Tag Archives: film

IMAGINARY ARTISTS V: JOKER

16 Apr
Batman-1989

“I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it.”

“Barbed wire is the medium of the future, Mrs. Russelmeier… but that is no way to make a banana.” The Joker, 1966.

Two 1966 episodes of the Batman TV series– itself a masterpiece of Pop Art and camp– overtly call out to Pop Art and the (then) contemporary abstract expressionists with Pop Goes The Joker/Flop Goes The Joker, in which the eponymous lunatic vandalises an art gallery. When one of the artists whose works have been permanently wrecked with splashes of paint actually likes it and appreciates that their value’s been increased (“All I could ever draw was stupid looking farm boys”– a sly but spot-on dig at Norman Rockwell), the Joker wastes no time in getting himself into Gotham City’s art world. He starts by winning an art competition against the likes of Jackson Potluck, Pablo Pinkus, and a paint flinging monkey. After an all-too-accurate satirical  exhibition of what would generally be referred to as their “practice”, the Joker paints the prizewinning artwork; a tiny mauve dot on a blank canvas. One of the judges, however, notes that “I kind of like what the monkey did…”

In fact both episodes are loaded with great quips or mordant observations about the general perception of contemporary art and artists. Some of them still strike a nerve, especially Joker’s fraudulent art school (Joker: “Sorry, millionaires only, please.” Millionaire Bruce Wayne, after being instantly accepted: “Aren’t you going to give me a test to see if I have any talent?”), the crit session where anything can be justified and Bruce is castigated for earnestly sculpting fruit, and the art dealer surreptitiously upping the price tag of a painting by $2500 when Alfred expresses an interest on behalf of the millionaire Bruce Wayne.

JokerArt

As a bonus, both episodes are also packed with assistants in smocks and berets, and they get beaten up by Batman and Robin.  They’re generally just daft and fun to watch, as well. You remember fun, don’t you? It’s the thing that was completely forbidden and absent in Christopher Nolan’s pompous, pretentious iterations of Batman recently. “Why so serious?” indeed. Joker could be addressing Nolan and Christian Bale directly when he sums up the real appeal of Batman in Pop… “What can you expect from a man who appears in public in such a ridiculous outfit?” You can go dark with Batman and the Joker– Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison’s writing for these characters effectively if somewhat inadvertently provoked the whole dark and gritty superhero orthodoxy of the past twenty years, almost on their own– but the pair remain essentially adolescent power fantasies and not realistic as human beings, despite or perhaps even because of their psychological and narrative potency.

Tim Burton’s brief recapitulation of Pop Goes The Joker, in the first of the 80s/90s cycle of Batman films, is clearly somewhat darker even though it still features comedy berets. And it’s inexplicably soundtracked by an incongruous, mediocre Prince song that has nothing to do with anything, but let’s ignore that for now. Joker and his cronies once again vandalise an art gallery. This time Degas and Rembrandt, among others, get a Joker détournement intervention. The Flugelheim Museum’s collection of Classical sculptures is smashed, or they get green hair and red lipstick. Only Francis Bacon is to Joker’s taste. The film’s an absolute bloody mess in almost every way except for its stunning techno-gothic-deco production design, but again there are a few sharply observed little details. Immediately following the destruction of the Flugelheim’s art works– and after gassing most of its patrons, possibly fatally– the Joker meets with photographer/journalist/Kim Basinger/eye candy/whatever Vicky Vale. I’ve always loved the way Jack Nicholson goes through her portfolio of trendy stuff, barely looking at any of it and dismissing every page with, “crap, crap, crap, crap…”; I’ve often been tempted to do the same with portfolios and in art galleries. Eventually he finds some photos of murder victims that he approves of. Fortunately I’ve never done that with somebody’s portfolio.

Batman89Vandalism

Nicholson’s Joker also has a bit where he portrays himself as a kind of outsider artist who’s just prepared to go that little bit further and mutilate or kill his public if necessary. “I make art until somebody dies.” This ties in nicely with the deranged intensity and strange obsessions of some real world artists, and with the Joker’s own fascinating imaginary psychology as a man who doesn’t think there’s any such thing as a joke that’s gone too far.

Under the break you can watch both episodes in full, and a clip of the Joker obviously having a profound influence upon the young Banksy at the Flugelheim:

UPDATE: What a shame, all the videos are gone due to what YouTube calls “copyright claims”, or what I call Prince and Fox being absolute twats.

