Category: Postmodernism-Remodernism

The Mona Lisa Cake in the Face Raid

Long ago I visited the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France. I spent the day walking its many rooms, studying with my artist’s eyes its astonishing art treasures. One such gem was the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century oil painting masterpiece. Her smile still beckons; currently some 30,000 people per day visit her Louvre exhibition room to gaze upon her. Fawning attention like this is bound to attract a miscreant or two, which is another aspect of The Mona Lisa Curse.

On May 29, 2022 one such reprobate, a 36-year-old man disguised as an elderly woman, visited the Mona Lisa. He modified his appearance by wearing lipstick, a shawl, and a brunette wig. I have to say it wasn’t much of a disguise, but then I’m always assuming the gender of individuals. At any rate “granny” topped off his charade by riding a wheelchair in the Louvre, likely in hopes of getting a handicapped only viewing position in front of the Mona Lisa. As you will see this unidentified rat-bag, aside from being an exploiter of the disabled, is also a vandal.

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Security man wipes cake frosting from bullet proof glass protecting the Mona Lisa after May 29, 2022 attack at the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Photo: Twitter/@klevis007

The museum’s huge crowds as well as the guards paid little attention to the character wheeling about, until he leapt from his wheelchair and punched the bullet proof glass that protected the Mona Lisa. Unable to break the glass, he pulled out a large chunk of frosted cake he had hidden in his clothing and hurled it at the barrier, smearing creamy white frosting across the heavy glass. Blessedly Leonardo’s painting was not harmed.

At that point the ne’er-do-well showed himself to be a climate change activist. He shouted in French: “Think about the Earth. There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it, all artists, think about the Earth, this is why I did this. Think about the planet!” Mr. Climate Change says he did it for the artists—but he’s just another wackadoodle. I have been thinking about the Earth, just not the way the cake throwing extremist would like me to. Louvre security escorted “grandma” out of the room and rightly sent him to a police psychiatric unit for evaluation. I hope a reproduction of the Mona Lisa hangs in his cell.

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WackadoodleDoo. "Think about it, all artists, think about the Earth, this is why I did this." Photo: Twitter/@lukeXC2002

The vandal somehow imagined that by damaging Leonardo’s painting, people around the world would suddenly realize that climate change will extinguish all life on the planet in a few years. That realization would initiate a revolution to sweep away the evil oil barons, resulting in free electric cars for all.

Things didn’t play out exactly the way he dreamt. Greta Thunberg will have to settle for a publicity stunt that was nothing more than tossing a piece of cake at a beloved work of art—and missing the target. Talk about lousy performance art. Climate activists will no doubt distance themselves from their cake flinging comrade. Still, the stunt revealed “an inconvenient truth.”

That inconvenient truth tells us the Mona Lisa is part of human heritage, and the attempt to destroy the artwork should remind us of the ISIS terrorists, who use bombs and sledgehammers to smash priceless artworks and archaeological artifacts to smithereens. They do this because their Islamic fundamentalist viewpoint sees art as nothing more than sinful idolatry. I believe a new type of zealotry is behind the targeting of the Mona Lisa, it’s called environmentalist fundamentalism.

If activists deem the act of destroying art as an acceptable way to protest, they will soon advocate other forms of violence as appropriate. I really do fear that we have reached such a dangerous point. While I have always considered myself environmentally minded, I do not go along with destroying works of art, or annihilating people. In 1821 the German poet and writer Heinrich Heine put it another way when he wrote in his tragic play Almansor: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”

The Mona Lisa has been physically attacked a number of times in the past; in 1956 someone tossed sulfuric acid on the masterwork, but thankfully the painting was saved. I won’t list the incidents of vandalism because to me the greatest affront was a philosophical razing given by none other than Andy Warhol. In 1963 the Louvre loaned the Mona Lisa to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art; it was the first exhibit of the painting in the United States. Over a million Americans came to see it, including the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When Warhol heard that Leonardo’s masterwork was coming to the US he said: “Why don’t they have someone copy it and send the copy, no one would know the difference.”

That cynical remark was a downgrading of skill-based realist painting and classical European art; it forced open the door to the postmodern lunacy and deadwood that today’s art world elites have hoisted upon the public. However, some six million people from around the world visit the Louvre each year to see Leonardo’s masterpiece. Realist art still matters to the public. The assault on the Mona Lisa was a despicable crime.

Andy Warhol is Still Dead

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Tweet from Christie’s, May 9, 2022.

On May 9, 2022, Christie’s auction house in New York sold an Andy Warhol silkscreen print titled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn; it was the highest price ever paid for an American artwork at an auction.

Warhol’s 1964 reproduction of actress Marilyn Monroe has as its basis a publicity photo of Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, Niagara; that original still was shot by photographer Gene Korman. It’s funny how Mr. Korman is usually excluded from this history.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is part of a series of five Marilyn Monroe silkscreen prints published on canvas; all measuring 40 x 40 inches. Each of the five prints utilize Korman’s photo, and possess a different color scheme. There is a red, orange, turquoise, and light blue version, but the sage blue variant is the one currently getting all the attention because of its enormous price tag.

Alex Rotter, chairman of Christie’s 20th and 21st century art department, stated that Warhol’s Marilyn should be placed with Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as “categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time.” Aside from the fact that Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is not a painting but a silkscreen print, Warhol’s weak-minded pop bobbles don’t come close to the preeminence of Botticelli or Da Vinci. Even the worst Picasso surpasses the best Warhol. Rotter shouldn’t be a chairman for one of Christie’s departments, but a doorman for one of their auctions.

