Visual Art What the New Museum Needs Is A New Museum
posted by January 11 at 18:15 PMon
Kim Jones, Self Love
Robert Storr’s talk last night at the University of Washington was by turns thoughtful and impatient—the work of a man waiting for something new. “What the New Museum needs is a New Museum,” he said in response to a question about the health of art given the drop in the number of alternative spaces around the country. “Start-ups. Adaptational activity.”
Storr is not an official representative of start-ups or of adaptational activities. He runs the Yale School of Art, formerly worked as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and championed older artists at the Venice Biennale he curated this summer. Joking about the lists that Artforum publishes at the end of every year, he said he’s been listed, dropped, and made a comeback in his career, and now, “I think I’m going to be dropped definitively.”
But Storr did shine a few lights forward last night, with his belligerently moderate opinions. He’s not buying the purist myth of the avant-garde, but he also said, “I frankly don’t want somebody else’s skull with a bunch of diamonds on it,” he said. He’s tired of art that’s about the market, or about money, and he’s tired of Marxist-based 1980s critical theory.
“Critical theory has bred its own Frankenstein,” he explained. “There are so many artists that ironize, jam, play, and flip the system of art evaluation. … There’s also a lack of honesty [among artists]—and I see it among my students—about their engagement, their relationship, with the market and with marketing.”
Getting a jab in, he dissed the journal October for its visual asceticism and overtone of somber seriousness: “Ros [Krauss, who split off from Artforum to form October after artist Lynda Benglis posed with a dildo on the pages of Artforum] didn’t mind when Bob [Morris] put in a photo of himself all buffed up, because she was living with him and she liked his work, but that a beautiful woman would be sassy enough to show up him at his own game…”
But when someone in the audience followed Storr’s lead of criticizing Artforum for its lists, adding that it is fat and overrun with ads, Storr made an about-face. He retorted that those who think the magazine is shallow should consider their own reading habits: do you actually read the magazine or do you mostly just look at the pictures?
Storr was in the mood to be contradictory: his slide lecture, before the spirited Q&A period began, was about the artist Kim Jones, whose retrospective is at the Henry Art Gallery through Jan. 27.
Storr made a great case for Jones’s work as a stalemate between vulnerability and aggression. In his war drawings, the allegory is literal. Jones sets the dots and the Xs against each other, but he plays both sides. And consider his Mudman costume—the sticks of the armature jut out in a way that’s threatening to the people around him, but they also cut into his soft body as he wears them. He’s both the attacker and the victim when he walks the streets (or in the Henry’s case, the gallery) with that thing on.
Storr skipped over the episode early in Jones’s career, when he burned live rats to death in a public performance after having done the same thing casually and privately as a member of the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. At the end of the Q&A, I asked Storr how he felt about it. Here’s what he said:
“I feel like if I had seen it, it would have hurt me. I wouldn’t have done it. I also feel like it was undertaken with the utmost of seriousness, and that it meant something that it was done.”