Bring Back 1-800-MD-Tusch

An e-mail arrived from the helpful folks at Pace Gallery: “Artwork by Chuck Close and Kehinde Wiley”, it announced, “[will be] featured on New York City taxi-top billboards throughout the month of January 2011.” Presented under the auspices of the Art Production Fund and Show Media, this stunt–er, event–will display “works of art instead of advertisements.”

You mean, there’s a difference? Show Media, after all, “help[s] brands connect with consumers in unique and different ways.” Chuck Close lapsed into a signature brand because he succumbed to the unholy triumvirate of Minimalism, Conceptualism and Photorealism, movements that did their utmost to encourage limited imaginations and limited means.  But Kehinde Wileyman, has he groomed his shtick something up slick, to the point where the PR machine can rattle off comparisons to Titian without breaking a sweat or eliciting a pang of bad faith.

What benefit is derived from a brief glimpse of a Close or Wiley painting–not even a painting, a detail of a photo of a painting–as seen on a taxi careening down a Mahnattan Avenue? Transforming an image into a literal moving picture does art and the viewer no favors; in fact, it renders both superfluous. Instead, each painter gets to boost his ego with a gesture that is, in its down-with-the-people condescension, hugely self-aggrandizing.

Mr. Close, Mr. Wiley–give yourselves a round of applause.

It hardly bears mentioning that the democratic claims made for this endeavor are the worst kind of PC cant–the billboards, we are told, will “reach people of all ages, races and backgrounds”. You could say the same thing about Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, whose beatific visage New Yorkers know like the back of their collective hand from his ubiquitous subway advertisements.

I said it before and I’ll say it again:  Sometimes our lives are not blessed by art.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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