Gene Korman’s publicity still of Marilyn Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, “Niagara.”

Gene Korman’s publicity still of Marilyn Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, “Niagara.”

Don’t call me an out-of-touch reactionary for not worshiping Andy Warhol. For years a reproduction of his 1982 screenprint Dollar Sign has been hanging in my studio, and the morbid punk rock side of me is intrigued by his Car Crash silkscreen series. However, I was merely amused by these prints and never attributed weightiness, masterful skill, or staggering importance to them.

Like all of Warhol’s works they were throw away pop culture images.

The sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn marks the ongoing commodification of art at the hands of avaricious speculators and investors. The final price of the print was not $195 million but actually $195,040,000. To the average American eaten alive by record high inflation, rising gas prices, and food shortages (thanks Biden), that’s a lot of dough. US inflation hasn’t been this high since 1981, when Ronnie Reagan won the White House from Jimmy Carter.

The Washington Post—you know, where democracy dies in darkness, let the cat out of the bag with this remark: “The record sale was set as investors seek out safe-haven investments, such as art, amid uncertainty in global financial markets fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” Uh-huh, soldiers fall, stocks rise. In other words, for the oligarchs that have a death grip on the art world’s upper strata, the experience of art is no longer one of contemplation and the wonderment of beauty. No, it’s only a “safe-haven” for investments. Money laundering anyone?

Once upon a time in the early 1960’s a taxi cab company owner named Robert Scull thought himself a big wig in the art world. He bought art for peanuts from unknowns like Warhol, who at the time was a nobody with empty pockets. Scull purchased Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills print for around $2,500; it was Warhol’s first silkscreen print. In 1986 Scull’s estate sold it for $385,000. In 2009 Sotheby’s of New York held an auction where they sold it to a nameless plutocrat for $43.8 million.

"200 One Dollar Bills." Andy Warhol, 1962. Silkscreen, ink, pencil on canvas. Photo/Sotheby’s. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." From: Warhol in his own words – Untitled Statements ( 1963 – 1987).

"200 One Dollar Bills." Andy Warhol, 1962. Silkscreen, ink, pencil on canvas. Photo/Sotheby’s. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." From: Warhol in his own words – Untitled Statements ( 1963 – 1987).

There’s not much else to say about Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. The print has no hidden message or particular meaning, it advocates, reveals, and supports nothing—like most of Warhol’s works it is just empty fluff. As the artist once said: “I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning.” The only interesting thing about the print is the tale of Dorothy Podber, who discharged a rather explosive critique of the print.

In the ‘50s and early ‘60s Ms. Podber was a kooky bohemian artist who lived in East Village, Manhattan. She told people she was a witch, a few considered her cracked because of her unhinged practical jokes. In the late ‘50s she ran in Beatnik circles that included the likes of Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones, and in the early ‘60s she helped run the Nonagon Art Gallery, where Yoko Ono first unleashed her conceptual art upon New York. In retrospect that might have been one of Podber’s deranged gags.

One autumn day in 1964 Podber and her entourage showed up at Warhol’s Factory studio on East 47th. Podber wore white gloves and was costumed in a black leather motorcycle jacket with matching biker pants. She asked Warhol if she could shoot the new Marilyn Monroe canvases stacked along a wall; thinking she was a photographer he answered yes. Podber took off her white gloves, reached into her purse, pulled out a diminutive semi-auto pistol, and began shooting the Monroe images in the forehead. When finished she placed the gun in her bag, put her gloves back on, gathered her retinue, and calmly left the Factory. A terrified Andy Warhol made sure the women would never again be given access to the premises.

For some reason Warhol didn’t file charges against Podber, but he did change the title for each of the five canvasses by adding the word “shot.” Red Marilyn became Shot Red Marilyn, Orange Marilyn became Shot Orange Marilyn, and so on for the turquoise, light blue, and sage blue versions. The only canvas not damaged by gunfire was the sage blue variant, nevertheless it received the “shot” title. Warhol had the damaged silkscreened canvasses repaired. The fact that the prints had been shot only increased their value. A strange world indeed.

So there you have it, that’s the chronicle of Dorothy Podber. It’s an exquisite tale, better than the story of how Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was produced, but I wouldn’t give you a plugged nickel for either. CNN, always a journalistic farce, naturally reported on the $195 million sale. Their story mentioned the methods Warhol used in making various portraits of Marilyn, stating: “‘Shot Marilyns’ saw the artist shooting portraits of the star through the head with bullets.” They falsely credited Warhol, not Podber, for the vandalism. Why turn to CNN for news?

Andy Warhol’s soullessness and lack of political insight can be found in his late ‘70s work for the dictatorial monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, more well known as the Shah of Iran. In 1953 the CIA staged a coup that overthrew Iran’s elected government for having nationalized Iran’s oil industry. It was the first regime change operation by the CIA. In the coup’s aftermath the Shah of Iran became the country’s iron-fisted pro-West ruler. His support primarily came from Western power brokers and Iran’s small number of Western educated elites.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran). Andy Warhol. Silkscreen on paper, 1977.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran). Andy Warhol. Silkscreen on paper, 1977.

