Art and Money Laundering

basquiat d

The “painting” above is by Basquiat and when I first saw it in the 80s it looked like the worst crap I’d ever seen claiming to be art. Oddly enough, I seemed to be the only artist in existence in America who had this opinion. Everyone else around me either seemed to want to copy this way of working or hail it as a great breakthrough into a wonderful new expressionist way of painting. Either that or they simply kept whatever they thought to themselves, as Basquiat had been anointed by the monied elites of NYC and whoever they anoint has always been automatically sacrosanct. How and why they hold this power has always been a mystery to me but I imagine it’s something along the lines of how all authoritarian regimes are worshipped for the power they wield. Not for the culture they create; as they don’t create culture. They create mindless conformity.

Can anybody really look atthe work above and think there is anything whatsoever worthwhile about it artistically? Only if they have no standards or understanding whatsoever of what constitutes an actual work of art. Basquiat is certainly representative of the total collapse of American art in the 1980s. It’s why I keep trying to emphasize that what is happening now, along with the manifold groans and objections to it, is not one bit different from what was being made in the 1980s. And what was made in the 1980s was just the logical extension of the demolition of the fine arts that took place through the theories of Greenberg and Duchamp and the legions of critics writing to annotate and bolster their definitions of what was art.

In the early 1980s, pap began to be generated by critics like Rene Ricard through elite magazines like Art Forum.  The Radiant Child, published there in 1981, can be read as an example of how the high brow gibberish of Columbia University art criticism moved to the low-brow gibberish characteristic of the Village Voice. Warhol had been in decline prior to the arrival of Reagan and the banking class nouveau riche collectors that propelled the New Andy Revolution. The nouve riche go-go cokehead collector class were in no mood for the total boredom of Judd and Stella and Ellsworth Kelly brain dead modernism. They wanted party art, as Rene gives a glimpse of here in his breathless ga-ga eyed (pre-Gaga) prose:

Artists have a responsibility to their work to raise it above the vernacular. Perhaps it is the critic’s job to sort out from the melee of popular style the individuals who define the style, who perhaps inaugurated it (where is Taki) and to bring them to public attention. The communal exhibitions of the last year and half or so, from the Times Square Show, the Mudd Club shows, the Monumental Show, to the New York/New Wave Show at PS 1, have made us accustomed to looking at art in a group, so much so that an exhibit of an individual’s work seems almost antisocial. Colab, Fashion Moda, etc. have created a definite populist ambience, and like all such organizations, from the dawn of modern, have dug a base to launch new work. These are vast communal enterprises as amazing that they got off the ground as the space shuttle and even more, fly-by-night, that they landed on solid ground.

The solid ground they landed on, of course,  was as financial commodities to be bid up to stratosopheric heights over the years and now constituting much of the bedrock of our fictitious global financial colossus. These artistic masterpieces are also very useful for money laundering, as Patricia Cohen describes in the Times in a piece from 2013, Valuable as Art but Priceless as a Tool to Launder Money.

Another mystery to me is why so many artists don’t want to look at what they’re actually a part of by not raising any objections to the shambles that the “profession” they consider to be such a noble undertaking exists in.

Anyway, I greatly appreciate the artists out there sending in links to what is going on out there. Thanks to Goetz Kluge for sending me the Cohen piece which I hadn’t seen. I just keep laboring on with my own work and so don’t have the time necessary to do much more than throw in my own take on things while looking through the evidence that is so abundant of our total decline as a culture.

I simply don’t see that art exists at all anymore except perhaps in the kind of far margin that I inhabit where it’s completely neglected in favor of what is considered to be “relevant.” But what is this art relevant to other than fashion, celebrity, brainless decoration and promotion? That’s the question I’m posing for those truly interested in art being able to continue in a world that is turning more and more robotic and empty of feeling by the day.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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3 Responses to Art and Money Laundering

  1. sydsart says:

    I was doing a Master’s in art at the same time my youngest child (20) was doing his BA in Art and Film Studies. He raved about this artist (Basquiat). He was a real artist of the people because he was making ART free on the walls and subways of NYC. I went and looked and found that it looked just like graffiti. I decided that it must be a generational thing because I couldn’t understand what my son and all the others were seeing. But than the thought came to me, it was and still is the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Here are a few paragraphs from Jennifer Clements “Widow Basquiat”:

    “Jean-Michel never reads. He picks up books on mythology, history and anatomy, comic books or newspapers. He looks for the words that attack him and puts them on the canvas. He listens for things Suzanne says and writes them on his drawings. He listens to the television.
    One day he says, “Suzanne, I’m almost a famous artist now and I don’t know how to draw. Do you think I should be concerned?”
    She says, “Well, just teach yourself and there will be no problem.”

    That pretty much sums up the pre-requisite for 80s American art stardom. Don’t read a book. Don’t know how to draw. Don’t learn how to draw. Do lots of cocaine and go to the disco every night.

    Nothing about Basquiat was new. Norman Mailer and the radical chic faction he represented were hyping graffiti art in the mid-70s. There were hundreds and thousands of Basquiats just as there are now millions of them.

    One doesn’t even need a 6th grade education to be an artist and that’s the level that our intellectual and artistic culture is at (click through 500 TV stations to confirm this) . So it’s not just fitting but predictable that a Basquiat would sit in the Number 2 spot in a list of the 20 Top Contemporary Artists in the year 2013 (p. 106, The Supermodel and the Brillo Box by Don Thompson). We can go into who is number 1 and why that is as well.

    All of this is perfectly clear and obvious to anyone looking at it objectively and who possess a clear mind and some degree of intelligence. Those attributes just don’t happen to exist in the contemporary art world, any more than they exist in the realm of political theater taking place daily in our newspapers. Americans have confused Reality with Reality TV. Reality no longer exists. J.G. Ballard predicted we’d have a movie actor President long before Reagan was elected. Ballard, as well another Brit like Huxley, saw America far, far more clearly than Americans themselves can see it. They can’t see it at all.

    Carl Sagan years ago wrote that Americans have lost the ability to distinguish between what fells good and what is right.

    We have no moral sense or moral compass. All that we believe in is “Just Do It”. Like Basquiat. Not a brain in his head. Live for today. Splash your face and name all over creation with a spray can. Hit the disco every night. Get coked up. Screw everybody you can–literally and figuratively. That’s the American Dream now. He’s the perfect example of what it means to be American and our ethics. The Me Generation….

    See Pain and Gain. It sums us up. The Basquiats are the perfect artists to represent us. Or see Wolf of Wall Street or pretty much anything coming out of Hollywood. Liberal Hollywood with their great Liberal values:

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