My recent post on Pamela Anderson got me thinking again about Borat. I was one of the last people to see the movie a couple of months ago. While I found the filmmaking to be truly one-of-a-kind, the overall sensibility seemed familiar. Crude, confrontational and deeply cynical, Baron Sacha Cohen’s view of the world reminded me of a lot of contemporary art.
I suppose I should say modern art. Ever since Duchamp there has been a long line of provocative pranksters in the art world. I suspect Borat would get a kick out of Manzoni’s Shit Cans. But the first artist to come to mind was Maurizio Cattelan:
In an interview with Sculpture Magazine, Andrea Bellini asks Cattelan about his creative persona:
Andrea Bellini: Listen, I don’t mean to be blunt, but even in that case some people said you were a real con-man. You organized fake biennials in the Caribbean, you attached a dealer to the walls of his gallery with Scotch-tape, you copied the show of another artist in every detail, you sold your space at the Venice Biennial to a publicity agency that was launching a new perfume, you denounced the robbery of an invisible work of art of yours to the police, you slashed Zorro’s “Z” into a painting, imitating Fontana’s cuts, you had a 300-year-old tree grow right through a flashy new Audi car. Who is Maurizio Cattelan, a court jester, a liar, or a con-man?
Maurizio Cattelan: A jester? I’ve been trying to say serious things for a lifetime, but nobody ever believes me. A con-man? I never robbed anyone, never committed perjury, never committed immoral acts. A liar? I don’t believe in a single truth, only in an infinite combination of possibilities. I’m a bundle of contradictions, just like everyone else.
‘him’ 2001 © Maurizio Cattelan
“I like publicity: beautiful images, lots of girls. But I don’t think that Hitler was a publicity stunt. He wasn’t trying to sell anything. On the contrary, it was a rough image about peeling off masks and roles.” Maurizio Cattelan
While Cattelan’s vision can be dark, it doesn’t leave me with the same kind of rot gut that I get from Borat. A number of jaded artists come to mind (Mike Kelly, The Chapman Brothers, Jason Rhodes, Sean Landers, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy), but the one I keep coming back to is Richard Prince. First there is the cynical humor:
Jokes, 1999-2000 by Richard Prince
Then there is the social commentary/provocation:
Spiritual America, 1983, by Richard Prince
Finally, like Borat, Richard Prince has a thing for Pamela Anderson. He’s made devotional art:
untitled (Bruce Willis, Daryl Hannah, Pamela Anderson), 1999 by Richard Prince
He’s even gotten Pam into the Kazakh Wedding Sack:
Like Borat, Prince’s vision of the world leaves me spinning. On the one hand, I find his technique dazzling. It has also been influential. I doubt I would have collected the Niagara love letters if it weren’t for him.
For the record, Richard Prince owns one of these letters:
I can’t go on like this 2005, by Alec Soth
This is one of the nastiest pictures I’ve ever produced. While editing NIAGARA, I deleted it from the main sequence of images. The project was already dark, but this image and a couple of others seemed to overwhelm the book in nihilism.
While I laughed along with everyone else at Borat, the movie left me sick to my stomach. The fans at the rodeo are a part of America, but they aren’t America. Same with Prince’s biker-chicks. As much as I respond to the work, I hesitate to give myself over to it. Pamela can have Richard Prince (and Kid Rock and Tommy Lee). I’ll take my wife, please.