However the Shah faced opposition from anti-monarchists, social democrats, leftists, and the working poor. But it was the fundamentalist Shi’a muslim majority that posed his biggest threat.

To maintain control the Shah established a massive secret police force that used kidnappings, imprisonment, beatings, torture, and assassinations to eliminate opponents. That was the situation in Iran when Warhol decided to visit the country in 1976.

The purpose of his sojourn was to take photos of the Shah and his wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi. The two Royals had commissioned Warhol to create their portraits in silkscreen.

Warhol delivered his finished commission to the Shah and the Empress in 1977, and was pictured posing with Empress Farah in front of her portrait in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum was founded in ‘77 by Farah, who also inaugurated its opening and was responsible for it’s expansion. In the 70’s Farah had purchased classical and contemporary art from a great number of Western artists, amassing the largest collection of Western art outside the US and Europe with an estimated worth is $3 billion. The Shi’a of Iran living under the Shah’s brutality couldn’t have cared less about her museum.

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Empress Farah Pahlavi. Andy Warhol. Silkscreen, 1977.

Many in the West were vexed that Warhol collaborated with the Shah. In 1977 the Village Voice published an article written by Alexander Cockburn, James Ridgeway, and Jan Albert titled Beautiful Butchers: The Shah Serves Up Caviar and Torture.

They mentioned the “fascist chic’s recording angel, Andy Warhol, with his Polaroid and his tape recorder,” as being one of the “beautiful people” who supported “one of the most savage regimes of the 20th century.” A violent revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, sweeping fundamentalist Islamists into power; they banned modern art and closed the Tehran Museum. The Islamists hid Farah’s entire collection in the museum’s basement for decades.

Ironically the Jihadi militants allowed a small number of works from Farah’s collection to be exhibited in 2021, the show was titled: A Review of Andy Warhol’s Works. It displayed Warhol’s silly soup cans, and his silkscreen portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and the founding leader of Communist China, Mao Zedong. The Islamists left hidden in the basement the portraits of the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah Pahlavi… something the poor fools who flocked to the exhibition were never told. I bring up Warhol’s escapades in Iran to drive home a point. He was a liberal, but his political convictions were as shallow as the happy talk pablum one could read in the self-published Interview magazine he founded in 1969. Having been to Iran he knew what the score was, but it didn’t matter to him. He was obsessed with celebrity and money, and the Shah and Empress Farah had plenty of both.

Empress Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unknown, 1977.

Empress Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unknown, 1977.

In the mid-70s Warhol was also trying to get a portrait commission out of Imelda Marcos, the clothes-horse wife of Philippine dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos.

At the time many people in the Philippines couldn’t afford footwear, but Imelda had a growing collection of over 3,000 expensive shoes—I’m sure that impressed Warhol. Unfortunately for him the commission never came through, as the people of the Philippines drove Ferdinand and Imelda from power in the “People Power Revolution.” Wow, Andy sure could pick ‘em.

Toward the end of his meteoric career, Warhol remained preoccupied with the celebrity elite, but his limitless portraits of them became ever more superficial, monotonous, and geared towards quick market success. He had become the living embodiment of his famed quote “good business is the best art,” only he wasn’t producing his best any longer. As his works slipped into mediocrity, Andy Warhol was transformed into a dead metaphor by the corporate press, which endlessly repeated claims of his being a genius; they continue to make such declarations today.

In his brilliant 2008 documentary The Mona Lisa Curse, Robert Hughes (1938-2012) interviewed billionaire art dealer and collector Alberto Mugrabi, a man who at the time had some 800 Warhol’s in his private collection. Hughes asked Mugrabi “What’s your opinion of Warhol?” The collector answered, “I think he is probably the most visionary artist of our time.” Hughes responded with, “I thought he was one of the stupidest people I ever met in my life…. because he had nothing to say.”

Robert Hughes took a stand against the commodification and denigration of art by monied elites, and because of that stance he was the only art critic to gain my respect. In 2009 he won the International Emmy for Arts Programming for The Mona Lisa Curse, yet his documentary film has been almost entirely scrubbed from the internet. It certainly is never mentioned by the gatekeepers of the art world, whose mega-profits are threatened by the truths Hughes told. For that reason alone you should watch the movie.

After receiving the award, Hughes’ final remarks during the ceremony were these, perhaps the best way to close this report: “Forget about the prices. Forget about what Sotheby’s and Christie’s has been doing about our perception of art. Just remember what the serious art is, and why, if we love it, we do love it.”

The Tragedy of Vessel, Staircase to Nowhere

Have you heard about Vessel? It’s a giant climbable sculpture at the center of Hudson Yards, the $25 billion real estate development that masquerades as a neighborhood in the far west-side of midtown Manhattan, New York City. The creation and demise of Vessel is a cautionary tale on the foibles of contemporary art, but it’s also a metaphor for the crisis of American urbanism, and how media passes off unworthy works and individuals as impressive and noteworthy. Vessel is the zeitgeist of postmodern art. Allow me to fill in the details.

Artist’s conception of Vessel. Image/Heatherwick Studio.

Artist’s conception of Vessel. Image/Heatherwick Studio.

The Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project is the brainchild of New York real estate firm The Related Companies. Founded by billionaire Stephen M. Ross, the firm became an inexorable force in developing commercial properties. Hudson Yards is a city unto itself, but it should remind readers of the dystopian story The Hunger Games, where a class of frivolous and diversion obsessed elites attempted to rule over a ruined and fragmented society.

