POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
William Powhida, Hooverville, 2010
Following today’s earlier post on comments around the web, part two of our post tracks artist William Powhida’s latest shit storm of attention. Let’s go back a week and work our way forward:
Lindsay Pollock notes Powhida’s 20×200 edition of 200 sold out in less than a day.
A few days later, Time Out’s senior art critic Howard Halle says over Facebook, “Personally, I don’t what the big deal is with William Powhida. Like working the outsider game is such a new or brave thing? It’s an old trick they teach you at the Ivies: Insult your betters to get their attention.” The following conversation occurs:
outsiders who promote themselves aggressively as such = insiders
exactly. and when all it takes is making a drive-reference in one of drawings to Jerry Saltz to get Jerry to say “Give that guy a show at the New Museum,” you know it’s an insider game being played very shrewdly.
Being an outsider implies a lack of knowledge about the inside. Powhida does a pretty good job at “insulting your betters” because he’s been very thorough and thus knowledgeable about the inside. Still, this kind of art making has limitations. I suspect it’s more in vogue than it has been because social networking makes sharing dirt publicly a little more sexy than it’s been in the past. Everyone wants more transparency in their networks, and Powhida creates this for people, even if he does so through a persona. I personally don’t see the need for the character.
right. I get it. he’s tapping into some kind of art-world equivalent of tea-party rage. there’s a lot young artists out there who were promised superstar careers in art school, and now, thanks to the shitty economy, they’ve got bubkis. they are networked however, and I guess his work gives them the illusion of power or connection. still, I’ve seen this sort of thing before—this ain’t my first art-world recession—calls to the barricades, blah, blah, blah, and then it’s back to business as usual. The art world is in need of deep reform and has been for a long time. it would be nice of artists really addressed that, mainly I think, by working for themselves first. I don’t see that happening in Powhida’s work.
I follow you up until the last bit. What is it about Powhida’s work that’s not working for himself first?
I never thought of Powhida as an “outsider”; he seems to have a deep working inner knowledge of art world persons and politics which he gets from I-don’t-know-where. His comics are for a really specific inside audience. Problem is will this work even make sense to anyone 10 years from now, or to anyone outside the inner circle… questions which are obviously besides the point.
First Sean: Yes, you’re right; obviously, Powhida is working from a deep knowledge of the art world’s inner workings, but what I was trying to convey by the term “outsider game” was the pose of speaking truth to power, when it’s really not. I mean, when you preface a shot at someone like Jerry Saltz with “I love you Jerry but”¦” of course, the target is going to be flattered. That’s holding up a mirror in the wrong sort of way. And I agree that this approach has a short shelf life, but I wouldn’t say that the issue is besides the point; it is the point, which takes me to Paddy’s question. “Working for yourself first” means just that: Working through an idea that maybe nobody understands except you, until they do understand it. And yes, this could likely mean not until well after you are dead. What we’ve had over the past 30-35 years isn’t art so much as formula of one sort or the next. Meeting other people’s expectations while giving them some sort of cover of novelty and/or line of theoretical bullshit—which is bullshit. We all know terrific artists who, absent the right connections or right last name, labor for years in obscurity until one day their work surfaces somehow, and everybody goes, Wow, that’s amazing! Conversely, we’ve all seen the work of artists who were huge in their time in a museum somewhere, and immediately wondered, What were people thinking? Neither situation obtains all the time, but enough of the time to make you realize that being an artist is not suppose to be easy. It’s suppose to be hard. It’s almost like the difference between being on a desert island, tossing messages in a bottle into the ocean, and commandeering the giant TV screens at Madison Square Garden. No doubt the latter makes the bigger impression, but does it spark the same sense of wonderment as finding that bottle on the beach? It’s a tough choice, but I don’t think Powhida is making it.
I just wrote on Jazz’ photo wall that under no circumstances, even in satire, do I like the casting of death-spells on another person (Saltz in question, in the ‘Hooverville’ piece), even if it’s under the guise of working “through a character”. Starts to reek of cynicism; the court jester who envies the emperor instead of pointing out that he has no clothes.
But I may not have all the facts here.
To describe Powhida’s work another way, the drawings are a visual manifestation of media whoring, which unlike years past, is quite socially acceptable these days. I find Sean Capone’s question about its longevity the most challenging to the artist’s practice. Like most people, I put my faith art I think will matter twenty years down the road. Powhida’s an interesting media phenomenon, but I just don’t see enough evidence indicating that his work will have any lasting importance.
Over in Jerry Saltz land, the New York Magazine senior art critic then professes his love of Powhida’s lastest masterpiece at Pulse, Hooverville. This isn’t much of a surprise. Saltz is known to have an affinity for art either about or pertaining to the art world. Being featured in the work probably doesn’t hurt (disclaimer I’m in it too); the piece depicts the five million art world personalities at Art Basel Miami this year. Saltz notes over facebook that he didn’t even attend.
The most amusing response I’ve read to this story comes from Hrag Vartanian (@Hragv) who teases Mr. Powhida (@powhida) over Twitter by saying: Sorry to be crude, but I wonder if you took a dump on Jerry’s head if he’d applaud at this point? Powhida tells Vartanian he’d have to charge for the service.
Meanwhile, artnet’s Walter Robinson moves from harassing bloggers over email to issuing death threats over facebook. He left the following comment on Jerry Saltz’s facebook page:
I can’t believe all you people like that fucken Powhida. I hate him and am going to kill him when I see him for that caricature of me, if only I knew what the little dweeb looks like. It’s ARTNET MAGAZINE editor, you dweeb, not Artnet.com editor. Stupid twerp. He tried to write for me once or twice but he’s so fucken nondescript I wouldn’t recognize him in one of his own stupid drawings. And he couldn’t write worth shit. Never gave me any of his fucken caricatures, either, the drip.
Hmm. That’s a sensible argument.