Me, Me, Me

Laurel Nakadate

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What’s the name of this blog? Oh, yeah:  Too Much Art. I was reminded of the title’s rationale while visiting P.S. 1 the other day.

Not that I was at MOMA’s avant-gardist outpost expecting to see art. Experience tells me that this event is unlikely, if not altogether out of the question. But much the same way I occasionally leaf through Artforum in order to marvel at proof of life on other planets, I’ll wander through P.S. 1 in the hope that the bric-a-brac on display will be more diverting than the building itself.

Good luck enjoying that much what with photographer and video artist Laurel Nakadate festooning her work from floor to ceiling. Who is Nakadate? She’s a graduate of Yale University, a pusher of “a mailbag’s worth of envelopes” (a description courtesy The New York Times), a “provocateur” (ditto), exotic, beautiful and sad, so sad–365 large photos of 365 days of self-induced tears are the centerpiece of Only The Lonely, the mid-career retrospective mounted by P.S. 1.

But mostly Nakadate is a narcissist. Who isn’t, right? But Nakadate–well, she’s special.

Imagine this: Two commercial airliners are hijacked by terrorists and are sent crashing into a pair of buildings in a major American city. What’s the first thing a New York City artist does? Set up a camera, film the scene as best as able and slip on a Girl Scout uniform. Then she plants herself in front of the lens and looks pensive, really pensive, as plumes of smoke darken an otherwise idyllic September day. Anything is fair game in the cause of art.

Laurel Nakadate on 9/11

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Elsewhere, Nakadate engages myriad men of a certain age and class–men unknown to the artist, it’s important to note–and films the subsequent close encounters, contrasting her young and supple body with their not so young and supple bodies. Overlay the films with schlock pop music–Neil Diamond, say, or Britney Spears–and you have, according to Jerry Saltz, “crackerjack” work by “a kind of aggressive ‘Olympia’ presence, artificial, at risk, and dangerous simultaneously”. Saltz thinks condescension and exploitation count as art. So does P.S. 1 Director Klaus Biedenbach. He organized Only The Lonely.

Artist Laurel Nakadate and uncredited collaborator

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Doesn’t Nakadate worry about her safety when filming these cinematic ventures?

“I always thought there was something so beautiful about getting attacked and turned on by something we can’t see.”

Rape, or the threat of it, is a “beautiful” thing.

I was late in seeing Only The Lonely; the show’s been up since January. Critical response has been wishy-washy–Ken Johnson at the Times being the most egregious example. The “sympathetic view”, Johnson writes, “is that [Nakadate] has been tapping into a river of grief and loneliness under the surface of American life.” Sympathy will be the death of, if not lonely Americans, then the life of art. Enough, Ken; stop it.

Over at Art Vent, Carol Diehl proved refreshingly caustic, attributing the limitations of Nakadate’s work to “art school conceits” and prurient appeal:

“Men become unhinged at the sight of a young woman in her underwear”. 

True enough, but it’s also worth noting that only a bright young thing could get away with this booty-shaking brand of artistic expression.

Arguments and opinions will circle around Nakadate’s achievement, its salacious mix of blatant intentions, specious theorizing and cruel aestheticism guaranteeing the artist this brief moment in the Long Island City sun.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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  • Patrick Neal  On June 21, 2011 at 10: 02 am

    Hilarious and dead-on.

  • James Lourie  On June 21, 2011 at 10: 05 am


  • Matthew G. Beall  On June 21, 2011 at 11: 13 am

    Excellently said!

  • Ed Valentine  On June 21, 2011 at 8: 02 pm

    You’re a funny guy. I appreciate so much of what you say and look forward to these posts. You’re smart, angry and fed up–but is it making a difference?

    You bitch and moan and it’s all justified, but who the hell is listening other than like-minds? What’s the point if it doesn’t in some way help these poor dumb bastards see the error of their ways?

    • James Lourie  On June 22, 2011 at 10: 21 am

      I think it just helps us to know we are not crazy, even if we are of like-minds. Also, there is the 100th Monkey effect. You never know when the tide will turn.

  • Ed Valentine  On June 22, 2011 at 10: 57 am

    Fair enough.

  • Dan Harper  On June 23, 2011 at 1: 25 am

    I remember when a Balthus exhibition arrived in New York during the 1970s and the art critic for New York Magazine (I can’t remember the name) claimed it was a conspiracy on the part of the artist and the gallery to force male sexuality on women.

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