August 23, 2004
I trust you've all heard by now that versions of Edvard Munch's proto-Expressionist masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna" were stolen at gunpoint yesterday from the Munch Museum in Oslo by a trio of masked Norwegian banditos.
Since such works would prove a tad difficult to unload, police are expecting to receive a ransom demand, just as they did when another version of "The Scream" was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo 10 years ago. Last time around the thieves demanded $1 million, to which the goverment refused to accede. That work was later recovered undamaged.
But on the topic of value in the here and now experts agree that you simply can't put a price tag on a masterpiece like "The Scream"—yet they seem quite ready to throw around some estimates...
[**Update: in the interest of easy perusal, I've tacked on conversions of foreign currencies into US$ by way of XE.com]
The Munch Museum said the two stolen paintings were among its most valuable of Munch's work—worth an estimated £10.5 million together [US$ 18.8m].
The two stolen paintings were among the museum's most valuable, worth around US$ 20 million, according to some experts.
The Scream, an icon of existentialist angst showing a waif-like figure against a blood-red sky, is believed to be worth up to £30 million [US$ 53.7m].
Two hooded men rushed into the museum just before midday and while one threatened guards and patrons with a pistol the other used wire cutters and ripped 'The Scream' and the Madonna from the wall before escaping in a getaway car. The paintings are worth at least $30 million [US$ 21.1m].
A ransom demand is seen as the most likely development as experts said The Scream, valued at £33m-£41m [US$ 59.1m-73.5m], could not be sold on the open market.
However, Knut Forsberg, manager of Blomqvist Fine Arts, Norway's oldest auction house since 1870, estimated the value of "The Scream" at between $59.6 million to $74.5 million.
A Norwegian art expert estimated The Scream stolen yesterday would fetch $60-$75 million at auction, and the Madonna $15 million.
The works may be worth as much as 500 million kroner ($74 million), the Aftenposten newspaper reported, citing Oslo gallery owner Ben Friga.
Auction houses and Norwegian curators estimated the value of this version at up to $74.5 million; Madonna was offered for sale at $12.7 million in 1999.
It was the second theft of a version of the work—valued at 65 million euros (BD30m) [US$ 79m] by Norwegian media—in 10 years.
"'The Scream' is in a league by itself," said Franck Giraud, a New York art dealer and a former head of modern art at Christie's. "It's almost impossible to value, but if it were for sale today, it could sell for over $100 million and become the most expensive painting in the world."
Gibbs and Vogel (the latter, by the way, reporting from St.-Tropez?) later make a point to remind us that a third-rate Picasso recently sold for $104.1 million. Hmmm... perspective.
The Times on some fears of damage and a bit of outrage:
Witnesses described the thieves as clumsy, even dropping the paintings on the way out. A silent alarm alerted the police.
Two hours later, less than a mile away, the police found shattered wooden frames and glass from the stolen works—a discovery that caused art experts to fear that the two treasures might already have been damaged.
"They are very fragile, I'm afraid," said the director of the Munch Museum, Gunnar Sorensen, said in an interview. He said "The Scream" in particular, painted in tempera on cardboard measuring about 33 inches by 25 inches, could be irreparably damaged if bent. The slightly larger "Madonna," another ghostly composition, was painted in oil on canvas and is more likely to survive intact without its protective frame, he said.
Mr. Lier said he was astounded that robbers a decade later could charge into the Munch Museum in broad daylight, with close to 80 people milling around in the galleries, and escape with two priceless works of art.
"Hasn't the city of Oslo learned anything about security in 10 years?" he asked. "I am shocked that once again it was so easy."
A French reporter who witnessed the deed, quoted in the Gulf Daily:
According to a witness, the works were on display at the museum with only minimal security precautions when the robbery took place, at around 11am. "What is surprising is that the two paintings were hung by simple cables in the first room, which is nearest to the exit," Francois Castang, a reporter for France Musiques radio station, who was in the museum at the time of the theft, said.
and by the Associated Press:
"What's strange is that in this museum, there weren't any means of protection for the paintings, no alarm bell," a French radio producer, Francois Castang, who saw the theft told France Inter radio.