The official opening of Hudson Yards and Vessel took place on March 15, 2019. CNN’s pretend journalist Anderson Cooper moderated the affair. Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer gave a frothy speech, and then Big Bird the anthropomorphic muppet joined with Cooper, Stephen M. Ross, Sen. Schumer, and Thomas Heatherwick (designer of the gigantic staircase to nowhere), to launch Vessel in a flurry of confetti. A gospel choir sang out praises, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performed. It was all quite the spectacle, and no one had a clue what awaited them.

The 28-acre Hudson Yards complex is a huge gentrification project that hopes to transform an aging neighborhood into an exclusive enclave for the affluent. In part it offers 16 imposing skyscrapers with classy office space for some 55,000 employees, plus posh apartments and condos for 5,000 au courant swells (apartments go for $9,000 a month and condos start at $2 million). There is an arts center named The Shed for swanks like you, innumerable chic boutiques, cafes, bars, restaurants, an exclusive hotel, plus “public space” and gardens for the voguish to stroll through… et cetera, et cetera. But the center of Hudson Yards is its massive “public square” where Vessel dominates.

The Related Companies felt a bona fide tourist attraction was needed to draw happy shoppers into their Hudson Yards consumer paradise and real estate scheme. You know, a special touch to put a human face on the commercial development, investing in the “public space” and all that. It was essential for the attraction to offer, or at least appear to offer, something for the city’s goldbricks, clock-watchers, and proles to unite around. An iconic object to inspire unlimited selfies and generate free advertising to attract customers like moths to a flame. Enter the celebrated English postmodern designer and architect, Thomas Heatherwick.

Vessel, aka “Chalice of the Privileged.” Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Vessel, aka “Chalice of the Privileged.” Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Heatherwick was commissioned to create the attraction, and he delivered Vessel, an eight level, sixteen-stories high, tangled labyrinth of 154 connected staircases with eighty landings and 2,500 steps that go nowhere.

The 150-foot-tall structure was envisioned as an immersive design experience where people would socialize while getting a bird’s eye view of the megalopolis. The armature of Vessel is concrete covered with copper-colored steel.

But all of Vessel’s 75 enormous pre-fabricated steel pieces were fabricated in Italy because the miracle of globalism has nearly shut down America’s steel industry. Starting at its base Vessel is 50 feet across, and floor by floor it expands in width until it becomes 150 feet wide at its top level.

Vessel became an irresistible backdrop for selfies, but more than a few detractors rechristened it “the pineapple,” “beehive,” “wastepaper basket,” “pinecone,” “rat’s nest,” “Chalice of the Privileged,” “giant shawarma,” and other ill-favored nicknames.

“Paradoxides Heatherwickis.” Giant extinct marine Trilobite found in Hudson Yards, North America.

“Paradoxides Heatherwickis.” Giant extinct marine Trilobite found in Hudson Yards, North America.

Personally I think it looks like the extinct marine arthropod known as the Trilobite. Some pretentious artsy-fartsy types said it looked like one of those impossible staircases by Dutch artist M.C. Escher (1898-1972). I am certain that suggestion would have displeased Escher.

I discovered Escher as a pre-teen and fell in love with his lithographs, woodcuts, and mezzotint prints. I studied them not for their impossible perspectives but for their technique and off-kilter realism. He inflamed my passion for printmaking. Escher considered himself not an artist but a mathematician. It speaks volumes that the art world basically ignored him his entire life; his first retrospective came when he was 70-years old (he would die at age 73). Who will Thomas Heatherwick inspire? Certainly not me.

Heatherwick’s whimsical joke of a building cost $200 million to construct, but no one is laughing. I realize pseudo-intellectuals and the terminally trendy say he is the new Leonardo da Vinci of design, but few noticed Leonardo’s Vessel had, shall we say… design flaws. For instance, those damnable stairs.

“Relativity.” Lithograph. M.C. Escher. 1953.

“Relativity.” Lithograph. M.C. Escher. 1953.

I was privileged to visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France before some idiot burned it down. Since medievalist engineers did not equip churches with elevators, I climbed up and down its stone steps to visit the rooftop gargoyles; those 774 steps were a real workout.

I visited the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, it was exhausting to climb up and down its 1,066 rough hewn steps to gain access to the rooftop view of the city. It goes without saying that the history of those two Cathedrals was more than awe inspiring.

Now imagine the Vessel’s labyrinth of 2,500 steps, and the herculean task of climbing all 5,000 to go up and down this “interactive” cardio nightmare of a sculpture. What is the point of all that marching up and down? Heatherwick must surely despise the elderly. Worse, the structure offers not a single bench or place to sit, and its one tiny elevator is exclusively for people with disabilities; nonetheless, the elevator only stops on floors 5, 7, and 8.

Interior view of Vessel. Oops... that’s a still of David Bowie from the 1986 movie titled, “Labyrinth.”

Interior view of Vessel. Oops... that’s a still of David Bowie from the 1986 movie titled, “Labyrinth.”

Climbing Notre Dame Cathedral and Cologne Cathedral were well worth the effort, but the giant shawarma? I have visited authentic tourist attractions around the world, places like the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza in Yucatán, Mexico, the ancient Roman Colosseum in Rome, Italy, and the 17th century home of American patriot Paul Revere in Boston, Massachusetts.

