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Friday, January 11, 2008

What the New Museum Needs Is A New Museum

posted by on January 11 at 18:15 PM

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.”

Fair enough.

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.”

RSS icon Comments


“I feel like if I had seen it, it would have hurt me."

Bet it hurt the rats more.

Posted by ouch | January 11, 2008 6:35 PM

This is serious, right? Like you really, honestly believe that any of us actually gives a flying fuck about this shit? Jeezus, and they call me "disturbed."

Posted by Captain America | January 11, 2008 6:48 PM

I'm glad you asked about the rats. It was gnawing at me too.

Posted by Jim Demetre | January 11, 2008 8:48 PM

Real rats never die, they just reincarnate as Marxist-based critical theory. Except for rats that are also chefs, who are capitalist and more real than theory. Which are you? How do you feel about your narrative arc in retrospect? Does it hurt? Does it hurt art?

Posted by Mr Catnip | January 12, 2008 12:07 AM

What Jen Graves needs is a salad and a lap around the pool...

Posted by Jim Dine | January 12, 2008 2:59 AM

I went to the Kim Jones opening. Only one or two of his pieces spoke to me. The costume thing was opaque and kinda dumb. Now that I know that this guy is capable of burning animals ALIVE I am very certain that this guy is a piece of shit and someone should get his crap the hell out of that museum.
He should have been banned from the art world immediately after he tortured the animals. Period. I'm disgusted that he wasn't.

Posted by RATS | January 12, 2008 10:39 AM

How exactly would someone be "banned from the art world"?
The National Artist licensing board takes away their right to paint?

Ozzy Osbourne bites the heads off some live animals, shot 17 of his own cats, and is now one of the richest musicians in the UK, worth well over One Hundred Million Pounds.

That banning thing seems to really work, doesnt it?
Then again, maybe Ozzy was banned from the art world- havent seen any shows of his at the Henry lately...

Posted by Ries | January 12, 2008 1:55 PM

Kim Jones is a Vietnam vet... a pretty disturbed one at that... I think that explains some of his work. I feel that he has a significant voice because of that. Storr's talk was very interesting. This quote is from an entry on "ArtScene" found here:

And those rats? Hard to explain, hard to defend an act of wanton cruelty, unless in the context of other, often far greater acts of human cruelty that provided the historical context for Jones’s performance at the time. This personal history included service in the nightmare of the Vietnam war, where Jones and his fellow US marines would torture rats in the mud-holes where they spent their days, out of anger, out of cynicism, out of spite, perhaps directed at the callousness of the political contingencies that led them there. Sheer boredom could be it, or, in a larger context, the act reflected human fear or indifference in regards to the well-being of other creatures that share this planet with us. Maybe the rats and the the whole invocation of suffering tapped into our ancient, primordial impulses to ward off the blows of the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice. Let’s face it, in the course of human history, humanity has been guilty of far worse deeds than the immolation of a handful of rats. Jones’s action was intended precisely to confront us with that history, and with the deeply disturbing understanding that the veneer of what we believe to be our more enlightened civilization is thin indeed.
Posted by Jamey | January 13, 2008 6:16 PM

Robert Storr doesn't have a clue. His Venice Bennale was a joke. No not a insult! I'm not surprised he was "contradictory".

What teh world needs is a new Robert Storr. Burn the old one.

Posted by scott redford | January 14, 2008 1:30 AM

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