Saturday, December 9, 2006

silent, sympathetic gestures

Last night, his interviewer read the opening to the titular essay of his awesome book, Air Guitar:

"Colleagues of mine will tell you that people despise critics because they fear our power. But I know better. People despise critics because people despise weakness, and criticism is the weakest thing you can do in writing. It is the written equivalent of air guitar--flurries of silent, sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music."

I read that book a couple of years ago, and to hear again those words of Dave Hickey's that I loved so much brought that time period, that seemingly lost thing, back into the present, up to the surface, reminded me of how good that book was and probably still is. It's a book whose absence I sorely miss and I might go to the Strand later today and just purchase another copy. The copy that I used to have may or may not be in the possession of this boy that I used to like and who for a brief period of time I slept with, Matt, and who, during that brief period of time, I had lent it to. With the end of my physical access to Matt's body came the end of my physical access to the text of this book. At the time I would have told you one's absence meant more than the other, but now, particularly after last night, I might tell you something else, depending of course probably on both the state of my sobriety and how horny I am, the two though probably correlated to a great extent.

But last night, sitting on the floor of this crowded gallery, everyone there to hear Dave Hickey, I was again reminded of so many things, of what it means to be critically engaged with something and how meaningful that can be. This book was a revelation to me, a call to arms, and any of you (which I assume and hope is all of you) that care not just about criticism, but about what that is, a human's relation to a work of art, to the world, to life, that you should surely read this book if you have not.

Hickey curated the current show at Cue Art Foundation and presumably that was why he was there to talk, but it was an hour and a half of him essentially doing standup. I wish that I had brought a pen so I could have transcribed some of the zingers he was throwing out to this audience of people in the art world, more often than not making fun of them. At one point he called universities a big handicapped parking lot, that they attract social cripples. He said that professors (which he is one of) are lazy and insular, fearful to ever create work once they enter an institution, because they get too accustomed to "huggy time," students fawning over them. To hear Dave Hickey say "huggy time" a couple of times in the evening was enough to make the trip out there in the cold more than worth it. He lamented the lack of any art criticism, of any forums for it, saying that there hasn't been any in a decade, that no one publishes it any more, that Artforum only publishes stories on Belgian artists. He also said that there is too much tolerance, that no one is out there saying what's bad. And so he took aim at two bloated cows that I also find unjustifiably overrated, John Currin and Matthew Barney. I was full of glee and wanted to clap during these moments.

At some point in the evening, he also gave a hilarious monologue about the root of what is wrong with young artists. He attributes it all to the culture of playdates, that the people making art now never walked over to a friend’s house and asked if Johnny was home, never hit each other with sticks when they were kids, that their parents would call up Johnny's mom to arrange for their kids to play together, would drive the kid over in their SUV, put the kids together and say "play." And that as a result they are boring and play it safe. Hickey said, "I don't like games where you can't lose," referring to the world of contemporary poetry, how institutionalized it is and how it isn't in dialogue with a broader culture. But it was a theme that encompassed much of what he talked about last night, how it's boring because no one loses, no one's bad, or rather no one will admit that something is bad, that there is no such thing as real art criticism any longer. He also mentioned briefly that he is at work on a new book of essays, which perhaps jokingly he said was going to be called "Goodbye to the Art World."

After the talk, I ran into Joe, met his friend Alex, and hung out with them, drinking wine at the gallery, getting fairly drunk. We came back to my house, ate some food, drank some Schlitz, talked, and then went to the Pantyhoes dance party for a bit. "Heartbeats" was the last song to play before we left. It was a very lovely evening, the second of what will hopefully be a trifecta of them should tonight go as planned. The first was seeing David Lynch’s Inland Empire with Justin Theorux answering questions after the film. This movie was so excellent and a little messy, but I think I am going to go see it again soon and so I will hold off on further comments until that point. Tonight will complete these three evenings in a row of seeing inspiring artists with hopefully seeing Final Fantasy for free. Maybe there will be a fourth, fifth, even a sixth. Maybe these days will stretch out indefinitely, maybe if I can remember that there is coffee and romantic sentiments and red wine and good music and Xtube – so many pleasures in this world for the having to fill up all those days that may lack a marquee name.

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