Yikes — really? Well that’s what I was told by some paintings featured at the Whitney Biennial. I was moved to take a longer look at the raw material for those startling works, an essay by Ian Svenonius, which was here interpreted beautifully by Frances Stark’s big page paintings. Some of the words are quoted below, see what you think. I went to an art show and was seriously provoked. All is not lost!
Here’s the story:
I was supposed to be writing an article about careers, a fresh spin I hoped on my constant theme, when I took it into my head to ride the L train to the Whitney and see what this year’s biennial was about.
This is not going to be about the state of American art, or how I don’t have the patience for most video art in museum settings, or the value of large and ugly pieces whose posted descriptions only cloud my grasp on their intent. Do go yourself — quickly before it closes — and at least belly up to the railing on the west wall (by the construction site and with a view of NJ) and look up and look down and look to the sides and contemplate the apparent infinity of ordinary rooms that is “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” a work by Samara Golden.
But to the point: turning a corner on the 5th floor, I was faced with a series of enormous paintings of pages covered with words. The multi-panel work by Frances Stark is a painting of Ian Svenonius’s essay “Censorship Now!!” (Some images follow) I began to read — here are a few of those words from a carefully reasoned essay (or was this another mirror world?)
We need censorship.
“freedom of creative expression” is a red herring
..there is no meaning or consequence to art, music, or expression, except that it leads to more art and expression.
For art to regain any sense of its place in the world, it must live under the shadow of the cudgel and the blackout.
The state can’t be the censor. The state must be censored, along with its vile servants and its freakish masters.
We need a guerilla censorship which uses all the cruel tools of revolution.
Wait again — what is going on here? It was like a punch in the gut. This painted form, hanging in the Whitney Museum, of these challenging words add up to some mighty powerful provocation. Here was some disturbing art that made me look at a lot of things with fresh eyes. TV and film. Music. Journalism. Why they are doing what they do — and what should they be doing. It all comes in for some of Svenonius’ consideration.
I wanted to to read this essay properly, so I bought a copy of Svenonius’ book, not Stark’s paintings! You should read it too. Maybe it’ll shake you up as it did me. I hope so. No smart conclusions from me here — just a level of intellectual discomfort that I wanted to share. I lead you no further. What you do with it is up to you.
You may know Ian Svenonius as musician — here is his bio: IAN F. SVENONIUS is the author of the underground best sellers Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group and The Psychic Soviet. He was also the host of VBS.tv’s Soft Focus, a different breed of chat show, where he interviewed Mark E. Smith, Genesis P. Orridge, Chan Marshall, Ian MacKaye, and others. As a musician he has created twenty-one albums and countless singles in various rock ’n’ roll combos (Chain & the Gang, Weird War, The Make-Up, The Nation of Ulysses, etc.). He lives in Washington, DC. His essay collection, Censorship Now!!, is his latest work.