Inky Depths


Lions and tigers and . . . Jasper Johns? Oh my! That may have been your first reaction too, when you saw the glammy 20-page Annie Leibovitz “Wizard of Oz” spread in last month’s Vogue, in which famous artists play all the major roles, except Dorothy, who is represented by the super-long-necked British starlet Keira Knightley, outfitted in Balenciaga and the like.

Knightley’s supporting cast includes, as Uncle Henry, Francesco Clemente, playing the goofy sad-eyed pseudo-saint he’s been impersonating for decades in these celebrity shoots. In the role of Glinda the Good Witch and wearing a sprawling white Dior number is the towering beanpole Kara Walker. It’s daunting to see this toughie with a magic wand, although there is a twitchy hint of wickedness about her.

Dorothy’s three traveling companions are a hobo-like Brice Marden as the Scarecrow, John Currin as the Tin Man, and Bert Lahr look-alike Jasper Johns as the Cowardly Lion (Julian Schnabel supposedly turned down the part at the last minute). Chuck Close plays an imperious Wizard in his wheelchair and the already witchy Kiki Smith is perfect as the melting Wicked Witch of the West. In the part of a flying monkey is that imp of the perverse, Jeff Koons, clutching an alarmed-looking Knightley. The pictures only lack a William Wegman Weimaraner as Toto.

In the late 1990s, pretty, young, white, heterosexual artists adorned the pages of glossy magazines and gossip columns. Back then, artists were making a mockery of themselves while laughing all the way to the bank. The Leibovitz shoot is disconcerting but not bogus in a high-’90s way. It mixes genders and generations while treating artists as if they’re movie stars. Of course, it still makes you wonder just how much attention the super-famous require. But whatever has happened, we’re not in Soho anymore.

Art magazines are also indulging in the celebritization of artists, but they’re bringing something stinky to the mix. Take ArtReview‘s annual “Power 100 List” and Art + Auction‘s “Power Issue,” both considered art world jokes since they first appeared in 2001 and 1996, respectively. Recently each came out with a list; both were based on money and as self-interested as ever. In addition to museum directors, mega- collectors, auction house bigwigs, art fair pashas, art advisers, and the below-average overhyped painter Marlene Dumas, both lists are stocked with the magazine’s advertisers and the artists they represent. It would be a hoot if it weren’t so craven.

Predictably, ArtReview places Damien Hirst, “who rocketed up from last year’s 78th place,” and his dealer, Larry Gagosian, “who has more artists in the ‘Power 100’ than any other dealer and who also has more square footage in more cities,” in the two top spots. “Hirst had a phenomenal year,” the magazine gushes, citing “his ‘Pharmacy’ sale at Sotheby’s which made over 22 million dollars in less than two hours.” Overlooking his lousy Gagosian show,
ArtReview raves that Hirst has “four studios, a full-time staff of 50, a 300-room Gothic castle, and plans for a gallery in London.” You have to love a publication that not only has the gall to include Frank Dunphy, who oversees the business affairs of rich artists like Rachel Whiteread, but places him ahead of her because “every morning he has a chat with Damien.”

Art + Auction‘s list is as self-absorbed but not as sexy because it doesn’t even have the brass to rank its names. Its biases are still blatant: Of 84 slots just nine are assigned to women. Eight “power couples” only make matters creepier. ArtReview‘s list has only 19 individual women, although it too includes weird art couples like Thomas Krens and Lisa Dennison.

If “Power Issue”s are money-punchy and fame-infatuated, then art world Top 10 lists are just irksome fun. Sometimes they’re telling. December’s Artforum “Best of 2005” issue included ten Top 10 lists by heavyweight curators and critics, and one by John Kelsey, artist-writer-co-director of Reena Spaulings, a gallery that turned up on another list.

These 11 choosers adore men—often the same men. Jeff Wall is named on three lists. Paul McCarthy, Martin Kippenberger and Jorg Immendorf each turn up twice. Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, and Christo make the grade, as do Yohji Yamamoto and Bob Dylan. But dishearteningly and disturbingly, of 110 slots a paltry 11 go to women artists, with Isa Genzken named twice. Two choosers don’t list any women artists at all. Matthew Higgs names three women artists, and Ann Goldstein and Kelsey two, but five others only manage one each. No selector places a woman artist in his or her top slot.

Editors shouldn’t police writers, and it is just a silly “best of” issue. This isn’t only Artforum‘s problem, and I don’t exempt myself. When only 17 percent of gallery shows are one-woman solos, everything is skewed. It’s worse with artists of color. Regardless, it needs to be pointed out that right now, when it comes to women, the art world is more conservative than the Bush administration.

Air Lair

The other night I helped judge another kind of boys’ club, the air guitar contest that was the closing event of a month-long performance series organized by Artists Space. It wasn’t a total surprise that I loved it. I’ve listened to rock and roll my whole life and am told I do a pretty good air guitar myself.

Our eight contestants were 100 percent men, a statistic that is said to be changing abroad but is still typical here. This art form is an autoerotic combination of performance art, drag show, pantomime, posturing, parody, feather display, dance, and mating call. Champion air guitarists “Air Lingus,” “Bjorn Turoque” (pronounced “born to rock”), and “the Rockness Monster” informed us that the criteria for judging were technical ability, charisma, and “airness.” As Lingus put it, “What counts is not the there guitar, it’s the air guitar. We’re after transcendence.”

And that’s what I saw in “Osama Bin Rockin,” who played the air sitar as a Joseph Beuys figure wobbled in the background; “30-Pack of Rock,” our eventual winner in a T-shirt that said, “Lick my legs I’m on fire”; “Air Apparent,” who did a fabulous Prince; and “Sir Angus,” outfitted as a T-bone steak.

These hormonal warriors put on a nonstop show of horniness, impetuousness, obnoxiousness, contempt, hopefulness, and sheer joy. As Bjorn put it, “Air guitar is about bringing the bedroom onto the world stage.” He paused, then added, “and promoting world peace.”

Dylan Stone

Dylan Stone is one of the better under-known conceptualists around. Schooled in New York, this current London resident has previously sewn on newspapers and compiled a photographic archive of every building in Lower Manhattan. Lately, he’s made nicely dicey miniature sculptures of his sexual encounters (on view in the gallery office). Barbara & David Stone’s Bookshelf is a huge, indexical, magical, and magnificent example of abstract portraiture and self-portraiture. We see a wall-filling, multipaneled watercolor, based on a photograph of his parents’ library. The books suggest intellectuals or academics. It turns out, Stone’s parents produced some of the art world’s greatest experimental films. The overall effect is a mesmerizing tour de force of verisimilitude, love, and intimidation.