Notes on Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)

TJ & Cyrus & Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform), installation shot

I was going to add this as an update, but it really needs its own post. When I stumbled backwards from appropriating Andi Mack art prop art into Bruce Hainley’s text discussing Sturtevant as talkshow discussing Felix Gonzalez-Torres within a play discussing Sturtevant, I did not remember that Leo Steinberg had special guest appearances in both. But now that I’m back within arm’s reach of Hainley’s s Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-Face, I realize I am trapped in a carnival ride where I can’t tell screen from mirror from object. So here is an abridged, Mack-optimized, recap of Hainley and Steinberg, with a special cameo from editor Michael Fried. (He was not my idea.)

Mise-en-scene: Hainley’s “Hounds of Love” is a three-scene play set poolside at the Chateau Marmont, featuring Bo, an escort; Severin, an art collector daddy; and Rick Genest, the zombie tattoo a/m/w; and a chorus of waiters.  [begin quotes]

BO: A bud of mine tried to convince me that Koons invented that. (Pause.) Appropriation? (Pause.) And I was like, Hello, Madonna?
SEVERIN: When quote appropriation unquote–including its updated derivatives, whether drag-and-drop or copy-and-paste–is the lingua franca, moreover, the usually uninterrogated m.o. of most artists, Sturtevant’s entire endeavor provides a reason to vivisect the term. Actually looking at and dealing with what she does, with beaucoup evidence and various corroborating witnesses, demonstrates that appropriation’s never been her rap, concern, um, what she’s …doing. Not to mention how use of the term lacks lexicological finesse.
BO: (pleased with himself). And is inappropriate…
SEVERIN: It is inappropriate. Leo Steinberg concluded that there were plenty of bad-mouthing caconyms for the phenomenon but no decent name.
BO: Caconyms? Really? Shit. (Pause.) BTdubs. No one talks like that IRL.
SEVERIN: Um, as the kids used to say…Word. (He stares at BO, who seems willing to play along, and then grabs his notebook and flips through a few pages, finding what he wants.) Steinberg states that the quote varieties of artistic trespass or repercussion (or whatever you want to call it) are inexhaustible unquote.
BO: That kind of jacking or hacking or whatever you want to call it? Is. The. Shit. What makes stuff art…and Tumblr, Tumblr.
SEVERIN: According to you.

SEVERIN: d) Bored by the vogue for the readymade artist, a term–really, I couldn’t make this stuff up–quote coined unquote as a perfect adjustment to the situation of the sorry subjective whateverness of so much contemporary culture, any thinking person might wish instead to traffic with Sturtevant, whose cogitations cut apart the semes and seeming, not to mention memes and me-ing, of any (making the gesture for air quotes) “artist” who, abdicating his or her responsibility, opts for complacency and resignation in a cultural apparatus he or she denies having any influence over. I mean, anyone who can actually keep a straight face-and perhaps that’s the only kind of face some wish to keep–while proposing that…(he grabs his notebook)…as readymade artists, as per John Kelsey, quote we can begin to surpass our shared incompetence only by confronting the fact that contemporary art is no longer destined to act directly on reality unquote…(dropping the notebook in his lap)…needs to reevaluate the parameters of reality, which now secures mutated modes of being and imaging that might have been called, once upon a time, not even too long ago, make-believe, and to reconsider–to start strictly within the realm of art, before gesturing to zones art adjacent–any civic brouhaha over art, so-called, of which there have been many and will continue to be.

BO: What the fuck is a readymade artist and subjective whateverness anyway?
SEVERIN: Good question! Answer: Concepts and propositions contrived or (making the gesture for air quotes) “uploaded” by not a few to champion those contemporary artists or collectives whose, um, strategies often get shorthanded as having something to do with appropriative moves and/or culture-jamming. Mr. Kelsey…
BO: Mister Bernadette Corp.
SEVERIN:…(surprised silence)
BO: You’re not the only one who surfs
SEVERIN: Obviously not. In any case, Mr. Kelsey puts what…(grumbling)…is the best spin on the situation, one in which the…(glancing at his notebook)…quote contemporary artist doesn’t just produce and present objects or images, he produces production itself, presentation itself…images and ideas of these that are at the same time (like it or not) ethical propositions. Like any worker today, the artist’s job is also to talk and move, putting words, images and his own body into circulation. More than anything he makes momentum unquote.
BO: #alreadyexhausted [from pp.157-9]

[Bo brings up Sturtevant’s Felix go-go boys, and then Severin talks about PR’s use of gossip to rebrand celebrities’ performative masculinity.]

