A girl ironically goes into a Mayfair nightclub, the kind where attractive young women get in free, and the men pay £50 entry and for all the drinks. It will be a bit of a laugh. While in there, a man approaches her, buys her a few drinks, and more happens. They start seeing each other, eventually marry on some island, she takes up interior design and he makes partner/champions a large bank. At what point did the irony stop?
This seems to be the current crisis of Pop-Art- although the Halcyon Gallery’s combination of Warhol and Mauro Perucchetti, an Italian contemporary artist, seems to want to say the problem is not current but ancient on Pop Art’s timescale. The press release says that Warhol was ‘famous for his extravagant personality and for perfecting the modern technique of silk-screening, Warhol depicted the relationships between the public, the effect of visual repetition and advertising, and the role of celebrity. Perucchetti elevates Pop Art to a new level; infusing beautiful and familiar imagery with advanced artistic technology, his subject matter tends to protest against, and even mock, the contemporary society in which we live.’
So Mauro is exactly the same was Warhol, but happening now. Why I think Warhol is a faulty basis for Perucchetti’s stated goal to mock contemporary society with his subject matter is not for here. (People now can’t help but reference Warhol; but Warhol’s contribution was in referencing no one. Where there was nothing, now stands Warhol). What I want to talk about is the effect of this basis that I see as faulty. According to this idea, Warhol subverts advertising/celebrity by colluding absolutely with it. Warhol marries the rich guy in the Mayfair club and, apparently, the entire marriage is a big ironic schmooze.
If we think about the logic of this we can find some things that are wonderful. Perucchetti protests against and mocks contemporary society, therefore contemporary society is worthy of mockery, like advertising culture and celebrity. To viewers of Warhol/Perucchetti, and perhaps they themselves, contemporary society is implicitly a totally valid target for subversion. It needs challenging and questioning, Pop-artists and viewers agree. The best way of doing this is using that language, unchanged. Advertisements are a way of critiquing advertisements. Selling something for thousands of pounds is a critique of selling something for thousands of pounds.
But is the best way of critiquing the murders and kidnappings in Colombia to join FARC, and do some? The problem with this kind of Doublethink is that it is nonsense, holding, as it inevitably does, Being to be a critique of Being, and to intrinsically hold a critique of being. It makes being critical an inextricable part of existence. Everything on earth exists ironically, every “noun” has to be put in “inverted commas”. To be born or made is an ironic take on the birthing or making process. Existence endlessly subverts itself, and it is right to because existence is implicitly a status quo and thus (all status quos need overthrowing irregardless of what they are) implicitly requiring overthrowing. But the act of overthrowing is tied up in being, so the best way to fight the revolution is just to sit very still, and Be as hard as you can. The revolution will then happen endlessly within the inherently ironic stillness. Under such circumstances, being a revolutionary artist can become extremely easy and easily extremely lucrative.
This occasionally works, if you Be correctly. Not in a truly revolutionary way of course, but in the way of the old satirical paradox. An impression of Margaret Thatcher carries its own unease- the critique is in a kind of disgusting imitation that kind of exposes the original Thatcher, because we can’t see the possible critique in the original one. In imitating you can expose something inherently disgusting that was before clouded by all the disgusting consumerist reality you had become accustomed to. The master of this is Jeff Koons- Made in Heaven, photographs of him having sex with his pornstar wife La Cicciolina, holds this kind of disgusting hyperreality compared to real pornography. The critique is in being over-stuffed with that kind of pneumatic resinous over-plastic of dildos, in a colour that is intensely oversaturated and so un-natural that it took the 20th Century to make it up. Koons out-fakes fake sex, out-cheeses the cheesiest icons, out-gaudys the most eccentric dictator.
So therefore Perucchetti’s 5 foot wide AK 47 in crystals on a black background is apparently both a critique of the glamorising of war and something Kalashnikov would have on his wall (incidentally, Kalashnikov also had a AK 47 sized bottle of vodka made, combining his two business concerns). But the problem isn’t really in this opposites-contained-in-one-art-object; it is that the AK 47 in crystals on a black background is more about being AK 47 in crystals on a black background than anything else. Its tacky bling is just that- the overblown statement of it removes all complexity.
But the wrong thing is overblown here. This is not Koons style overdrive, but a caricaturist that has forgotten to exaggerate. The doublethink of critique+Being becomes beside the point (if you think ever was a point). Tackiness here is apparently a critique of tackiness, but the problem is that it is still tacky, and still an AK 47 in crystals, regardless of the critique it is meant to have: the critique gets mislaid in the object’s being a gaudy object. The Being becomes way to strong for the critique, so, for me, it seems logical that it falls into that old fashioned realm of “bad” when shorn of its Post-Modern “auto-critique” armour.
The irony falls way short in Perucchetti; the art is lost in the objects just being exactly as they are. Warhol shouted much louder than Perucchetti, and about much more inane things- that was Warhol’s trick. In Perucchetti we don’t see tacky commercialism better for his art objects’ imitating it, purely because they are just that, exactly. This is not an impression- it is the real thing. It is like my entirely fabulistic parable about walking into a Mayfair nightclub (with all the guards and columns that populate the Halcyon gallery): the irony of entering the Mayfair nightclub is immediately lost through too, very strongly, genuinely loving it to the point of marriage. It’s real- too verisimilitudinous. For Koons, that kind of sex-shop, near-fluorescent resin colour is used to be sickly, disgusting. For Perucchetti it is just a pallet, just a sex shop. (I have chosen not to talk about work like a matrix of coloured and black dots that spells out “not available but for sale”, because that isn’t even interestingly bad, it is just a 60-ish year old PoMo trick of the mind reduced to dull platitude, again).
The animals in Orwell’s Animal Farm overthrow the men, but the pigs go through a gradual transformation to become man-like. The perfect point for Pop-art is halfway through this transformation:
It was a pig walking on his hind legs.
Yes, it was Squealer. A little awkwardly, as though not quite used to supporting his considerable bulk in that position, but with perfect balance, he was strolling across the yard. And a moment later, out from the door of the farm-house came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs.
Shortly after comes the famous “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. It reveals hypocrisy in the way that the pigs’ complete transformation doesn’t:
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question,
now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked
from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already
it was impossible to say which was which.
Perucchetti’s Precious One- a cast of a woman covered in crystals with hypodermic needles in her head forming an afro- is meant to be a comment on expensive vanity and its futility. I looked from Perucchetti to contemporary society, and from contemporary society to Perucchetti, and from Perucchetti to contemporary society again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Warhol is strong still, particularly his pre-Pop commercial illustrations of shoes.
*** 3 stars Words by Jack Castle © Artlyst 2012