"The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls," he said. "All you had to do is pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose—which is what I saw one of the thieves doing."
And Jorunn Christophersen of the Munch Museum responds to the critics (from CNN):
At a news conference, government officials expressed outrage that the paintings were not more carefully protected.
But Christophersen said an alarm did go off after the paintings were pulled off the wall. She also said the paintings were "stuck to the wall with solid screws." The robbers "used force in taking the Munch (paintings) away," she said.
Christophersen also said the robbers threatened the guards with guns as they headed to their getaway car.
Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream, which was stolen from an Oslo gallery on Sunday, was not insured against theft
This doesn't entirely surprise me as it isn't really possible to insure something of the sort for replacement purposes, but the BBC's reporting highlights one problem in light of early evidence of possible damage to the works (see above):
The Scream, which was taken by two armed men from the Munch Museum in the Norwegian capital, was insured against water and fire damage—but not theft.
Its insurers say this is because if a painting is damaged by smoke or flooding, the gallery needs money to repair it.
But if a painting is stolen, the gallery cannot simply go out and buy another copy with the insurance money.
"They are not replaceable so you can't buy The Scream on the street and put a copy up there," said John Oyaas, managing director of the museum's insurers, Oslo Forsikring.
"The focus is on other issues than insuring them. To a certain extent this is common practice because these items aren't replaceable."
But if a painting is stolen, damaged then recovered—and The Scream is very fragile—there will be no insurance money for repair.
An off-topic question, then: as the Munch Museum's coverage appears limited to Act-of-God damage, do any museums insure works against damage wrought by iconoclastic zealots and madmen? I'd wager the RijksMuseum might.
August 11, 2004
... Based in Seven Hills, Ohio [ed: Pfingsten Publishing's parent org, Pfingsten Partners, LLC, is actually based in north-suburban Deerfield, IL], Pfingsten publishes Art Business News, Framing Business News, Décor, Art Expressions and other trade magazines. Pfingsten owns Art Miami, which is directed by Ilana Vardy, who worked for some years as Thomas Blackman's assistant. Vardy’s presence in management suggests that Pfingsten’s Chicago expo will have high standards. [ed: I suppose contrasted against what we might otherwise expect from the publishers of the aforementioned trades]
Another art-fair producer also has its eye on Chicago. Mark Lyman, director of SOFA Chicago, the Midwest version of the chain of Sculptural Objects and Functional Art expositions, is partnering with DMG World Media, a British firm, to produce what he claims will be "a very important and top-rated art show for the Chicago market." Lyman has made a success of SOFA and kept standards high, so if he can find a venue and get his show off the ground, it is sure to be worth attending.
It is sad to see Thomas Blackman in trouble. Personally very popular, he has done a great deal for the local art community. But if he does go down, as seems quite possible at this point, Chicago will have at least one—and possibly two—strong art expositions next year.
I think the personal regard for Blackman and his support for young local art bears emphasizing. After all, with the fate of Art Chicago in question, that of the Stray Show also hangs in the balance. While I've found my Stray Show experiences somewhat dispiriting, I think the opportunity it presents to emerging venues and talent is a necessary counterpoint to the Main Event. Should Art Chicago founder, as Cassidy points out, we'll still have two other contenders vying for the blue-chip crown. Do we have similar assurances for the Stray constituency? At least one fan expresses concern.
Back in 2002, posting to the Other Group detailing positive strides in the Chicago art scene, Cassidy offered the following points of encouragement contra the perennial pessimists:
f.. Art Expo (born 1983) has done a tremendous amount to project Chicago, its art, and its artists onto the international consciousness. It got international dealers to come here and brought journalists from everywhere. If nothing else, Chicago is the place everyone goes in May.
g.. Now we have Tom Blackman running Expo and isn't he the guy who has a space downtown where young artists show? And isn't he the guy who gave lights, booths, cash, and organizational backing to the Stray Show in December? John Wilson, who ran Expo before Blackman, would never have done those things! He did not care about young artists and was too busy fighting with everyone in sight. Please do not take Blackman for granted-cherish him!
h.. Be grateful for Paul Klein who has shows in his gallery of unknown local artists. He just put on a Chicago and Vicinity show in December and it was excellent. Is there another dealer in town who does this? I can't think of one...
