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Dadaistic Shtick

September 19, 1993

Regarding "Money Can't Buy This Guy's Love," by Kristine McKenna (Aug. 22):

After reading of Jimmie Durham's marketing philosophy, I said to friends who seemed awed by the overt altruism spread across your pages: "Hold it for a moment; there's got to be a perspective here." This is, after all, the world in which we live, and not the world of which we dream.

When we see Durham's show at L.A. Louver, are we going to see a show without a price list? If I'm crazy about one of his objects, will the gallery give it to me?

The font of Durham's ploy is this--and it's adroitly included in McKenna's article: After a spell of selling art in a "shopping mall gallery," Durham chanced to study at a primo art school in Geneva. Incredibly (his word) he discovered Dada deities Tristan Tzara and Marcel Duchamp. What Durham professes now is precisely the sort of unconforming shtick that a Dada legend would come up with: If the art doesn't sell, or sells for peanuts, give it away and make a name for yourself!

You see, artists (like myself) are unlikely to ever earn an above-poverty-level income from their art--this regardless of the worth of their art as art.

It seems to me that when some blessed person buys a piece of my art at a price in the low four figures, and my dealer retains half of that, I am not selling art. No, I am merely being given a bit of license that allows me to continue making art. The fact that money is the license is irrelevant, a detail of language. Is this the stuff of a "capitalist institution," as Durham terms the "art world"?

Durham's comments are elitist; his shtick is Dadaistic. Still, he has every right to be what he is, just as we all do. It is not right, however, when he generalizes on the commercialism of art when it is only a small fraction of artists and galleries and collectors who are involved with art as high finance or investment.

Besides, in most cases, an artist needs to be dead to get top dollar for his or her work. Too bad Van Gogh or Arshile Gorky can't comment on this subject.

DAN ABRAMSON

Silver Lake

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