Monday, May 11, 2009

The Flaying of Dudley

If you’re looking to incite discussion on facebook, you should become a fan of Julian Schnabel. In the melee I’ve forgotten now which of my fb friends had steered me in that direction, but I know for certain the friends who think I’m wrong-headed. What I said was that I’ve always liked hubris when it’s art-driven, and that I thought The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. I did not say I like Schnabel’s paintings. The plates on velvet never lived up to Schnabel’s ambition or to the hype he generated for them, but I do remember liking il cardinale if that’s indeed what he was, painted on the ceiling of a portico at PS 1, above a refectory table. There was an unintended existential vacuum that magnified the Renaissance antecedents of the space.

So what is hubris?? Marsyas had it. It’s presumption, originally toward the gods, that one is better than one’s betters. A long time ago, in the Art Starry Eighties, Schnabel set himself up as the peer of Duccio, Giotto and van Gogh. Things have calmed down some since. Schnabel is acknowledged to be a better film maker than painter or real estate mogul. Lesser lights like Damien Hirst have come and almost gone, John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage have had their moment, and Jeff Koons is making accessible balloon dogs instead of unfathomable basketballs in water tanks. Art is having an extended moment of anti-heroism, which is not to say that artists’ egos have ceased to exist, only that it’s become unfashionable to display them.

But I like poor flayed Marsyas for believing that he could, even when it turned out he couldn’t. Apollo’s such a buzzkill.

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