“So the Emperor went along in the procession under the splendid canopy, and all the people in the streets and at the windows said, ‘How matchless are the Emperor’s new clothes! That train fastened to his dress, how beautifully it hangs!’
No one wished it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office, or else very stupid. None of the Emperor’s clothes had met with such approval as these had.
‘But he has nothing on!’ said a little child at last.’
‘Just listen to the innocent child!’ said the father, and each one whispered to his neighbor what the child had said.
‘But he has nothing on!’ the whole of the people called out at last.
This struck the Emperor, for it seemed to him as if they were right; but he thought to himself, ‘I must go on with the procession now.’
And the chamberlains walked along still more uprightly, holding up the train which was not there at all.” —Hans Christian Andersen
When I define “danger” in art making, it is the unwavering conviction that an artist (gallerist or curator for exhibiting them) has to present work that will be in all likelihood dismissed, even mocked for its seeming simplicity or deficiency of content. Marcia Tucker, Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was summarily fired by her board for exhibiting Richard Tuttle in her “Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials” exhibition in 1969. Duchamp’s ready-mades were the personification of content-free art work, taunting the viewer to concede to ignorance. On the flip side, are we bastions of arrogance infusing these works with substance that solidifies their presence in the annals of art history?
Two “chamberlains” that carry the Emperor’s train with steadfast conviction are Richard Prince and Mike Kelley. A pile of yarn flippantly tossed on the floor in the all over gesture of Jackson Pollock (see!? I have already done the artist’s job for him), pitch perfect pathos (poetry or memory?), stock promotional photos of Brooke Shields in Little Women quickly laid out in a 40 inch frame, and paintings containing a Courier-fonted joke… and yes, a roughly screened image occasionally thrown in for good measure.
Born five years apart, these two artists rose to stardom in the 80s. These radical gestures embraced long before the Go-Go branding machine went into overdrive (and by brandiwng I use the term in the marketing context not as in iron to cattle, although that would be applicable as well.) It is an explosive moment when gesture, historical timing, mind blowing subtle observation and, of course, poetic necromancy come together in a perfect brew. The brain warms and bubbles and our eyes become devout conspirators. —Tim Nye