Lisa Yuskavage, Kissing Cousings, oil on linen; courtesy David Zwirner Gallery
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Of all the things Andy Warhol left behind when he died in 1987, the most enduring are the aphorisms. The paintings, the films and the innumerable other objects stamped with the Warhol logo lack the bite of the maxims. Delivered with his signature deadpan affect, Warhol’s pronouncements divulge an awareness–never a condemnation–of the shortcomings of contemporary culture, not excluding his own contribution to it.
“Art is what you can get away with” is the most prescient and, in its own way, the most damning; alas, it’s been downgraded to an attribution. There can be no disputing the provenance of the best-known tag-line–“In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”–or its ubiquity. What would the media do without it?
Warhol’s mot came to mind recently while I was making the rounds in Chelsea. Looking at the exhibitions of some high-profile artists, I wondered whether he hadn’t low-balled the duration of fame. How fleeting is it, really? For some–Fawn Hall, John Wayne Bobbitt and ( oh please, Lord ) Matthew Barney–it zooms right by. For others, celebrity lingers past the sell-by date. If only Warhol’s 15 minutes came with a guarantee of automatic obscurity when the time is up.
Take the painter Lisa Yuskavage, whose recent pictures are on view at the Marianne Boesky Gallery. Ms. Yuskavage has achieved a measure of celebrity for her saccharine pictures of zaftig adolescent girls, all pinched noses, tumescent tits and unrequited yearnings. They have been the subject of glowing notices, museum retrospectives and controversy–or what passes for controversy in our transgression-happy art world. The New Yorker recently proclaimed the pictures “soft-core sublime.”
That Ms. Yuskavage has now introduced a mild Sapphic undercurrent will likely be heralded by her claque as a significant step for post-feminist art. I’d argue that all they offer is more of the same “dumbass kitsch.” The phrase comes from Jed Perl, critic for The New Republic , and I can’t see how to improve on his succinct accuracy. Does the world need more of this stuff? I don’t think so. But the artist will keep cranking it out–at least until her fans latch onto the next big thing that comes barreling down 24th Street. At which point, Ms. Yuskavage should consider her 15 minutes elapsed and start thinking about a day job.
To be fair, there are artists whose 15 minutes have lasted longer–decades longer–and who deserve greater opprobrium. Consider, for example, the painter Francesco Clemente, whose recent work is on display at the Chelsea branch of the Gagosian Gallery, and the photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark, who’s displaying just about anything he ever put his hand to at Luhring Augustine. Mr. Clemente depicts phantasmagorical narratives in a wan attempt to prove that incompetence can be chic. Mr. Clark indulges an extreme obsession with adolescence that you would think might earn him jail time.
Both men find their navels eminently and infinitely fathomable. Mr. Clark, especially, can’t imagine a world that doesn’t revolve around his destructive appetites. He makes Mr. Clemente’s dour infantilism seem charming in comparison. Warhol, at this point, begins to look like an artist with a broad, humane vision.
Thomas Trosch, Interior with Pink Moon (1999) , oil on wood panel, 24″ x 36″; courtesy Fredericks Freiser Gallery
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He wasn’t, of course, and neither is Thomas Trosch, whose cartoonish paintings are on display at the Fredericks Freiser Gallery. I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Trosch isn’t a good painter. He is , though the pictures won’t appeal to all tastes: They’re kitschy and garish, flamboyant and gross. Mr. Trosch likes to apply oils as if he were frosting a cake-or throwing a tantrum. Taste, both good and bad, turns out to be one of his subjects, along with conspicuous consumption, art and the conformity that fashion breeds.
The pictures are diorama-like scenes of white-bread beauties, dressed to the hilt, congregating aimlessly in rooms overhung with Abstract Expressionist paintings. Mr. Trosch’s style is a mannered hodgepodge of precedent, combining the stylish causticity of Florine Stettheimer, the offhand elegance of Cy Twombly, the clumpy figuration of Philip Guston and, in a couple of the new pictures, the overheated facture of Joan Mitchell.
As a painter, Mr. Trosch gains in strength the more his sophistication is tested by a corrosive wit-he’s in love with high culture, but contemptuous of it, too. That he sees no dilemma in this dynamic gives the work its ease. That he knows the dynamic is problematic gives the work its edge. That he continues to find nuance within its silly and sloppy parameters is a sharp, sour surprise.
© 2003 Mario Naves
Originally published in the June 8, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.