Monday, August 31, 2009

department of corrections

On Sunday, I sat reading what used to be the Book World section of the Washington Post (now just two pages of reviews in the Outlook section), and came across this paragraph in a review by Jonathan Yardley of a new book on Marilyn Monroe:

This instant first-name recognition confers a kind of immortality, and Monroe's shows no signs of fading. Only one of the 31 movies in which she appeared has real staying power -- Billy Wilder's brilliantly acerbic "Some Like It Hot" (1959) -- yet her image, on film and in still photographs, remains to this day the American epitome of feminine beauty and sex appeal. The nude pinup for which she posed in 1949 seems positively tame today, yet it has lost none of its allure. The famous images of her face done by Andy Warhol may not be art, but they most certainly are iconography.

Did you catch that last sentence?

Now that's a startling statement: Andy Warhol's work might not actually be art. Good heavens! I, and countless major museums of modern art, and scores of art historians, theorists, critics, dealers, and collectors have all been continuously duped for four decades.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably already know my response to this. This sort of statement is not just retardataire; it is factually incorrect.

Mr. Yardley is certainly free to dislike Andy Warhol's work; he may even lament the influence that Warhol has had on the forward trajectory of avante garde art since the 1960s. But the question of "art or not art?" was asked and answered long ago, and cannot at this point be meaningfully revisited, particularly given how much the definition of a work of art has further expanded since that time.

Imagine if I casually suggested in one of my pieces in the City Paper that Finnegan's Wake isn't actually literature. Sure, there are plenty of folks who would be untroubled by the statement--I know fairly well educated people who regard the book as a practical joke. But literature it certainly is, and to suggest otherwise would be to show up late and essentially unprepared for a battle that's already over.

I assume that the Post will be running a correction.


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