Well, we've already lost Klein.
No matter. Onwards: for some history on Art Chicago circa 1999, let's turn to this article from the Albuquerque Tribune:
Talk to gallery directors and you'll find that most have been coming to Chicago art fairs for a long time, some for the last 10 or 15 years.
Over that time, Chicago has seen three fairs; in one year—1993—all competed for attention over the same handful of weekends.
Since then, two have been squeezed out: Art Chicago International, created in 1990 by Los Angeles organizer David Lester; and Chicago International Art Exposition, founded by John Wilson's Lakeside Group in 1979.
That left Art Chicago, started in 1993 by Thomas Blackman, a Chicago native who worked for Wilson for more than a decade.
Blackman has relied on a rotating jury of 16 or more gallery owners, who are also required to be in the fair, to pick dealers for Art Chicago. Their choices are based on the quality of the work dealers represent as well as seemingly unimportant details like the proposed layout of the booth. Of the more than 400 applications submitted this year, a lean group of 214 emerged—some familiar faces, some newcomers.
Although Art Chicago has embraced galleries with blue-chip artists like Warhol, Picasso or Diebenkorn, it also has emphasized more challenging work by contemporary artists like Matthew Barney, Kara Walker or Carrie Mae Weems.
Walk the aisles and you'll see a lot of work that you probably don't understand and may not, in fact, like but is nonetheless exploring the newest boundaries of a medium.
And that, organizer Blackman has said, has been Art Chicago's trump card.
"Market makers, some look at us as a barometer," Blackman says. "Some look at us as a capitalist tool. One thing we never pretend is to be a museum. . . .
"On the other hand, we can do something no art museum in the world can do, to bring together 20,000-plus artists at one time from 24 countries," he says. "Here you really get a chance to see in the most unadulterated way what is going on in the contemporary art market."
The fair is a critical event in the Chicago arts community; the environment it creates is centered around the works on display which represent young, emerging artists in the company of contemporary masters. It is a vehicle for the development of art, culture, and commerce in the city of Chicago, and the educational values it displays under the charismatic leadership of Thomas Blackman are vital to the understanding and promoting of contemporary art.
The results gathered from the surveys of approximately 30 Chicago gallery owners and arts administrators will provide insight into the importance and influence of Art Chicago. The Chicago galleries surveyed are representative of the diverse cross-section of exhibitors selected to participate in Art Chicago. Their contributions are crucial to understanding the importance of the fair to its exhibitors.
This study seeks to explore how Blackman's Art Chicago became the leading contemporary art fair in Chicago, especially focusing on the charismatic leadership of its founder. Blackman was the executive director of the Chicago International Art Expo, produced by John Wilson, President of The Lakeside Group. Because of his experience with CIAE, Blackman became a familiar and important figure in the Chicago arts community.
This study will also investigate the elements that have made the city of Chicago ripe for the success of Art Chicago. Surprising to many, the fair's success is completely dependent on the promotion and funding of TBA. Although the fair provides Chicago with cultural recognition, tourism, and revenue, there is a lack of support for the fair by the city. This thesis examines some of the reasons for this, and some of the implications.
August 7, 2004
In a moment, Greg Maddux will take a second hack at win number 300. Whether today, next week or thereafter, whenever he notches this one up, he will become only the 22nd pitcher in Major League history to do so.
On this occasion, FOXSports offers some former teammates' thoughts on Mad Dog...
Eddie Perez on the cunning:
We were playing the Astros in the middle of the season and Jeff Bagwell was coming up, and Doggie had told me before the game, "We're not going to pitch this guy inside. We're going to stay away. He's pulling everything, and if we go in he'll hit it out."
So it's late in the game, we're up something like 8-0, and Bagwell is batting with a runner on. All of a sudden, Doggie wants to go inside. "What?" He nods that's what he wants to do. So he throws it in, and Bagwell hits a bomb. We still won the game, but I was mad. "Why did you do that? I wanted you to pitch a complete-game shutout."