BO: (tossing SEVERIN‘s robe on an empty chair, he stands and begins to gyrate his hips slowly, holding his beer by its neck lightly between two fingers. He’s done this before.) Bro, I totes get the 411 on the dance club and its, um, transformative potential, but I don’t know how many of your, what, colleagues would see the philosophical or theoretical potential of a stripper pole or platform, much less the flesh grooving on it.
SEVERIN: Kiddo, what do we want to talk about when we talk about art? Is philosophy and/or theory what we’re after? Consensus? Why don’t we just take a poll, Nielsen-rate every goddamned thought or gyration, hypothetical or otherwise?
BO: (continuing to grind, hands above his head, showing off his assets). Or not. I don’t know anyone who owns a TV and yet my crew never misses The Soup or Game of Thrones.
SEVERIN: Well, exactly. Moving on while you…(distracted)…move. Sturtevant first shows her go-go thing as one aspect of “Powerful Reversals,” her, oh, let’s say, unruly rallying of (he air-quotes) “liveness” to question “identity politics,” at (checking his notes) Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf. Circa 1995, when male strippers might have appeared to be some olde timey kind of 42nd Street fun–ritzy availability, or, really, generosity, as you know better than anyone-go-go dancing was actually a Times Square theatricality on its way out, “cleaned up,” courtesy of mayoral grandstanding, cutthroat developers, and what were still called (he air-quotes) “moral majorities.” Many helped raise the better business bureau banner for (making a surly face and surlier air quotes) “family-friendly” opportunity, rallying every vicious stereotype…
BO: (nodding his head in agreement as he puts ear buds back in, sits, and stares at his iPad on his lap). Yep.
SEVERIN: Let’s take a rhetorical stroll down memory lane, a moment to relish the special poetry of even earlier, simpler times, right around, say, 1982–you weren’t even a glimmer–when, post-GRID, pre-AIDS, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control minted the quote 4H disease unquote, since the mysterious ailment seemed to single out Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroin users…That, uh, coinage rang with such agrarian wholesomeness, recalling 4-H Clubs. Under the guise of a grim variegation of husbandry, a specific urban texture and accompanying neon-it adult modes were eventually eradicated by total…
BO: Disneyfication, bro. [from pp.165-6]

SEVERIN:…In the analysis of the caconyms at play in what he calls (looking to make sure the birds-of-paradise are still with him–they are, their cobweb strings starting to twinkle in the dusk) “this trucking out of and into art,” Leo Steinberg invokes Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, in his Discourses, while unpacking the portmanteau of “imitation,” sorted through a dirty laundry list of terms: “Borrowing; Gathering; Depredation; Appropriating; Assimilating.” To which, pace Lady Sturtevant, we could add, after cloning, the negligés and unmentionables of copy, replica, mimesis, simulacra, fake, and virtuality… [from pp.188-9]

[Also end Hainley quotes and begin a quote from a footnote to Chapter 3, “‘Manet’s Sources’ Reconsidered,” of Michael Fried’s 1996 book, Manet’s Modernism, or The Face of Painting in the 1860s, which was, until now, the only Google result for Steinberg’s trucking quote. I now quote from the footnote]

25. …This is an apt place to cite Leo Steinberg’s introductory essay, “The Glorious Company,” in Jean Lipman and Richard Marshall, Art about Art, exhib. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, July 19–Sept. 24, 1978, 1978), p. 8–31. Perhaps the most valuable contribution made by Steinberg’s essay is its consideration of various names of the phenomenon in question (pp.20–25). He concludes that no single term (certainly not “source,” which implies that the earlier work more or less simply generates the later one) comes close to being adequate: “Is there, then, no satisfactory designation for this trucking out of and into art? I doubt if there even should be, for we are not dealing with any one thing. When Sir Joshua Reynolds discussed “Imitation in the sixth of his Discourses, he tossed out, as his context kept changing, the following terms: Borrowing; Gathering; Depredation; Appropriating; Assimilating. Submitting to Infection (or contagion); Being impressed–as wax or molten metal is–by a die; Being fertilized like a soil; Being impregnated. A single term that would comprehend such miscellanea as impregnation, contracting infection, and depredation is hardly worth having. And the reality is bigger still.  The varieties of artistic trespass or repercussion (or whatever you call it) are inexhaustible because there is as much unpredictable originality in quoting, imitating, transposing, and echoing, as there is in inventing. The ways in which artists relate their works to their antecedents–and their reasons for doing so– are as open to innovation as art itself, and so much for that.” (p. 25). [end Fried quote of Steinberg quote].

[Needless to say, I have ordered a copy of Lipman and Marshall’s catalogue. And I am more resolved than before that it is Sturtevant’s go-go dancing platform that haunts me here, and will proceed accordingly.]