Movers and Shakers
In the middle of this issue where we talk all about the movers and the shakers, I think I should drop in a note saying that, in the end, it is all actually epically opaque.
This one came from this obscure place, made a fortune in this impenetrable industry by moving numbers around and then made these inexplicable purchases, getting on the shadowy board of this untransparent institution via means arcane and invisible. And now they shake and move, apparently. Because that is what you do.
There has never been a movie about this life, no John Updike has ever sympathetically written from within it. A tastemaker in gray dockers decides that he likes to look at an Ad Reinhardt in all black and a Peter Saul of cartoon Buddhas in eye-frying orange and relishy green. And an installation with dead rabbits in it. And then has a cobb salad with his kids who have ponies.
The creative process is supposed to be very mysterious, but compared to the mind of this man, it’s relentlessly charted territory. Artists really do fall asleep drunk in ditches after dumb love affairs collapse, have weird dreams, wake up and smoke in a frenzy to sculpt the dreamed thing before they forget it. Or close enough, really. The background music is shit, usually, but, as an artist I don’t feel any more maligned by this image than I did by the movie image of Taco Bell cashiers when I was one of those.
But the movers and shakers?
There are three obviously inadequate media stereotypes: the financial cynic, the waddling dupe vacuuming up whatever he’s told about, and the omnipotent success story—with the Breughel in the background whose presence is no more explained or remarked upon than the third blonde on Bond’s left.
When you meet movers and shakers they ask you a lot of questions. They show you things they have besides yours and ask if you like them. You say the best thing you can think to say. They present as: ordinary souls of their age and class, very clean with clean houses. They show you your art hanging in a sparsely decorated child’s room. Is it placed where you would’ve placed it in a sparsely decorated child’s room? You don’t know, you don’t have a sparsely decorated child.
Maybe they just have wall space. I don’t know what I’d do if I collected art—where would I put this bookshelf and this Slayer poster?
Toni Morrison was talking about the responsibility of the artist to communicate once in 1975, saying: “I love Latin American literature and Russian literature. It never occurred to me that Dostoevsky was supposed to explain something to me. [audience laughs] He’s talking to other Russians about very specific things. But it says something very important to me, and was an enormous education for me.”
And I think sometimes: well who am I talking to? Or, specifically in the sense Morrison meant: Who do I assume shares assumptions with me? Honestly? As an artist: No one. Just me. When I paint a girl naked, vomiting red and yellow and green worms, I don’t expect anyone to decide that it speaks to their experience. And then someone—someone who could’ve bought hundreds of other things for the same price—goes and buys it for five figures.
And and and…I’m not even one of those artists who’ll just sell you, like, a piece of distressed wood. Someone will buy that too—in 2015 when you can actually just see a piece of provenance-free distressed wood in an interior-design magazine just up on the wall like it’s nothing. All these things are done, by collectors seen and unseen. They have brought to themselves the most freakish and most banal objects human minds born into the cultural logic of unchecked early-21st- century international technocapitalism can conceive and they just put them there and look at them and go “I like it. Do you like it?”
Illustration by Alisa Yang.