He said, "You know what? Two months from now we're going to meet these guys in the playoffs, and he's going to be up there with runners on and he's going to be looking for that pitch, and we're never going to throw it."
I said, "Whatever, dude. I wanted the shutout."
Sure enough, two months later and Bagwell is hitting. They've got two men on and Doggie strikes him out. He says, "Do you remember two months ago?" I had already forgotten about it. He said, "You got mad because we went inside and he took us deep, but he was looking for that pitch today, and we won the game because of that."
No other pitcher can do that. No one can get away with that kind of stuff. It's almost illogical. You don't throw inside changeups to major league hitters. He'll hang a slider on purpose. He wants people to get hits because everything he does is setting up the hitter for a situation later on.
John Smoltz on the attitude:
Funny thing is, he's this mild-mannered, soft-spoken guy who can go out on the town and nobody hardly recognizes. But he's not even-tempered when he's pitching. He gets mad and throws some good tantrums. Greg is extraordinarily competitive, and if he ever got in a fight he would be the dirtiest fighter you ever saw. He'd plot revenge, and he'd make his revenge so incredible you'd never do it again.
Pfingsten Publishing, which earlier this year acquired Art Miami (which has been struggling in the face of Art Basel Miami Beach) and Artexpo, has accepted the reigns of another struggling fair in Navy Pier's annual exhibition.
Pfingsten Publishing will replace Thomas Blackman Associates, which had produced its Art Chicago at the pier every May for more than a decade. Blackman and McPier severed ties in June, and Thomas Blackman, head of the Chicago firm, said it planned to stage a Chicago show in a tent next July.
Earlier this year, Pfingsten, an art magazine publisher, acquired the Art Miami and Artexpo New York fairs.
Ilana Vardy, the director of Art Miami, is expected to run the fair here. Vardy is a former director of Art Chicago as well as of the Chicago International Art Exposition. She had continued to live in Chicago until moving to the Miami area in July.
At any rate, Chicago is well on its way to hosting a pair of annual art fairs, provided TBA finds a place to pitch their Art Chicago tent—and maybe more. The new wrinkle: dejected at being out-bid on the Navy Pier deal, a partnership of Expressions of Culture, Inc and DMG World Media says they'll be looking into venues for their own Chicago fair.
Pfingsten beat out a group led by Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc., producer of SOFA, the international exhibitions of sculpture objects and functional art held at Navy Pier and in New York. Expressions President Mark Lyman said his firm had teamed with DMG World Media, a London-based international exhibition and magazine company (owned by the firm that publishes London's Daily Mail newspaper).
"I am completely baffled by it," Lyman said of the choice of Pfingsten, which he called "a company new to the business."
He said he was told Pfingsten "offered a more lucrative financial deal."
Lyman said his firm and DMG haven't given up on producing an arts exposition here.
"My group will get together to see what other opportunities there are in Chicago for a fine arts fair in a venue other than Navy Pier," Lyman said.
And then there were three, though they may yet come to their senses.
** Update: More in today's Trib: in June McPier filed a breach-of-contract complaint against TBA over the aforementioned back rent, seemingly doing what they can to stop Blackman's fair in its tracks.
Blackman said on June 11 he was moving because Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the municipal agency that manages the pier, could not accommodate his need to hold the international fair in the summer, when it wouldn't conflict with major auctions in New York.
But Billy Weinberg, a spokesman for McPier, as the agency is known, said Friday that Blackman was notified soon after the last fair "that we were releasing him from his agreement [for subsequent fairs]. Based on his chronic failure to pay, we had chosen to sever business ties with him."
On June 17, McPier filed a breach-of-contract complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Blackman and his Chicago firm.
The complaint alleges Thomas Blackman Associates owes $373,314 under its 2004 rental agreement for the pier's Festival Hall and has ignored payment demands. It also claims Blackman entered into the pact in April with a $103,500 check that later bounced.
The complaint seeks to prevent his firm from selling or leasing trade equipment, fixtures and other property used as security for the agreement.
Weinberg said the complaint was not retribution against Blackman for moving the fair but reflected McPier's efforts to improve its financial footing.
