These are some meditations on readings I am doing for a book group around David Geer’s paper on Luxury Kitsch. The gist – art world people must allow people to create art that is dark and offensive. But let me take you through the whole story.
What is luxury kitsch? It is artisinal items. The original argument around kitsch was that it was a mass produced replacement object for people who have lost their folk items. That is produces only effect apart from cause and that it is all spectacle. Now there are different interpretations of kitsch, arguments for an against kitsch. But it does exist, e.g., a mass market snowglobe souvenir.
Kitsch is art that has overshot the mark,” writes the artist and writer David Robbins. “Kitsch is marked by an overearnestness, a pretentious overripeness, a sense of creativity gone sentimental on itself, and a complete absence of self-criticality […]
Today we have a new category of kitsch, luxury kitsch. This is for people that have more money, are looking at their objects to designate a status and some sort of value. Think hipsterism or artisinal snowglobes handcrafted by someone.
There is also the problem of pattern and ornament. It is kitsch – unless of course you are pondering higher mathematics like the 4 colorability problem. And the problem of worn textures – think antique finishes.
Luxury kitsch is almost always a humorless art and thus distinct from camp—a knowing kitsch—that revels in transgressing taste. In contrast, luxury kitsch is manifestly paranoid about such transgressions. Its goal is to foreground taste, but it falters in doing so excessively.
There is perhaps a brief notion that kitsch can also be too many historical or theoretical references, which I would wholehardedly agree with. Luxury Kitsch is perhaps the shadow of kitsch. It is the Kitsch that will not revel it its kitschiness.
The goal of luxury kitsch according to Geers is home decor, including (wall) art. But that is really the goal of kitsch in general. According to this, what is called the art market is actually trafficking in luxury kitsch. Which I would also agree with. But it makes me wonder what is art now? Can there be art in consumerist capitalist society at all.
But the lamentable truth is that not all great art can be lived with; quite the contrary, this is what institutions are and should be for. Certainly, ‘difficult’ art can occupy a prized place on the mantelpiece as a token of prestige, but rarely for its ocular and decorative merits. In the best instances, too, (I think of DADA in particular here) such work is not a palliative, but rather a persistent thorn.
Can art now only be difficult? Is the Sistine Chapel kitsch? Perhaps now but perhaps not in the renaissance. Difficult art can exist in the living room as an marker or sign as to the ‘good taste’ of the inhabitant. Does this make it kitsch? Is there any art that is not difficult? Is art always the shadow of civilization? I have no idea.
I am going to quote the coda in full, since it is beautiful and the point of the essay cum manifesto. Basically we are hiding our shadow, our artistic shadow and we must allow the shadow to flourish until it is able to be expressed to our cultural consciousness.
Ours is a world of Alma-Tademas—a competent painter, perhaps—who imagined the ancient Greeks and Romans much like his bourgeois patrons: shopping and relaxing in an idyll devoid of strife. The world of luxury kitsch is a similar fantasy and the work that increasingly holds sway as the bourgeois ideal of untroubled separation casts all darker visions to the side much like the economically displaced in our cities. But the monsters will perhaps have their day. Consigned to the shadows they might now hold samizdat societies and wait for their time. Our task— that of galleries, collectors, institutions, artists and writers—is to make sure that they can survive until that moment.
I’m going to quickly jot some notes about the other Geers paper – “Neomodern” in OCTOBER 139, Winter 2012.
Geers makes the observation that art in 2012 was involved in a number of backwards looking practices such as hand made production and process over product – in a way reminiscent of Action Painting. He interprets this as a reaction to technological transformation and economic uncertainty.
Thus a work by Josh Smith, Daniel Hesidence, Alex Hubbard, Thomas Haseago, Richard Aldrich, or Gedi Sibony, just to name a few, might juxta- pose a modernist look with a material process, counterbalancing aesthetic delectation with ascetic denial… Incorporating the received values of materialism and context-sensitivity, today’s neo-formalism nevertheless pursues an art of intuitive, aesthetic arrangement that satisfies the need for formal continuities and simple answers during a particularly complex time.
Ouch! Not much different from the earlier essay. However in this case there is the attack of solipsism. That modernism is being reflected through the personal tastes of the artist to create a new work in this echo chamber of inside jokes and personal psychology (I refrain from mythology since mythology is what I consider more universal).
From a structural perspective, this shift in focus from discourse to subjectivity and from representation to thing counters more dematerialized practices such as conceptual and media-based work.
If we consider the formal veneer of the works in question, the structure of today’s art market, and the ornate passivity of its championed prod- ucts, we see a return to a premodern condition, in which the artwork is limited largely to a propagandistic, affirmative, or decorative role, as was the case with eighteenth-century painting. Indeed, one only has to look at Nattier, Fragonard, and Boucher to see the operational horizon and destiny of much of today’s production… it greets a pre-primed spectator, already indoctrinated into the codes and mythologies of the modern, who happily welcomes it as a return to old certainties—an echo of a lost golden age.
Is there any hope? Maybe not in modernism…