These and other attractions I sojourned to are steeped in history and meaning; they are stirring points of interest. But what profundity does Vessel extend, aside from being a backdrop for smartphone photos?

However, Vessel has a much bigger problem than its steps. It is cursed by its railings. They are only 4-feet-high, even at its 150-foot-high eighth level. They are low enough for your average teen or adult to jump over—and jump they did.

The first suicide took place in Feb. 2020, when a 19-year-old man leapt from the Vessel’s uppermost deck. The second suicide occurred in Dec. 2020 when a 24-year-old woman also hopped over the railings at the eighth-floor to meet her demise. The third suicide happened in Jan. 2021 when a 21-year-old-man on the eighth-floor bounded over the railings to his death.

Interior view of Vessel. Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Interior view of Vessel. Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A day after the third suicide Vessel was closed to the public so that “safety measures” could be instituted to prevent further deaths. Suicide prevention signs were mounted on the building and affixed to the railings. More security personnel were hired. Visitors were banned from entering Vessel alone, and though entry was once free visitants now had to pay a $10 entry fee (as if paying admission would prevent suicide). The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number was printed on the admission tickets. Everything was done to insure safety… except for raising the height of the railings, which is something The Related Companies refused to do, despite pleas from suicide prevention specialists. A “safer” Vessel reopened on May 28, 2021.

On July 29, 2021, a 14-year-old boy jumped to his death from the top floor of Vessel. That same day the building was closed, perhaps forevermore.

So there you have it, all that effort come to naught. London’s Royal College of Art (RCA), educated Thomas Heatherwick. That institute also boasts Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman as alumni. How can a prestigious institution of art and design like the RCA cultivate, encourage, and champion such charlatans? It’s simple really. Postmodernist dogma with its aesthetics of ugly, superficial, kitsch, reigns supreme in universities and art academies; museums, galleries, and art critics are also spellbound by the doctrine. Critiques of Heatherwick and his postmodern cohorts are negligible because they are favored by the ruling elites. Even though Vessel has proven to be a literal deathtrap, its designer is viewed as blameless. The art world reaps what it sows.

From the top floor, a glance over those 4-feet-high railings... it sure is a long way down. Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From the top floor, a glance over those 4-feet-high railings... it sure is a long way down. Image © Raphe Evanoff 2019. Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One of the quagmires facing the contemporary art world—with its steady stream of horrid, silly, incomprehensible, and frightfully expensive thingamajigs, is its having become contemptuous of the public. Witness those workday-world New Yorkers who mocked Vessel as a “wastepaper basket,” “rat’s nest,” and “Chalice of the Privileged.” They were ignored by sophisticates who regarded them as uncultivated and artless. The corps d’elite simply doubled down on their Vessel nonsense. And the big payoff? Four tragic suicides, traumatized families, the $200 million Vessel closed indefinitely, and calls for it to be torn down.

I do not write the following to cast aspersions on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, but since they promoted Vessel in a video and performed at its official opening they are open to critique. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform in Los Angeles years ago, and it is widely acknowledged the troupe has had an impact on modern dance. Still, I found their Vessel promo film to be regretful.

For the task of glorifying Vessel the dance company abandoned their autonomy and took money from The Related Companies, the multi-billion dollar real estate firm behind Vessel’s creation. The firm hired visual effects studio MILL+ to produce the Alvin Ailey film. The effects studio specializes in producing “immersive experiences” for entertainment franchises and product promotions. I hate to break it to the dance troupe but this is not art, it’s advertising. Related Companies has left its imprimatur on the legacy of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and that’s a shame.

The MILL+ production with the Alvin Ailey troupe is titled The Film, and it opens with a morning scene in New York City. Troupe members are shown dancing their way through the cosmopolis; they undulate over cobblestone streets, and with fluid free-style steps glide through the subway, leaping up stairs and down avenues on a journey to an unknown destination. Eyes lift from sidewalks to tall buildings to see strange shadows of the climbable sculpture cast upon the edifices. Reaching Hudson Yards the group dances triumphantly; presumably they are dancing at the feet of the gigantic Vessel, even though it is never seen. In the final frames the troupe is observed from above gathered in a loose circle, arms thrust skyward as if in spiritual exaltation. Their bodies cast a growing shadow, the eerie penumbra taking on the shape of the Vessel.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre cast the shadow of Vessel. Screen grab from “The Film” video by MILL+ (Creative Commons).

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre cast the shadow of Vessel. Screen grab from “The Film” video by MILL+ (Creative Commons).

Though not shown in the video, all I could see were ghostlike figures jumping from the top of the shadowy Vessel, they were leaping into suicidal oblivion. That is what the Vessel has become… a grave marker for postmodernism.

None of this comes as a surprise, I have long felt darkness was falling over the art world. I was 19-years-old in 1972 when an unfamiliar character named Christo spent $700,000 hanging orange nylon fabric across Rifle Gap in Colorado. It wasn’t the first time I despaired for art, and it wouldn’t be the last. I felt the gloom when wrecking cranes destroyed the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2020-2021, and when mobs began defacing and pulling down historic classical sculptures in public places during the summer of 2020 and beyond. Graffiti finding a home in art museums didn’t help any. But the implosion of Vessel was the last straw, it was akin to watching the final curtain coming down on the theater of postmodernism—and there was no applause.

