The “art” of the Dead People

I said to a reader the other day, there are some things so evil and repulsive we shouldn’t comment on them, analyze them, or even notice them; we should just turn away from them. That would have been my reaction to the phenomenon Howard Sutherland describes below, if I had come upon it myself—I would have passed it by. However, since he’s already written it up, and his thoughts are worthwhile, here goes.

Howard Sutherland writes:

I derive no pleasure from pointing out the suicidal follies that now plague the once-great island kingdom whence came my ancestors, but I could not let this Telegraph story pass without notice. An “artist” (that’s what the Telegraph’s writer calls him, at least) named Marc Quinn—and what is it about post-modern Westerners: can’t anyone spell “Mark” anymore?—has been chronicling his own aging by making casts of his head at five year intervals. But plaster, wax or even bronze is not a sufficiently attention-getting medium for Mr. Quinn’s macabre moldings. No, Quinn is making these gory artifacts of his own frozen blood.

One might think Quinn would have to settle for displaying these gelid bits of himself in truly fringe, avant the avant-garde galleries. In no-longer-Great Britain, though, very far from it. The first time Quinn pulled this stunt, in 1991, he got his frozen bloody noggin displayed at the Royal Academy, which used to have something to do with real art. The occasion was the sensational (or scandalous, depending on one’s point of view) “Sensation” exhibition, one of the Saatchi brothers’ many contributions to the utter debasement of art in the United Kingdom. Quinn is quite broad-minded about his media. He has carried out his oeuvre in everything from solid gold (a portrait of Kate Moss) to his own blood-soaked stool (a self-portrait, of which decadence-merchant Charles Saatchi is the proud owner).

This time Mr. Quinn has scored the National Portrait Gallery in London as the venue for his latest crimson cranium. The NPG may sound like a dull repository of still-lifes with people in them, but a visit is (or used to be) a fascinating look back into English history through portraits of the people who made it. Here and here are examples of what the NPG has. But ever-eager to keep up with the polymorphously perverse zeitgeist of New Labour’s New Britain, here is the NPG’s current featured exhibition, Gay Icons. From looking at the blurb, it seems the NPG is claiming a certain inclination for people now dead who never acknowledged any such inclination themselves. But honesty—or a respect for privacy—cannot stand in the way of the new order and normalizing the abnormal!

If this is the standard the flagship institutions of a nation set, it is no wonder that its politicians descend to the likes of Tony Blair, Dead-Man-Walking Gordon Brown and, as you point out, “Happy Ramadan; Let’s all surrender to Islam!” Boris Johnson.

It’s true, given the depths of decadence of our own society, that Americans have little room to feel superior in these matters, but I still don’t think we’re are as far gone as our cousins across the pond. How we, and they, dig ourselves out of this mess is the real question. One small step would be a campaign of public revulsion directed at transgressor “artists” such as Marc Quinn.

September 11

Howard Sutherland writes:

Thank you for posting my disgusted musings on the sick works of Marc Quinn. While I agree that such vulgarities are better ignored, as they become the new normal I fear we have to take notice and at least try to name-and-shame.

After I sent my comments I realized that I had made a mistake: the date of the notorious “Sensation” exhibition at the Royal Academy was 1997, not 1991. Sensation featured, along with Quinn’s obscene contribution, a portrait of notorious “Moors Murderer,” Myra Hindley. The Moors Murderers, Hindley and her boyfriend Ian Brady, abducted, abused and murdered five children around Manchester in the 1960s. The portrait of Hindley was painted from her mug shot in a perverse pointillisme: instead of matrices of Seurat-style dots, each dot-equivalent was a child’s handprint. This drew heartfelt protests from the victims’ families and others; even Hindley herself, from prison, asked that the portrait be taken down. The protests were ignored. Another feature was a so-called portrait of the Virgin Mary by a so-called Briton (actually of Nigerian origin; another of immigration’s many enriching gifts) named Chris Ofili, in which Ofili somehow juxtaposed his image of Our Lady (as a very dark African woman, natch) with elephant dung and images of female private parts. That, too, drew protests. Those, too, were ignored. Sensation was a huge success, both in terms of attendance—forgive me, VFR-ers: I went to it myself, to my great regret—and critical acclaim from the bien-pensants. A sign of our times.

We Americans are not off the hook in Sensation’s saga. After its London success, Sensation went on to be a very successful traveling freak show. It was a huge hit in Berlin—a throwback to that city’s decadent Weimar Republic days?—then came to America at the Brooklyn Museum (actually, is Brooklyn still part of America?). Noo Yawkahs may remember Mayor Giuliani’s noisy (and no doubt politically expedient) protests over the inclusion of Ofili’s desecration in the Brooklyn show. That, too, was ignored by the leaders of the “art” world, and the show was a great success in New York City, as well.

Sensation is another example of how spectacles that as late as 1980 probably would have met with near-universal condemnation as vile perversities, by the 1990s could be presented as mainstream. And the perversion-pushers who present them that way get away with it, successfully condemning any criticism from normal people as small-minded, ignorant and—in Ofili’s case—racist. How did the civilization-destroyers move so far so fast?

Blaming it all on the Frankfurt School (although they certainly deserve blame) is not a good enough answer. HRS

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 10, 2009 02:38 PM | Send

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