MOMA COMPLETELY BJÖRKS UP
I’ve often compared the art world to the mafia, with their mutual general secrecy, their deliberate cultivation of mystique, and their maintenance of respectable fronts for money laundering and worse. Then there’s the code of silence– certainly we don’t criticise our self-appointed superiors for fear of blackballing, but we should avoid offending our peers too, just in case they’re of use to us later. Whether somebody is of use, of course, being the psychopathic standard by which the most successful artists, curators and gallerists judge each other and everyone else. Most reviews of contemporary art are so bland and uncritical (in every sense of the word) that they could charitably be called reports rather than reviews, if we quite reasonably define a review as a critical assessment. Very often supposed art critics or arts writers seem to be following a prim “if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all” rule and so restrict themselves to inoffensively listing the pictures or objects they saw, like a seven year old asked to write an essay about their school holiday.
So it always comes as a shock when normally docile mainstream critics break ranks and genuinely critique or go on the offensive, doubly so when other people feel free to pile on as well. In recent weeks there have been two such instances. One is related to MoMA’s tragic starfucker curator Klaus Biesenbach, who basically worships anybody who is a celebrity but isn’t an important contemporary artist, e.g. Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga and, unsurprisingly, Marina Abramović… although Maz is allegedly furious with him for messing up one of her performances by eclipsing even her own immense narcissism. The other incident is a telenovela-esque hissy fit melodrama starring Bartomeu Marí, the soon-to-be-former director of MACBA in Barcelona.
The eponymous New York Björk exhibition that Biesenbach curated has received gleefully ghastly reviews. Roberta Smith in the New York Times called it “tacky” and “little short of hostile”, while also for good measure describing Abramovic’s 2010 Biesenbach/MoMA wankfest The Artist is Present as “cheesy”. Jason Farago in The Guardian called it “weirdly unambitious” and a “Madame Tussaud’s parody”, although he does grudgingly recommend it anyway. Maybe he really likes waxwork shows. Jillian Mapes at Flavorwire dismissed it summarily as a technical disaster with only one exhibit worth seeing at all. Christian Viveros-Fauné at ArtNet wrote an extraordinarily lengthy monstering of the exhibition and the curator, reporting that the vast majority of MoMa’s trustees expressed their displeasure by not attending the opening event. C-VF furthermore officially declares that “MoMa-bashing is in”, calls for Biesenbach to be fired, and says the show is a “turkey” and “what many critics argue is the worst MoMA exhibition of all time”. The latter seems a bit of a tame qualification given that it comes at the end of a several thousand word blitzkrieg of everything Biesenbach has done recently and his evident prioritisation of his own vanity, ego and fandom over any question of artistic practice or merit. CV-F also mentions in turn great pull quotes from other critics, such as “a fiasco”, “an abomination”, “the Björk show at MoMA is really, really bad”, and “[it] turns MoMA into Planet Hollywood.”
In short, it seems there’s hardly any prominent person in the USA’s east coast art community who hasn’t taken the opportunity to put the boot in, publicly. Maybe surprisingly, maybe unsurprisingly given that it’s Biesenbach who has obviously been cruising for a bruising rather than Björk herself, the latter has come out of the whole debacle relatively unscathed. It speaks volumes, though, that she was first asked to do the exhibition in 2002 but only said yes about ten years later, 2002 being about the last time she did anything but spin her creative wheels in the mud. These days she must be a very grateful grapefruit when she receives any attention at all. If she saw a paparazzo now she’d hug him instead of savaging him.
Art world public clusterfuckup number two takes us to Barcelona. It involves MACBA director Bartomeu Marí and a sculpture by Ines Doujak called Not Dressed For Conquering; this artwork depicts former Spanish king Juan Carlos on his hands and knees, appearing to receive anal penetration from Bolivian feminist and activist Domitila Chúngara, who in turn is being humped by a dog, the amorous trio surrounded by rusty old Nazi SS helmets… because of course it does.
Marí cancelled the exhibition in which the artwork featured and then as a parting shot when he was compelled to resign, instigated the firing of the two MACBA curators responsible for it. Marí claimed not to have seen the work in question until the last minute, which to me seems incredibly remiss and incompetent for a museum director. If you’re the director and you don’t know about every significant thing that’s happening in or going into your art museum, you should be sacked because you’re incompetent. The “I didn’t see nothing, it wasn’t me” thing would seem to be a pretty transparent lie if it’s true that the artist and curators have written proof of him signing a loan form for the work about a month before.
The curators didn’t even put the show together, they were just in charge of its MACBA incarnation and refused– along with the artist– to quietly remove the piece from the exhibition without making a fuss. The MACBA board of trustees’ president of honour is Sofía, Juan Carlos’ wife, but Marí maintains nobody told him to do anything. Again, even if this is true, then it just proves he’s capable of being an arsehole all on his own.
After a massive shitstorm of criticism in Spain and elsewhere, Marí did at least backtrack and un-cancel the show before the board cancelled him. La bestia y el soberano (“The Beast and the Sovereign”) opened, complete with the regisexual sculpture. The full Streisand Effect occurred following the hamfisted censorship attempt, with visitor numbers up 48%.