It is said “art is a reflection of society,” but who shapes society? The people of NYC didn’t ask for a $200 million “wastepaper basket,” it was imposed upon them by a giant real estate firm and the city’s ruling Democrats. Society, such as it is, had nothing to do with it. But then again… New York City’s newly elected Mayor Eric Adams (D) approved legislation in January 2022 giving nearly a million non-citizens the right to vote in city elections. And the just elected District Attorney for Manhattan, Alvin Bragg (D), has downgraded armed robbery to a misdemeanor, making it a non-jailable offense. And that is why the city is called Gotham.

Perhaps Heatherwick’s $200 million “rat’s nest” really is the appropriate icon for New York City. As the Rolling Stones sang in their 1978 song titled Shattered, “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.”

Hunter Biden’s very first art exhibit.

When speaking of banality in twenty-first century art, many names come to mind, but now there is a new dim star flaming out across the murky and corrupted skies of contempo art heaven. That not so bright heavenly body is named Hunter Biden.

“Rain #1.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Source: Instagram

“Rain #1.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Source: Instagram

On Oct 1, 2021, 51-year-old Hunter Biden held his very first art exhibit. The show was arranged by Georges Bergès, the New York gallerist representing Hunter. The invitation-only exhibit took place at Milk Studios in Hollywood, California, and continues until November.

Roughly 200 gawkers, glitterati and gullible buyers attended the opening. With sushi hors d’oeuvres and champaign, it was your typical ritzy Los Angeles art world soirée—but with a twist, a secret service man was in every corner!

A handful of celebrities showed up at the exhibit, goodness knows why. The gallery required proof of vaccination for entry, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wandered around in a Covid mask to set the proper mood for the paparazzi—though most attendees did not wear masks. Garcetti was of course the former national co-chair of Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.

A handful of art world “luminaries” also attended; Millie Brown the “performance artist” waltzed in. She is lauded by postmodern sophisticates as the newest YBA (that’s “Young British Artist” to you unchic yobs). Millie has literally made a splash on the art scene; she drinks soy milk mixed with food dye, sticks her finger down her throat, and vomits up the mess onto canvas. No, I am not kidding.

Painting with Millie. I don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents. There’s a happy little tree and a happy little Sun.

Painting with Millie. I don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents. There’s a happy little tree and a happy little Sun.

Of course, Millie tossing her cookies is highly derivative of YBA Martin Creed and his 2006 era vomit video performances like Work No. 610, but plagiarism is a crown worn with pride by postmodern artists.

One can see similarities between Millie’s “vomit paintings” and Hunter’s vomitous watercolors. While Hunter’s paintings are astronomically priced, you can still pick up a pleasant little Millie barf canvas for under $3,000. However, don’t wait too long, Millie disgorges works at a nauseating pace and aficionados line up to spew cash in her direction.

For his watercolors Hunter Biden “paints” alcohol inks onto Japanese Yupo paper, a synthetic nonporous paper made of thermoplastic polymer that alcohol inks bond to. To apply the ink he uses traditional watercolor brushes and sometimes a wok brush—the bamboo kitchen tool used to clean the rounded bottom steel cooking pans of China. Hunter knows a few things about China, but that is another story.

“Rain #1.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Source: Instagram

“Over the years he has acquired great skill in the use of a straw." The master at work, 2019. Source: Instagram

An ordinary straw is the preferred tool Hunter uses to manipulate the inks in his paintings. Over the years he has acquired great skill in the use of a straw. His challenge today as an artist is to resist the habit of sniffing through the straw, and instead blowing through the straw with his lips to push colorful alcohol inks around on paper.

Amusingly, when you type “alcohol inks” into a search engine’s image bank, you will find artworks that look remarkably like Hunter’s ink painting “masterworks.” It’s just that no one is brazen enough to ask $500,000 for one.

The problem with Hunter’s first exhibit are the prices of his original works, they start at $75,000 they go up to half a million. Those are unheard of prices for an unknown artist who never sold an art piece or had an exhibition, not just unlikely prices but impossible ones. However, since the single entry in Hunter’s catalogue of artistic achievements is listed as “Son of the President,” there is good reason to suspect something else besides art is being offered for purchase.

Hunter made his first sale of art at his very first exhibit when five of his art prints were sold by the Georges Bergès Gallery in LA, just prior to opening its Milk Studios showing. The prints were purchased by an anonymous buyer at $75,000 each, for a total of $375,000. It is not known if the prints were reproductions of Hunter’s original works, or if the prints were a signed and numbered edition. At any rate, it is an enormous sum for an emerging artist. By comparison signed prints by Pop Art icon Ed Ruscha can go for as little as $2,500, and he is a legend of the 20th century California art scene.

Think about this for a moment. Recently a small painting by Pablo Picasso was found in a closet where it had been stored for 50 years. On June 26, 2021, the painting was sold at auction for $150,000. In the same timeframe we are told that five Hunter Biden prints are worth $375,000. Is this a joke, Hunter’s art worth more than Pablo Picasso’s? There is not a shred of sanity left in the art world, nor in the sycophantic press that goes along with this nonsense.

