New York magazine has published an art issue of its own, setting out to elucidate the state of the contemporary art world at its present “moment of weird equipoise, as the Art Death Star and the Rebel Forces are battling to the quick.” (If anyone can figure out what that means, exactly, they win a conceptual prize.) Since this issue is a meaty beast, let’s begin by taking a look at the part that may prove to have the most lasting impact: the group photos of eight young artists that critic Jerry Saltz “believes breathes new liveliness into a frustrating system.”
Taken by Ryan McNamara, four photos show the artists—Joanna Malinowska, Bjarne Melgaard, Marie Lorenz, Keltie Ferris, Liz Magic Laser, Darren Bader, Katherine Bernhardt, and McNamara himself—posing in various installation-art-like settings and wearing capes, wigs, leashes, and tusks, among other costume props (or, as Bader does, going pants-less).
Visually fun and determinedly self-unserious, the picture nonetheless joins a storied line of images that stretches back to such artist group portraits as Henri Fantin-Latour‘s 1870 painting A Studio in Les Batignolles (which featured Manet, Renoir, Monet, Fantin-Latour himself, and other leading Impressionist lights) and a such magazine photos as Life‘s endlessly imitated 1950 “Irascibles” portrait of de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Pollock, Clyfford Still, Motherwell, Rothko, and other Abstract Expressionists.
So what’s the takeaway? Blithe and clearly amused, the artists portray themselves in a manner worlds apart from the Impressionists or Ab Exers, who exude deadly determination. Considering that the artists featured are all terrifically smart and already impressivley accomplished, this seems to be more of a reflection on the expectations we have for contemporary art these days: that artists keep it fun, keep it moving, and, above all, keep it light. In other words: incorrigible, not irascible.