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Wondering... Art AIDS

Examining Warhol, or the Warhol Virus, or the Gay Warhol Zombie Virus. Let's just call it Art AIDS.

af Bruce LaBruce
04 januar 2012, 12:00am

As the new year is shaping up to be just as lousy as the last one – endlessly repetitive Republican campaigning in the US, a creepy Canadian conservative wannabe-Republican majority regime with no end in sight, continued economic malaise, reinvigorated ozone depletion, another batch of overblown, over-hyped Hollywood sequels and the extended, titillating but unlikely prospect of a zombie apocalypse induced by the discovery of the God Particle conveniently coinciding with the end of the Mayan calendar – I’m just going to carry on with the third and final installment of my critique of the current state of the Art World. Le plus c’est change, le plus c’est la meme chose. Honni soit qui mal y pense. Merde.

The loose thread that I want to tie up, and that I alluded to in the previous two columns, is Warhol, or, more precisely, the Warhol Virus, or even more precisely, the Gay Warhol Zombie Virus. Let’s just call it Art AIDS. I suppose you could trace the origins of this deadly disease back to Marcel Duchamp, the inventor of the readymade, an artist whose sexuality is the source of much convoluted speculation. (Whether he had sexual relations with women or not, I still think you can safely call him a fag.) Here’s some homopsychologizing by Alice Goldfarb Marquis:

“... Viewed psychologically, as personality types and as products of a particular background, the parallels between Duchamp and da Vinci become even more suggestive. Like Duchamp, da Vinci was the son of a notary and restlessly travelled all his life. Vasari accused Leonardo of having wasted his life and abilities on a thousand chimerical projects. What significance could Duchamp's contemporaries possibly see in his sketch of a coffee mill? Da Vinci never married and is generally considered to have been homosexual. Duchamp's behaviour prompts questions about his sexuality: he married once momentarily and once very late, chose a female pseudonym and was frequently photographed as a woman. Da Vinci never held steady work, but was supported by a series of patrons. To this lifestyle Duchamp also aspired, quite successfully."

And from Irving Sandler:

“In retrospect, it seems to me that I was shocked by Duchamp's remark because I was heterosexual. So was he, even though he had a female alter ego named Rrose Selavy... and Duchamp was the guru to [John] Cage, Merce Cunningham, [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Jasper] Johns, who were all alleged to be homosexuals. How to negotiate all this?"

(Johns and Rauschenburg were in fact closeted gay lovers. See here.)

And from Jerrold E. Seigel:

“No clues point to the identity of any possible male lovers, but Duchamp spent much time in chess clubs, out of sight of those who knew about his artistic life, and it is conceivable that he found sexual partners there.”

So it seems that the Warhol Virus can be traced back as far as Da Vinci, a homosexual who many speculate painted the Mona Lisa as a self-portrait in drag. Duchamp, spurred on by the secret sordid homosexual chess underworld, reinforced the gay agenda by presenting a urinal as a work of art (you can’t get much gayer than that) and drawing a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, declaring it art. These wily, sarcastic “gay” artists are the true progenitors of prank art, and of the subversive, self-reflexive recontextualisation of art as a kind of inside queer joke. Warhol shifted the paradigm in a far more pop, commercialised direction by appropriating the work of straight commercial artists as readymades: his famous Brillo boxes were cribbed from the artist James Harvey, himself an abstract expressionist (the most macho of art genres) moonlighting in the commercial advertising world. This essentially gay practice has now been appropriated by heterosexual art stars like Banksy and Damien Hirst, but without any of the original psychological underpinnings and homosexual shenanigans that made it meaningful. The commercial impulse is the only one that has survived.

Jean Genet suggested that homosexuality itself is a kind of theft, and it seems that all of these homo artists articulated this theorem in terms of their art practice: stealing, masquerade, sociopathic narcissism and serial dissembling. (At least that’s the way homosexuality used to be, when it was still fun.) It’s not surprising, then, that a virus should emerge from this gay clusterfuck. What is the Warhol Zombie Virus then? My theory is that Warhol was actually assassinated by Valerie Solanas (a militant butch lesbian, no less), and unlived the rest of his days as a gay zombie. Truth be told, he was already an emotional zombie; he admits in his diaries that after his cats died in the 60s, “That’s when I stopped caring.” Subsequently, Warhol made his career by theft, his endless reiteration of appropriated works, often incorporating death imagery, starting with his “Death and Disaster” series, and ending with his skulls and The Last Supper (originally by Da Vinci!) and numerous other necrophiliacal works. (Hirst’s skull is one of many meaningless Warholian appropriations.) Great art has often been the product of a gay, often closeted, deadened hypersensitivity threatened by the cruelty and violence of the heteronormative world, set against an effete appreciation of beauty and aesthetics, and sweetened by the innate awareness that genius steals. You can thank us faggots for inventing this formula.

Warhol was the last great art sissy superstar (I once got in trouble for declaring that all great artists are homosexual bottoms), but the problem is, the gays are now being Easy-E’d out of the equation altogether. This is partly the fault of the gays themselves, who have insisted on being de-pathologised, normalised and assimilated into the dominant order. Being gay no longer confers sensitivity or refinement or a delicate, precocious sensibility that skips around the dull, obvious, straightforward representation preferred by the straight world. Modern art used to be the province of gays, with the exception of the masculinist, come-dripping abstract expressionists; now it’s the domain of macho bullies and gay pretenders.

Take your average art dealer or gallerist today, for example, who often come across as a poor imitation of James Mason in North by Northwest: vaguely homosexual-seeming, but not convincingly so, totally Machiavellian, amoral, cold, aloof, hypermaterialistic and loyal only to his own greed. They’ve been infected by the Warhol Virus, but it’s a mutation. There’s no longer any appreciation of aesthetics: the aesthetic dimension is void now. All pop cultural moments are interesting to them, one no more valid or significant than the next. Celebrity is in itself the most valued asset, but one celebrity is not differentiated or valued over another. Money and fame are the only true values. Warhol, of course, invented this topography, but it has become completely misunderstood and distorted. What was originally intended as a sincerely sarcastic sissy survival strategy invented out of necessity, and an understandably pathological reaction to a hostile world, has become the default art posture. Straight camp is the order of the day. Nothing could be more repugnant.

Even worse, art has become like sports. The uberwealthy are at Sotheby’s and Art Basel is courtside at a Lakers game, obediently buying up all the art as the coaches advise. Artworks are treated like trophies hanging over their mantelpieces. Art stars and sports stars rub elbows, and the sissies, traditionally the last to be picked for sports teams, are elbowed out. The fact that a lot of the cool gay artists were wiped out by AIDS in the 80s didn’t help much either. Sadly, they may have taken art with them.

Not to worry. I’m only ranting on like this because it’s my birthday. I should sober up by next week.

Previously – Wondering... Self Referential and Still Missing the Point

Tagged:
Art
Homosexuality
AIDS
queer
Andy Warhol
gays
Damien Hirst
bruce labruce
wondering
Leonardo da Vinci
Michel Duchamp