Reached Tuesday, Blackman said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on it. Court records indicated he had not been served with it by then. Efforts to reach Blackman on Friday were unsuccessful.
The article also provides better context for the coming (potential) Art Fair Wars:
Vardy and Blackman worked for the former Chicago International Art Exposition, and she ran Art Chicago for Blackman from 1993 to 1999. She then became director of Art Miami, a long-running fair held each January that was acquired recently by Pfingsten Publishing.
Pfingsten could face competition here from Blackman and a group led by Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc. and London-based DMG World Media. That group lost out to Pfingsten for the Navy Pier site.
Vardy is a veteran of the Chicago fair wars of the early 1990s—when three expos clawed for advantage—and of those now in South Florida. The field there is more crowded and cutthroat, with rival shows timed close to or simultaneously with one another.
But she said the shows are not all fighting for the same dealers and collectors—unlike the Chicago fairs of a decade ago.
Also of note regarding TBA's woes: when I was tooling around River North during the July 9th Vision 9 openings and receptions, I stopped by TBA to see if they had an exhibit up and, according to the elevator guy as well as the general appearance of the place (a quick peek through the door), they seemed to be in the midst of closing up shop and moving out of their Huron Street offices.
From the former:
The lawsuit was filed a week after Blackman made a surprise announcement in June that Art Chicago would be leaving the pier's Festival Hall because MPEA had failed to give him more desirable dates for the fair. Unknown to the public, however, the pier had already severed its decade-long business relationship with him over a series of financial disputes.
Blackman declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday because he said he had not seen it. Attempts to serve Blackman with the suit last month were unsuccessful, in part because he has closed his offices on Huron Street and moved them into his warehouse.
From the latter:
And while Art Chicago is widely perceived to have declined significantly in recent years, it still has its ardent supporters.
"A lot of the galleries in Art Chicago are likely to stay with Tom Blackman," said local dealer Rhona Hoffman. "Speaking for myself, I'm not interested in Lyman's art fair or Pfingsten's. I will only do one show in Chicago, and I would throw my hat in with Tom Blackman first."
If contacted by Blackman's competitors, she said, "My answer would be no. That's about as succinct as you can get."
Ultimately, Blackman said, Chicago may prove to be large enough to accommodate two or even three art fairs, especially if certain conditions were met.
"It's a big market, and arguably the second most important art market in terms of museums and collectors," he said. "I think there's room for a lot of shows, and they may try to look at different segments of the art market, because there's plenty of those as well."
Some local art world observers agreed. Joseph Tabet, organizer of Navy Pier Walk, an annual outdoor sculpture exhibit, said competing shows might very well be just what the city needs to shake it out of its current art fair doldrums.
Still, the prospect of a trio of competing fairs leaves some on the local art scene feeling that more isn't necessarily better.
"Obviously it's not good to disperse the possible exhibitor pool among three different art fairs," said Natalie van Straaten, executive director of the Chicago Art Dealers Association. "It also will be difficult for the Chicago galleries because I'm sure they would all like there to be one fair. It's very, very important to the Chicago art community that we have a strong art fair that will bring international visitors from around the world as exhibitors and attendees. However that can happen is what needs to happen."
In the end, van Straaten said, 2005 could turn out to be a "transitional" year for Chicago's art scene, "and it may take some experimenting before it all shakes out."
In a "bizarre" way, she added, "I find it encouraging that there are these major companies who feel that Chicago is still a viable place to hold an international art fair. Specifically, the fact that there were two very strong organizers who wanted the May slot at Navy Pier is an indication that Chicago is alive and well as an art market."
August 2, 2004
In semi-response to Mark.
As much as I enjoy Adbusters and its ilk, I harbor some deep reservations regarding their 'program.' Sure, they've all got snazzy websites and pretty, glossy rags, but what are they in a position to accomplish beyond edgy design and refried logotypes? As the culture-jammers would have it, the fight begins and ends on the level of symbols. Advertising is the ultimate evil and images are the ultimate weapons. That just sounds too easy to me.
I'm not going to go into the iconophobia implicit in a number of these arguments, though it is something that concerns me a great deal. Perhaps another time. For the time being, I'll simply stick to some remarks on the Left's flight from reality.
