February 12, 2010

Bad Boys? Whatcha Gonna Do?


Roberta Smith gets it mostly right in yesterday’s New York Times piece on the “Bad Boys” of art. Her criticism of art world snugglies like Damien Hirst and Gelitin is impressively frank (“In the beginning he [Hirst] conducted himself with intelligence or at least inclusive cheer. Not so much these days.”) and funny (“It’s better when Gelitin can see what it’s doing, and we can’t.”).

Among the few (two?) Ms. Smith “likes” I think there may be promise for Leonardo Drew. Although I have not seen the show, the work pictured above reveals an incisive and “muscular” exploration of site specificity and portends good work to come.

That said, the other “boys” get a fair spanking from Ms. Smith. I agree that the surface fascination with tendencies of rebellion and edginess have clouded the critical assessments of Banks Violette and Sterling Ruby. Our art world denizens seem to have limited hindsight when it comes to precedent and also appear blind to talent that comes up short when it is presented by youthful males.

My selection of current “bad boys” would vary wildly from Ms. Smith’s. I have different criteria for what constitutes cutting edge, provocative artwork. In my view, the “baddest” work challenges definitions of art, while being intelligently aware of the historical canon. My “bad boy” artists investigate the viewers’ physical and sensory perception of the work and how the work’s address affects that perception. Provocative work induces a cognitive response beyond surface appreciation and yields intellectual engagement with the work and its context.

Who’s doing that now? My partial list would include Joseph Kosuth, Pierre Huyghe, Francis Alys, Roni Horn, Sam Durant, Stan Douglas, Ai Weiwei, John Baldessari, Oliver Herring, Lawrence Weiner, Victor Burgin, Robert Barry, Bernar Venet, Marina Abramovic and Ilya Kabakov.* Their work expands upon and continues to develop theories of conceptual art while still managing a healthy acknowledgement of the art viewers’ visual addiction to an interesting “object.” They are the ones I would be watching now. They are not, as Ms. Smith noted about eldest “bad boy” Hirst: “on automatic pilot if not cryogenically suspended.”

Image: “Number 134”, © by Leonardo Drew; photo © by Librado Romero/The New York Times.

* UPDATE: I must include AiA February cover boy Simon Starling for his efforts that generate critical and viewer investigation beyond his installations, objects and projections.

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