Here’s a short passage from James Breslin’s marvelous biography of Mark Rothko (p. 422) that gives a clear indication of the transfer of paintings meaning from that of a spiritual form of expression to a debased materialistic one. It gives us a clear sense of Rothko’s moral integrity. :
Robert and Ethel Scull, in short represented everything about the evolving New York art world of the 1960s, everything about life, that Rothko abhorred. Ethel remembered an East Hampton party, where, after being introduced to Rothko, she began the conversation by saying “What a great pleasure it was to meet him.
Rothko: “That no big deal… a lot of people are glad to meet me.”
Ethel (to herself): “I own a Rothko and he’s so mean to me.” She asked if she could come to his studio and see his pictures.
Rothko: “I don’t just let anybody up to my loft.”
Ethel: “Well, I’m not just anybody. I’m collecting art and I love your work and I would love to see it.”
Rothko: “No, you can’t come up.”
Another quote from page 433:
The shift from Abstract Expressionism to Pop involved more than just another of the generational battles that have characterized movements in all the arts for the past two centuries. One boundary that Rothko and his contemporaries drew very firmly was the line separating high art from popular art.
The Sculls were the primary financiers of Pop art. Robert Scull wanted to buy out the Johns’ entire first show. But Castelli remarked that would be “vulgar.” Just imagine associating Pop art with vulgarity!
In 1968, in a lecture at MOMA, Leo Steinberg prophetically observed, although the writing was clearly on the wall since Leo himself was the guy who smoothed Johns into high culture celebrity with the kind of specious nonsense that passes for art criticism:
Avant-garde art, lately Americanized, is for the first time associated with big money. And this is because its occult aims and uncertain future have been successfully translated into homely terms. For far-out modernism, we can now read “speculative growth stock”; for apparent quality, “market attractiveness”; and for an adverse change of taste, “technical obsolescence.” A feat of language to absolve a change of attitude. Art is not, after all, what we thought it was; in the broadest sense it is hard cash. The whole of art, its growing tip included, is assimilated to familiar values. Another decade, and we shall have mutual funds based on securities in the form of pictures held in bank vaults.
At this point, presumably, Steinberg was perhaps regretting his participation in the debacle of painting. Who knows? At any rate he went back to lecturing on art history. I saw one of his lectures on “The Sexuality of Christ” focused on the adornments on Christ’s genitalia throughout art history. From one form of dementia to another. Great religious art psychoanalyzed by Leo Steinberg. An example of the nihilism in art criticism. Chapter 29 is titled “Images of self-touch and of Infant erection.” Hasn’t Leo got anything better to do with his time. Well, that’s the kind of stuff that you get paid for in art history these days, so who can blame him? Everyone’s got to make a living.
At any rate, the Sculls sealed the deal with their big auction in 1974 where they dumped the lot of their pop collection for the most astronomical investment returns imaginable at the time. The financial sharks saw the blood in the water and the rest is history. Casino capitalism took over. Artists made overnight from half-assed grad school work and fortunes distributed out among the players (investors). It began small time with artists like Frank Stella were hustled into MoMA out of Princeton making pinstriped paintings. Peddled with enough pseudo-intellectual gibberish to put anybody to sleep in minutes, most of it supplied by Frank himself. Stella is another great performer and entertainer. Are we really supposed to believe that people get transported by looking in wonder at a row of pinstripes? Or are they hallucinating dollar signs? Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Charles Saatchi turned it into a form of sheer financial genius…. 7 million dollar sharks and sperm spattered bedsheets and whatnot. Saatchi had managed Maggie Thatcher’s advertising campaign that put her in charge in Britain, while we had Michael Deaver dump Reagan on us. The results were the same in both countries. In the US we’re experiencing the full-blown end results of their institution of Free Market fundamentalism. The artists that were made during this insane bubble will collapse along with it in the near future.
We’ve experienced a series of collapses. But the mega bust hasn’t hit yet. Obama and his Republican handmaidens are tuning it up as I type. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, are throwing off decades of military dictatorship.
Back in the 70s the Last Poets sung “The Revolution will not be televised.” But apparently it will be.
The most wonderful part of this Divine Comedy is the name of the financial speculators that set this thing aflame. The Skulls.
Duchamp=Thanatos=Freud’s death instinct
PS. Who says that these pop artists don’t evolve? Stella started out with simple pinstripes and now he’s turned into Caravaggio. It’s quite amazing, really. Caravaggio couldn’t figure you out that you had to haphazardly stick metal projections out from the canvas to get real “Working Space”. That’s how space works in painting, you see, according to Clement Greenberg by way of Frank Stella. First it’s all flat. Then you scribble with oil sticks all over metal junk. Caravaggio was handicapped because aluminum hadn’t been invented yet. So one has to forgive him his primitive spatial illusions.