“Untitled #4.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. Source: Instagram

“Untitled #4.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. Source: Instagram

Many voices both in and out of the art world expressed concerns that Hunter’s high priced artworks were part of a pay-for-play scheme; meaning, spend $500,000 on a painting by Hunter and you get a meeting with Lunchbox Joe from Scranton! Alarmed, the Biden White House and gallery owner Georges Bergès crafted a plan to keep the identities of buyers secret from the press, Hunter, the president, and society at large. Only Bergès will know the identities of buyers, that way—wink wink nudge nudge, “ethical issues” will be avoided.

But there is a giant hole in the White House/Bergès pact to keep the names of buyers from Hunter. The “artist” attended the show’s opening and rubbed elbows with potential purchasers; he conversed with them, posed for photos with them, and drank champaign with them. Ever been to a large art opening? What do you suppose Hunter discussed with his audience?

Richard Painter was the former chief White House ethics lawyer that served under the George W. Bush administration from 2005 to 2007. Yeah I know, Dubya had an ethics lawyer? Keep laughing, but when you stop to catch your breath, Painter said Hunter showing up at his own exhibit “illustrates how this veil of secrecy idea is not happening. It shows the deal is not going to be secret. I think the White House needs to go to Plan B.” Painter went on to say: “Buyers tend to be rich people, and rich people come to their houses and it tends to get around. Everyone’s going to be talking about it and everyone’s going to know.”

OK, so you are a liberal that thinks an establishment Republican like Mr. Painter has no credibility. Well, that is correct, so here is the opinion of an establishment Democrat that has no credibility, Walter Shaub. He was the Obama White House director of the Office of Government Ethics. Here is what Shaub said about the White House/Bergès deal:

“They’ve put an art dealer in charge of keeping a secret, and really what he’s doing is keeping a secret from the public because eventually Hunter Biden or people in the White House will learn who it’s going to be. In fact, Hunter Biden, we now know, is going to be at two art showings where he will meet the universe of bidders on his art. So, they left that detail out when they told us he had no way of knowing who was buying his art.

So there’s no intrinsic value to the art. It’s whatever anybody says they want to pay for it. The problem is, they’re buying it from the President’s son at prices that you would never see for a first-time art sale. There is a local artist collective in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., where if you go, really well-established artists who have been doing this for years and have quite a following, are selling for $2,000 to $5,000. And he’s not even at that level because this is his first sale.

So it really doesn’t matter whether anyone likes his art or not, the question is can you find anyone other than a president’s son, who showed up on the scene and started selling for the cost of a house and a half, because $295,000 was the price of the average home sale last year, and he’s selling for up to $500,000.

So ideally Hunter Biden wouldn’t be doing this because it sure looks like profiting off the presidency. But if they couldn’t talk him out of doing it, there is something that’s within their control. They could promise us today, that if they happen to learn who any of the buyers are, they will notify us immediately, and they will tell us again, if any of those buyers get a meeting with the White House or any other political appointee.”

Here is how the art world actually works. In the 1960s New York art collector Robert Scull purchased works from starving artists who could barely feed themselves; he purchased a Robert Rauschenberg painting for $2,500 and an Andy Warhol painting for $2,500. In 1973 Scull turned around and sold the Rauschenberg for $90,000 and the Warhol for $135,000. Repeat the process over and over. Today a Warhol costs millions. That unfortunate dynamic remains today, though it has grown even more rapacious and ridiculous.

Hunter is no Warhol, not even a Thomas Kinkade. He belongs to the ungifted celebrity circle of paint-slinging daubers Jim Carrey is affiliated with. If there is one thing I find annoying, it is the talentless “celebrity artist.” We are plagued by these insipid finger painters. The movie and music industries in Hollywood are lousy with them. Now Hunter Biden joins their ranks. Corporate media have taken seriously the claims that Hunter is a genuine artist. I believe it was the New York Times that first heralded that falsehood.

On July 29, 2021, Hunter Biden was the special guest on Nota Bene: This Week in the Art World, a podcast that shares art world gossip. Latin for “note well,” Nota Bene is not my cup of tea, but in his interview Hunter likely made his only truthful public statement concerning his art:

“I never said my art was going to cost what it was going to cost, or how much it would be priced at. I would be amazed, you know, if my art was sold, for you know, for, umm… for ten dollars.”

Soon after the opening of Hunter’s Hollywood exhibition, a new controversy began to plague the Georges Bergès Gallery. Last year the gallery, which only employs two people, applied for a Covid disaster assistance loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA); they received a $150,000 grant. Six months into the Biden presidency a second grant was dispensed, the allocation had skyrocketed to $350,000. The gallery also received two Paycheck Protection Program loans, bringing its total Covid relief payment to $580,000. Some two months later the gallery was selling Hunter Biden’s art in Hollywood, with plans for a larger exhibit of Hunter’s art in a springtime show at the Georges Bergès Gallery in New York.

Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Courtesy of Georges Bergès Gallery.

Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Courtesy of Georges Bergès Gallery.

Gallerist Georges Bergès claims he applied for the grants during the Trump years before the gallery represented Hunter. However, it is undeniable that taxpayer-funded Covid relief money now sustains a gallery that promotes and sells the artworks of the president’s son.

This might be disconcerting even to those who think Hunter and Georges Bergès are not involved in unethical behavior. On Oct. 9, 2021, the New York Post reported on the loan question, stating: “While there is no evidence President Biden helped secure the additional $350,000 loan, a watchdog group found that of the more than 100 galleries in New York City’s 10th congressional district, which includes SoHo, TriBeCa and Chelsea, the Georges Berges Gallery received ‘by far’ the largest SBA disaster loan windfall.”

