Temples to dead things: Galleries, Warhol and Audio Guides

Art galleries… public art galleries.

Mausoleum or art gallery? It's an art gallery.

Mausoleum or art gallery? It’s a mausoleum.

How can I justify saying something like this? Well, beyond the easy comparison between an art gallery, a mausoleum and empty churches, it is the way they treat the viewing of art itself.

Camille Paglia claimed that Andy Warhol and pop art killed the avant-garde. She may be right. Certainly our total lack of spiritual connection to art died before the 60s and the agnosticism that surfaced as time went on managed to detach most art from anything meaningful (Walter Benjamin identified this in 1935 in Art in the age of mechanical reproduction). Its hard to dispute that things that had the power and meaning as politics and religion prior to the 60s has become a pastel wash of qu’est-ce-que-fuck. I am not a fan of Paglia, but here is an interesting article (How capitalism can save art) written by her that touches on some aspects of these thoughts. I disagree with a tonne of stuff she says, but she echoes Arthur C. Danto and the Situationists on the death of the avant-garde and how art has detached from anything meaningful.  Her arguments on how art is generated from craft is Bauhausian and has some real merit in the discussion on how we are disadvantaged with our removal from manufacturing (manufacturing quite literally meaning: made by hand… or hand-making). This is painfully obvious in the radical nature of the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement. DIY didn’t used to be a movement, it just was. However, the angle of her arguments championing technology and industry as the only viable economy for art teeters very close to the fascism expressed in the Futurist movement. Art has a more important place than how it builds capitalism.

But this is the long boring eulogy: God is dead, art is dead. We have been saying it for so long that the mourning of the avant-garde has become as boring as the attempts to revitalise it.

Enough art fagging and onto a story…

(Change to sarcasm font) These things just scream a good time, don’t they? (/sarcasmfont)


The Art Gallery of Ontario had an Andy Warhol exhibit years ago and a dear old friend and I decided to have a whirl through the heart wrenching postmodernism of our cultural artifacts exhibitised. I didn’t grow up with Warhol, but none of his pop-culture-as-art-as-pop-culture bullshitting was lost on anyone my age.

We were confronted immediately, even before seeing a single soup can, Marilyn or Elvis with the clever digital docent… the audio guides. Despite being passed out for free, my companion and I decided that we just really wanted to see pop art artifacts and enjoy our day as if we were accompanied by Candy Darling herself.

Candy Darling - one of the 60s most famous drag queens... and Warhol

Candy Darling –  the 60s most famous transgender art figures… and Warhol

So think of it: Warhol… the Factory… the “No Drugs” but “Yes Drugs” amphetamine days… the 60s… pop culture iconography built up to the importance of Michelangelo… mass production… and the removal of meaning.

Digital docent

The curatorial statements on the wall promise film, prints, original photographs from the Factory, and more 60s debauchery than you could shake a stick at. We even dressed the part: I in a black cat suit and beret, with requisite china flats, and my companion in head to black with a jaunty red scarf, we made our entrance into the gallery.

Move over Factory. Move over mass production line symbolism. Enter a factory of non-celebratory assembly line-move-one-step-to-your-right as various Factory and 60s celebs on prerecorded audio guide mobile phone looking devices carried by ex-revolutionary Roschdale artists aged to the ripe yuppy wine of dullness – as regular as a morning with bran. They were finely tuned into their digital docent, frowning at smiles, growling at laughter as if Warhol and his antics were as austere as the Shakers. This. Is. Art. Dead as the Catholic church after a red light Saturday in Montreal.

Where it got really funny (to the point of my companion and I having to leave the temple to compose ourselves) was when we approached a particular Warhol video called Blow Job. Imagine it:

A large group of not-real-fur dressed in black with thick plastic framed glasses and hair done to look not done but done enough to be stylised in its undonness with digital docent cum mobile phone type devices watching this…

… completely devoid of reaction. Not a smile, not a glance, nor a shift of discomfort. I mean, the video may or may not be an actual blow job. That is a good part of the joke – that you watch this with an assumption based on the title. Without the title, the performance can be constructed as many different things. Call it “junkie” and then you have someone desperately waiting for a hit.

The result was perfectly postmodern with the art not being that which was hung on the wall or being displayed, but the performance of the ultimate assembly line viewing of art reduced to its most base pompousness. It wasn’t a be there to be seen more than see experience either. It was a religious experience for those who remembered that art was once something more – it was the echo of a dead avant-garde.

A really good question may be, how can galleries shift from this? How can they move away from the lot of religion (alienation) in our increasingly secular world? Danto claimed that art in the western world in its genesis was an “era of imitation, followed by an era of ideology, followed by our post-historical era in which, with qualification, anything goes… In our narrative, at first only mimesis [imitation] was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be… It is the end of the story.” – How can we give meaning to that which is an imitation of an imitation that has become so alienated from anything meaningful that everyone except the artworld and art fags are the only ones who care an ounce for its existence?

So I ask you: what breeds innovation (novelty)? I am not asking in the glittering generalisation sense that has been attached to the tech world, but truly, the essence of Paris in the late 19th century…


“Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul”

– Leonard Cohen

Art Fag

n. term invented in Dead Milkmen song “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)”  popularised to describe the black clothing and beret wearing, art loving, coffee house sitting, navel gazing, intellectualising, name dropping, middle class, and usually left-leaning person. Meant to indicate a deeper knowledge of the lesser known emerging artists as well as popular artists.  Not to be confused with hipster. Not a pejorative associated with sexual orientation.

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