On March 20th, 2003 I was arrested with around 800 other people at Chicago's massive anti-war protest and detained at 111th St for 35 hours [pointless note: this is the third time in two weeks that I've linked back to that same post]. Nine of those hours were spent standing in a 12x12 cell with 30+ other men. 17 hours were spent in a slightly smaller space with maybe eight others. Bottom line: we had plenty of time to chat.
After muttering something probably not so nice about "Seattle" at some point, I found myself in a brief conversation with an anarchist/anti-globo type. When I wondered what good smashing bank windows was doing, cathartic though it might be, I was fed some bit about "breaking the spell of Capital." [note, so as not to feed media-fed misconceptions: no windows were smashed during the anti-war protest]
Perhaps there's something to that, I thought. Perhaps, too, there are more effective means of effecting change (though they're probably all much more boring). At any rate, Capital has swallowed up bigger and badder window-smashers than you, my friend.
It struck me later that the theatrics of the anti-globalists have wound up an end in themselves—the practice of freedom (in a weak and limited field) rather than the pragmatic struggle for justice (anything truly practical being something that Leftist purism would forbid). It's a revolution in symbols rather than in substance, having its own brand and style where, unfortunately, it often ends.
Tight Dickies pants and tighter vintage tee shirts meticulously unearthed and chosen for their ironical value have supplanted semi-military garb and blue jeans as the uniform of choice for young urban protesters. Pouring out of a Logan Square music venue they snatch up fliers from be-satcheled, scraggly haired vintage-record-collectors whose life ambition is to write the liner notes for a Material Issue anthology. Some of these fliers are promoting future shows at this very venue, but some of them urge one to attend some obscure protest, the small print urging one to bring noisemakers of some sort, the bold script announcing, for example, the end of McGlobalization, probably the most annoying buzzphrase of the last twenty years.
The protests range from the ridiculous to the ridiculously absurd. One, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, demanded "Hands of Iraq!" and surprised this reporter by telling me that "Imperialism Ends Now!" Lenin said that you can’t make a revolution in white gloves, and I'm pretty sure you can't make a revolution wearing Vans footwear either. The protesters, all five of them, were passing out literature and barking marching orders through a megaphone. When the reporter asked how exactly Imperialism was going to end, their response was confident: "By spreading the Knowledge of Truth," a sentence that begs so many questions Ann Landers would be at a loss.
The first Real World protests were smaller affairs—I was at one of them—which were peaceful until a couple of idiots decided to mount a direct assault against the building, at which point the CPD took some of them away in cuffs. Then the Chicago Reader, in all their self-important brilliance, aggravated the situation by running a front page feature article on them, describing in detail just how the Real World filming in Wicker Park was going to aid in the gentrification of that area.
I heard that a lot. Well, sometimes I heard that it was a symbol of gentrification, and sometimes I heard that it was a catalyst for it. Whatever the case, I heard it from young white kids who moved to Chicago from places like Midlothian and Glenview. The whole charade of the protests, which got national coverage, accomplished nothing but embarrassing Chicago and Chicagoans. Yelling stuff at seven strangers picked to live in a house and start getting real is not going to strike a dagger into Viacom's heart. Its just going to make those seven strangers very sad and unhappy. The Reader story, which I should say was not completely favorable towards the protests, mentioned how some of the girls from the show were visibly distraught by the protests. When this I read that, my heart ached for these kids. Sure, they kind of set themselves up for it, but at the same time many of them were small-time folk with dreams of living in a big city and experiencing real culture for the first time, while, yeah, okay, also making a spectacle of themselves on television. But you don't see people hurling balloons filled with paint at former contestants of The Gong Show.
So the protesters really just wanted to get on MTV or at least onto local news broadcasts. Ostensibly however it was to stop "gentrification," another one of these buzzwords being thrown around by young white kids in the city. They don't see it as gentrification when they move into places like Humboldt Park or Wicker Park or Pilsen, only when slightly older, wealthier people do. Which is bullshit, of course, but which isn't even my main point of contention.
