Sunday, 4 February 2018

Letter to the Guardian re: Hylas, with or without water nymphs

Dear Arts Editor

Regarding the dispute over Hylas, I want to simply record that, as a young gay man growing up in 50s and 60s Manchester, and queer art historian to-be,  Hylas was one of my lifelines to an imaginary world of desire found in images of men. As I knew the myths inside out the nymphs were thus nothing more than an excuse for Hylas himself, a companion to Waterhouse’s Narcissus, not far away at the Walker. - snd a precursor to seeing Caravaggios. These and an illustration of Draper’s Icarus in an Edwardian book of Greek Myths, and oddly missing from the Queer show at Tate Britain, formed an initial iconography of my own becoming, along with all kinds of other, oddly assorted images; soldiers under tropical skies in the National Geographic or South Pacific, male muscle magazines glimpsed in a book shop near the Cathedral and so on. But all of them being parts of a preparation for life.  Forty years after Laura Mulvey’s critique of the male gaze, which was an attempt to understand pleasure, not to outlaw it, this rather trivial gesture can only be understood as politically shallow. But more than that as in insult to someone who has lived at a tangent to the hetero-normative discourses of which, indeed, it is a fragment.

yours etc

Adrian Rifkin

Visting Professor at Central Saint Martins, London
Emeritus Professor of Art Writing, Goldsmiths, London.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Disagreement and fear of kitsch

As we all know nothing can divide friends more radically than taste, far from some Humean, gentlemanly accord, as it could then be assumed, it comes even between loved ones. I recall seeing American Beauty, when it came out, with a group of people very dear to me. They seemed so happy with it as we left that I said that I would not go and eat and be seen to be eating with a group of people who found such terrible kitsch even vaguely acceptable. Of course in the end it we all agreed that it was but that there are different ways of passing a good enough evening, of which eating together would still be the better part. 

Art is just is bad from that point of view, or rather what claims to be art, and I think here of the last few years of William Kentridge and his to me insupportably pompous and trivial immersive videos, mega kitsch destruction of Winterreise, not as bad as Boltanski, his absurd writing over of Lulu, post-Maoist sentimental criticalities,  not to mention his imperial vandalising of the once patinated riverside in Rome, the lot, quoi? Everything in Kentridge leads back to him, to his hand, to his genius, to his accomplishment, at the end of every trail he lays it is he who is the signified, and so, far from making art, he destroys signification as such. I have been seeking for an explanation of why so many writers I admire and even friends have fallen for his tricks.

In the bath a couple of mornings ago I came up with this. Probably at some point in their childhood they had been forbidden to enjoy Disney's Fantasia by severely tasteful parents, and, seeking an officially non kitsch version of the same, have found it, legitimated by Goodman Galleries, in WK. This led me to realise why I dislike his stuff so much, Disney the first time was, as they say, tragedy, but the second time is *****. Kentridge's illustrations of Schubert are infinitely more horrible than Stokowoski's conducting of classical pops.