­sions that make pos­si­ble our moral or eth­i­cal or polit­i­cal stances, are still enough in place to allow us to inhabit them with some kind of secu­rity and some sense of poten­tial effi­cacy (though I think most peo­ple would admit they are less in place than they were in the 60’s).

Of course nobody won the argu­ment, though I did observe that the posi­tion of post-modern rad­i­cal ethics was far more unsure of itself than it would have been even five years ago, indi­cat­ing another ero­sion, or per­haps a chang­ing of the guard or even just a change in my own per­spec­tive, who knows.  As the argu­ment dwin­dled to a kind of teeth pick­ing appre­ci­a­tion for the amaz­ing food we had just eaten (the restau­rant was Wee­gan, a per­se­cuted Islamic minor­ity in China; a fact I men­tion expressly because it is not ironic), I real­ized that I had some­how failed to men­tion that I like the work of Jack­son Pol­lock even though I dis­like the man and that my love of his work some­how makes my cen­sure of him far less stri­dent.  It’s a con­tra­dic­tion at the heart of my impos­si­ble hat that makes wear­ing it very uncom­fort­able… but still, com’on: Picasso was crap.