another anchoress who knows the train times



Nan Goldin is Not Dead Yet

(Or, "Parts of an Incomplete Review of an Incompetent Review from 'New York Magazine'")


Wherein the writer, Ariel Levy, helpfully lists all the reasons you might hate Dash Snow, Ryan McGinley, and Dan Colen in a really innovative and post-ironic way. All of which is meaningless to me because, dude, they're still *on the cover*. McGinley (listed elsewhere in the magazine as a "gay icon" -- what the hell does that mean?) and Colen are artists who have, apparently, predicated their production on the "myth" of Dash Snow, a slacker and petty criminal with De Menil grandparents and an apparent death wish, which myth the aformentioned friends of Dash have themselves created. The cover story presents an interesting little art-world fairy tale in which the Lower East Side still has a scene and that scene still matters. Along the way, we meet characters like Snow, behaving in that charming way that only the overprivileged can, and McGinley, who actually takes some totally great photographs (my advice to him? The article said he was on his way to Japan: Ryan, listen, stay there. Seriously, get away from what is inevitably going to end in a credibility train-wreck while you still can). But there are also all kinds of good questions to be answered here about art-world myths, nostalgia, avant-garde "scenes," luminescent disasters, and the bed-dreams of children.

[Sections in progress omitted here]

The only reason to herald McGinley as the second coming of Nan Goldin is so that those doing the heralding may fancy themselves the second coming of David Wojnarowicz, or Peter Hujar, or Cookie Mueller. Which they are, you know, not. In time, some of these young artists may emerge as cultural workers as powerful as any of Goldin's scene, but, see, that was the *thing* about Goldin's scene. Luminaries like Wojnarowicz and Mueller didn't so much emerge later as they appeared, suddenly and already incandescent, not waiting to be recognized but burning a path, bodies asprk, through the Lower East Side. What I mean is this: I might want to be my generation's Luc Sante, but turning my friends into insta-simulacra of Sante's contemporaries isn't going to make it happen. Writing good art criticism is.

On the other hand, I don't think that McGinley annointed himself thus. And whatever it is he's selling, I'm buying it (unless it's ecstasy because, like, we all know that ecstasy doesn't even *have" MDMA in it anymore, for god's sake). If the photograph "Dash Bombing" is any indication, he gets Goldin's aesthetic and -- without simply ripping it off -- makes it relevant to his own images. The way that she used light to capture disappearance as it happened, disappearing, really, used a figure/ground relationship based in a complex of politics, mourning, and kinship that I think McGinley might understand. "Dash Bombing" is, above all else, a beautiful photograph. It also manages to document not a disappeared subject but a disappearing moment; not something that happened, but something that actively is not happening anymore; his affect is not nostalgia but what Foucault called "countermemory" (for all the throwing around of that term that I do). This is an act of remembering, Dash balanced on the balls of his feet against the New York skyline that he really can only exist as a part of. That said, I can't even see the balls of Dash Snow's feet in this picture, but still they are more meaningful to me, and more necessary, than any of the (prolific) work he does involving his *actual* balls.

Like Nan's slideshows, the 1970s and 80s scene on the Lower East Side wasn't meant to be recreated. The slideshows were based in the bright and ephemeral burning light of the projector bulb *for a reason.* As I have noted elsewhere, after the slideshows ended, some of Goldin's most similarly poignant and pointed work appeared in her grids. The grids showcased disappearance as collage, almost as if she had herself reified her slideshows before anyone else could; at one and the same time, Goldin de-reified her subjects, daring them to come alive again through the profane illumination of Surrealist method. There could be something of this in Colen's "Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors," except that I find Colen's counting on his subject's disappearance to be fetishistic and disingenuous. Does a trompe l'oeil of, basically, Kurt Schwitters's "Merzbau" make a postmodern statement about simulacrum and appropriation? I guess, but does that make it interesting? Are we still having this conversation? And if this is the case, it seems to me like Colen is basing a "poetics" (if you will) of community on the guarantee of the community's -- or at least of Dash Snow's -- demise. Which I am beginning to think should just happen already, at which point I will wish Colen luck in finding someone else's lifestyle to fetishize as the predicate for his work. If artists like Goldin and Wojnarowicz were engaging disappearance in their work, they never assumed that this disappearance was a precondition for the work's meaning. Sublime objects* of a sort, their disappearing friends elicited an activist reaction both melancholic and terrified, something immediate that, let's face it, could have only been produced during the time when it was produced.

Take your cue from the drugs, guys. When ecstasy is nothing more than cold medicine and cheap heroin, it's time to stop taking it. Or, you can roll yourselves up in the same parka and cuddle all you want, but that don't make it, like, art.

*If anyone wants to make the argument that the sublime object is itself a fetishized predicate for (avant-garde) artistic production, please go ahead. You might be right, but you'll need to take it up with George Hartley as well.

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