If only a small portion of that “relief” money promoted the Hunter Biden exhibition and sale of his works, someone could be in very hot water over the president’s son directly benefiting from taxpayer-funded loans. Nevertheless, I have no expectations that Attorney General Merrick Garland and the entire Biden Department of Justice, including the FBI, will be delving into the matter.

In the unregulated art industry, you can sell anything to anyone at any price; it is a backdrop for corruption and money laundering. The humming sound coming from the drones is for gaudy and graceless contemporary art—an investment vehicle and method for moving hugh amounts of currency around. If you think the art press would be interested in such a story, think again.

Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Courtesy of Georges Bergès Gallery.

Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Courtesy of Georges Bergès Gallery.

As I see it, contemporary art has been stripped of technical skill and narrative power. Craft has been tossed out the window. Beauty and truth are mirages, nothing more than cultural and political constructs to be avoided.

Consider the successful artists of today. Jeff Koons creates giant balloon animals out of polished stainless steel. His net worth is $500 million. Marina Abramović sat in motionless silence for 2 months at a table during her The Artist Is Present performance at New York’s MOMA. Her net worth is $10 million. Damien Hirst is best know for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot-long dead shark in an aquarium filled with formaldehyde. His net worth is $1 Billion.

The aesthetics of Koons, Abramović, and Hirst are the norm, and so the fatuous work of Hunter fits right in. Welcome to the art world, circa 2021.

More than a few critics of Hunter’s art have said his works do not convey excellence like those of a virtuoso artist. True but imprecise. Likewise, those who look at Hunter’s paintings and say, “My kid could do that,” are unaware of the actual state of the art world. Contemporary postmodern art practice asserts painting cannot be done on its own, it should be “in conversation” with video, performance, installation, and conceptual art—this is referred to as “pluralism” in art. In that purview painting is a “residual form” of art, meaning, it is from the past and should not be allowed to dominate.

Hunter Biden has said painting “is literally keeping me sane.” It is good to hear he uses art to center himself. With his history of cocaine and crack abuse, and a reckless addiction to prostitutes, he is indeed a troubled man. His art is a form of self-treatment, but he should contact a bonified art therapist for help. We should all be grateful that Art Therapy, a practice rooted in the field of Psychology, brings real healing to distressed individuals. Be that as it may, let us not confuse Hunter’s self-therapy as a contribution to the history of art.

I have been a working artist in Los Angeles most of my life, and deeply involved in the city’s art community. In past decades I have seen LA as a seedbed for creativity and a fountainhead of greatness. I can trace the excellence and distinction of art in Los Angeles going back to the 1900s, when LA artists began to make unique contributions to Modernism and Impressionism.

In 1912 Los Angeles was a center for Synchromism, America’s first foray into abstraction—the movement blended fiery Fauvist color with Cubist and Futurist energy. We had our own “Group of Eight” painters to match Robert Henri and The Eight in New York. The Art Students League, Otis Art Institute, and Chouinard School of Art were top-notch art schools that advanced new directions while teaching basic traditions and methods of painting and draftsmanship. In the 1930s California artists contributed heavily to the American Scene Painting movement; paintings that focused on the land, its people, and the social realities of the time. Closely aligned to the American Scene painters were the Social Realists, whose forte was social commentary. Los Angeles was ground zero for those two art movements that profoundly influenced me.

“Telescope #1.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Source: Instagram

“Telescope #1.” Alcohol ink on paper. Hunter Biden. 2019. Source: Instagram

What I am so very sad to report is that I no longer see this greatness in Los Angeles. I see Hunter Biden and Millie Brown, I see plagiarists masquerading as artists. I see spray-paint vandalism praised by vaunted art institutions. I see entropy and cynicism instead of fecundity and joyous creation. With the second-rate and mediocre being continuously rewarded, it appears that greatness rented a U-Haul to flee the once great City of the Angels—not to mention the rest of the world. But where exactly did greatness go?

For many, being an artist is not a lucrative career, it is a hand to mouth existence. Still, the profession has its rewards, riches that are intangible and etherial. Creating and offering gifts of beauty to humanity is no small affair; some have tried to make it a business, but it has always been a spiritual calling. One creates, not for money or celebrity, but because it needs to be done. I have known ingenious artists blessed with Promethean talent, who made and shared sublime creations. Yet, they passed away unnoticed by the gatekeepers of culture, a fiefdom that assures you will only know the likes of “artists” like Hunter Biden.

The 19th century American painter John Sloan perhaps said it best: “Art enriches life. It makes life worth living. But to make a living at it—that idea is incompatible with making art.” The way I see it, if someone is baffled by Sloan’s thoughtful reflection then they have no real understanding of art.

The words of art critic Robert Hughes (1938-2012) continue to ring in my head. The following statement from Hughes came from his 2008 documentary on contemporary art, The Mona Lisa Curse. It perhaps best sums up the spectacle of Hunter Biden’s entry into the art world, and so it makes the perfect closing to my uncharitable essay:

“The entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled, and above all, in the way that it’s experienced. And this curse has affected the entire art world. Apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world, with contemporary art sales estimated at around $18 billion a year. Boosted by regiments of nouveau riche collectors, and serviced by a growing army of advisors, dealers and auctioneers. As Andy Warhol once observed, ‘Good business is the best art.’”