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ONE OF THESE IS ART: CHRIS MARKER / REDDIT CREEPSHOTS

19 Oct

CHRIS MARKER, SELECTED WORKS 1957-2011, LOUISE BLOUIN FOUNDATION, 9 OCTOBER–3 NOVEMBER 2012

Dozens of furtive, objectifying, fetishistic pictures taken of women in public places without their knowledge or consent apparently constitutes an art exhibition to some people. Except when they’re on Reddit in the currently super-controversial Creepshots (i.e. the place where men post furtive, objectifying, fetishistic pictures taken of women in public places without their knowledge or consent) in which case they’re just weird fapping material for a few, but exceedingly problematic and distasteful to nearly everybody else. I will again state my belief that not everything an artist does is necessarily art, even if they themselves claim it as such. I will also recommend not looking at the parts of Reddit where things like Creepshots– and far, far worse– are nurtured and validated.

This exhibition at Artinfo/Modern Painters oligarch Louise Blouin’s art space in west London– in the contemporary silo gallery style, and therefore consisting mostly of white paint, cavernous wasted space and the flinty eyes of sullen gallery maids peeping out above oppressively high white cuboids– was presumably in the pipeline long before Marker snuffed it earlier this year. But one can’t help thinking that Passengers (AKA Creepshots) being flagged as his last work possibly indicates that if he’d lived he might have had the sense to think again about showing work that could literally be printouts from Reddit, both in terms of subject matter and the (very low) quality of the images themselves. There’s also some truly horrible Photoshop work to be seen on the prints of images he took in North Korea in the 50s; pretty clearly, he didn’t ‘shop them during the Korean War, so again somebody seems to have been making bad decisions on behalf of an artist who’s obviously no longer in a position to police how his work gets shown.

I’m actually a huge, nerdily knowledgeable fan of Marker’s films and installations. Static pictures on walls seem almost irrelevant to any survey of his work. La Jetée, his most famous work, drives this point home. It’s made of still images, but it’s the montage and the journey through time diegetically and structurally that makes these still images work. As contextless still individual images, most of them have little relevance , interest or meaning. Obviously the mainstream art business is still for the most part about having things to hang on walls, even if the artist is primarily a film maker or a performer, and so film makers and performers who want to get on make token things to go on walls, and so other artists have to do the same, and so it goes on. This exhibition is absolutely dominated by still images, a perverse state of affairs for an artist who expressed himself most and best through moving ones. An installation plonked almost as an afterthought near the doorway gives a glimpse of the real Marker with intensely edited and exquisitely structured fragments from silent movies and old stock footage, but Blouin is apparently of the orthodox view that we don’t deserve seating or any other form of comfort to experience long-form video art.

Seriously, people, the room must be at least 20m x 20m. You have space for a few damn chairs.

COMMITTING A MASTERPIECE

29 Feb

OrsonWelles

“Is it art? Well, how is it valued? The value depends upon opinion, opinion depends on the experts, a faker like Elmyr makes fools of the experts, so who’s the expert? Who’s the faker?” Orson Welles in F for Fake.

F for Fake* is Orson Welles’ experimental 1974 documentary “about trickery and fraud, about lies… and any story is almost certainly some kind of lie.” It focuses on three fakers with deep conceptual connections, as seen through the lens of Welles’ own admitted penchant for telling self-aggrandizing lies in real life. Of course he can’t avoid mentioning in particular the huge trouble he got into as a result of drawing reality into his fiction (or vice versa) with Citizen Kane and his notorious War of the Worlds radio broadcast. “I didn’t go to jail,” he says sardonically, “I went to Hollywood!”

This is by way of contrast with one of the film’s other subjects, the art forger Elmyr de Hory, who did go to jail several times for his efforts. He was wanted by Interpol and various other law enforcement agencies for most of his life. It’s hard not to suggest that Interpol perhaps needed to sort out their priorities and do something more important instead of hounding an elderly man who painted unauthorised copies of expensive paintings and apparently did no harm to anybody who wasn’t a greedy, ignorant fool, especially if we also bear in mind that de Hory was driven to suicide two years after this film was released because he was about to be extradited to France (and probably given a long prison sentence) for some of his “art crimes”. Continue reading

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