L is for Bullshit Art/ists

| April 29, 2014

In reading so much about public and socially engaged art that eliminates the boundaries between “artist” and “spectator”, we’ve all probably rehaped and reconceived our aesthetic values about “street art”. However, I’ve been confronted repeatedly over the years with REALLY BAD PUBLIC ART that poses itself as emancipatory and anti-elitist, as if that in and of itself makes it interesting and valuable. And for me, this is symptomatic of an emerging milieu of attention-seeking bullshit artists that “brooklyn culture” has reified. ┬áTo that end, I give you “Kalan”, a “performance artist” denizen of the Bedford Ave L Train station (a/k/a the hipster bullshit epicenter of the universe).

“I usually describe what I do as a non-narrative, nihilist, anarchist puppet show about literary theory. I make things out of garbage, and dead animals and things I find from all over the place, and I like to collect things that seem to weigh a lot, semiotically, and collage with them, sort of to suggest that it’s very meaningful, but also to say nothing is very meaningful at all. There’s so many reasons I like street performance, and part of it is because I think it disrupts the elitism of the art world, sort of, and is populist.”

I’m all for resisting hegemony and questioning the inherited values of our media culture, but sometimes “subversive art” is just… bad art. Do we have to abandon our subjective aesthetic critical faculties to “accept” and “support” a more populist expression, or “grassroots aesthetic”? Or can we still call bullshit when we see it? I mean, when I see this guy, all I can think is “pretentious fraudulent hipster clown”.

Portlandia often plays brilliantly with this tension, using parody to caricature a culture drunk on irony. Their recurrent comedic device seems to be a reflexive irony spiral, like this Escher-like sketch on “Life as an Art Project”. They turn a mirror on an aesthetic culture of pretentious narcissists that takes themselves too seriously, even when they’re full of shit (which is often).