Cult of Personality
I was tempted to turn in a score of John Baldessari singing Sol LeWitt’s Notes on Conceptual Art or the lyrics of the Circle Jerks song “Pablo Picasso” as my editorial statement for this issue, not out of sheer laziness but because I believe both to be equally ironic, irreverent and appropriate ad hoc introductions to various aspects of the “Cult of Personality.” The theme of this issue stems from an incident several years ago involving two “Art Stars” in their own right: Yutaka Sone and the late Jason Rhodes. Both were, at the time, residents at Artpace San Antonio. It was very late and Yutaka was on the phone cold-calling a well-known curator asking him to raise a rather preposterous sum of money to complete a project. I kept trying to grab the phone, telling Yutaka he was friggin’ nuts and shouldn’t be calling anyone at three in the morning, let alone someone he was hitting up for money. Jason was in the corner laughing, telling me to back off. Yutaka hung up. Five minutes later the phone rang. The deal was done. I was dumbstruck.
This scenario should have come as no surprise—just a simple manifestation of an obvious maxim of fame. What was more interesting to me was that both artists were amused by (and fully cognizant of) the potentially finite nature of their renown and power and, more importantly, were utterly nonplussed by how little the depth of their entitlement had to do with their actual work. They knew the game and how to manipulate its players, for better or worse, and without reverence. (Anyone who attended Yutaka and Jason’s carnivalesque post-residency “panel discussion” in which the key participant was a remote-controlled toy car can attest to this attitude firsthand…)
While this might sound cynical, it is not bereft of truth. When it comes to the Cult of Personality, it is important to comprehend the distinction between an artist’s persona and reputation, valence and qualitative output. One’s reputation is earned—defined by accomplishment—but an icon does not require validation for worship once “cult” status has been achieved. These days, not just artists but curators, gallerists and critics intersect at the cognitive breech between myth and reality. Their peripatetic globetrotting, ironically, makes our global community feel surprisingly provincial. Art Star, the Art Mafia, the Cult of Personality… call it what you like. Issue No. 52 traces various manifestations and parodies of this pop-culture phenomenon, crisscrossing from explanatory texts on the secularization of idols to interviews with influential gallerists, the musings of individuals who manage to flourish within the star system, indelibly idiosyncratic case studies and commissioned art projects.
For the sake of argument, if we could detach the Cult of Personality, the star system or what have you from the art world, what would we be left with? If this amputation could be performed (which I am convinced is impossible), it would have to be executed with laser exactitude to preserve the likeness of the visionaries we crave. I don’t think we are experiencing a crisis in criticism or theory specifically due to the star system. I think the art world is experiencing a massive identity crisis due to slippage between the competing roles we stumble into.