In May of 2001 a group of about twenty Hispanics, many of them mothers, went on a hunger strike in Chicago's Little Village centered on 31st St. on the near south-west side, to demand a new public high school be built, as the current one, Farragut on 24th Street, was chronically over-crowded. The story received very limited coverage and no fliers were passed out at the Logan Square venue or any other to urge kids to go and help them out. Why? Essentially because there is little cache in hanging out with middle aged Hispanic women in a rough neighborhood. I visited with them and chatted a little bit, but couldn't really stay the night since it probably would have made some of them uncomfortable—they were staying in tents. The Chicago Public Schools vacillated on whether they were going to build the school, and little action was taken until several months later. Yet those Northside hipsters, rolling their eyes at middle-aged men and women in Dolce and Gabbana, leafing through their out-of-print Cap'n Jazz records and downing cheap beers at the L&L (a chic "dive" in Lakeview), bang a few drums and holler obscenities and the Reader gives them the front page.
In other words, where were they when it really counted?
We're all too familiar such selfconsciously iconoclastic and iconocentric strategies in the realm of Art, where we are bombarded with self-satisfied wall text, statements and manifestos peppered with notions of "problematization" and "critique." I'm sure it was in the art world that it was first determined that bare appropriation is, in itself, critical.
"Problematizing." That word just provokes my ire. It all seems to operate, much like the idea of culture-jamming, on some tedious metaphor of 'short-circuiting' culture or (in a decidedly more industrialist vein) 'a wrench in the gears', as if by teasing out the warp and woof of society, the whole thing will simply unravel before us. Such is the magic of deconstruction as well. A testimonial on the back of Derrida's Of Grammatology offers the claim that the volume provides tools and techniques that are "as simple, and as destructive, as leaving a bomb in a brown paper bag outside (or inside) a pub." ...And thus Western Culture was brought to its knees.
It's all too romantic. Turning Marx on his head, far too much of the contemporary Left has abandoned any imperatives concerning the material conditions of oppression for a pure Revolution of the Mind. But, gosh, it's so much easier that way, isn't it: deface a logo, alter a billboard or deconstruct a press release and blow the minds of all those squares up at Corporate HQ.
Now I'm no Marxist, but I find this satisfaction with waging battle strictly on the level of symbol distressing, not in the least because its impossibility leads ultimately down the path of Baudrillardian resignation where we determine that authentic revolution is futile as its icons are co-opted from the first by the very target of its struggle. After all, Capitalism has proven mighty adept at appropriating opposing forms into the domain of exchange value (I seem to remember Walter Benjamin recognizing as much, though I may be wrong—I'm sure we could dig up some Chomsky here, too). Today, Capitalism doesn't so much crush oppositional imagery as it screenprints it on a t-shirt. Blow the minds of the bourgeoisie and they'll take it to the bank.
I've always felt that we could probably blame Debord and his fellow 68ers for sending us down this particular road, with their single-minded (and horribly iconophobic) focus on the danger of the Spectacle. When reading W. J. T. Mitchell's Iconology however, I was somewhat tangentially brought to an older pedigree for this tendency. In his final chapter discussing Marx's figure of the camera obscura, Mitchell mentions Marx's rejection of "the 'German' ideology of the Young Hegelians who thought that revolution could occur at the level of consciousness, ideas, and philosophy without a material revolution in social life."
As Mitchell explains, Marx mocks these Romantic idealists in the preface to The German Ideology:
Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and—existing reality will collapse.
These innocent and childlike fancies are the kernel of the modern Young-Hegelian philosophy, which not only is received by the German public with horror and awe, but is announced by our philosophic heroes with the solemn consciousness of its cataclysmic dangerousness and criminal ruthlessness. The first volume of the present publication has the aim of uncloaking these sheep, who take themselves and are taken for wolves; of showing how their bleating merely imitates in a philosophic form the conceptions of the German middle class; how the boasting of these philosophic commentators only mirrors the wretchedness of the real conditions in Germany. It is its aim to debunk and discredit the philosophic struggle with the shadows of reality, which appeals to the dreamy and muddled German nation.
Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistic brought him new and manifold evidence. This valiant fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in Germany.
And so there you have it: the perfect smack down, courtesy of the Man himself.