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June 18, 2003

James Gardner, off the reservation
Posted by Teresa at 01:07 PM *

From Punk Picasso: The Old Man and the Sleaze:

Being an art critic is easy. In most cases, you know exactly what you’re supposed to say. And if you somehow forget, there is always the gallery’s press release to help you out.

So the fact that the new exhibit of Larry Clark strikes me as an idiotic waste of time doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m supposed to say about it.

In the interests of balance, however, here are two reviews: the first, the way it’s “supposed” to be written, and then the way it should be written. …
Both versions are amusing—the second for its opinions, and the first for its catalogue of cliches:
Clark turns his camera’s eye with unflinching honesty on a world too many people choose to ignore and brings forth mighty, if unwelcome truths about society. …
I’ve heard that said—repeatedly, and in a variety of positions. (via Claire Eddy)
Comments on James Gardner, off the reservation:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 01:54 PM:

I've just realized, going off the reservation is the opposite of drinking the Kool-Aid.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 07:01 AM:

You're right. So, Q.E.D., they drink Kool-Aid on the reservation.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 02:55 PM:

It really sounds like he's accusing Clark of child pornography...unless all the adolescents are Barely Legal, a bemusing phrase.

#4 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 03:59 PM:

Tee hee....I've often wondered if it's the art or if it's me. Now I know!

#5 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 12:52 AM:

Call me sleazy if you like, but I actually really like Larry Clark's films and photos. The reviewer is a Puritan in hipster's clothing. My God, the photographer actually finds the sight of young, naked bodies erotic! Even male ones! What's civilization coming to?

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 07:45 AM:

Robert, I don't think that's quite it. I don't get the whiff of Puritanism off him. I think he's saying that the interesting characteristics of Clark's work aren't what Clark says they are, nor what we pretend to believe they are.

#7 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 01:00 AM:

The impolite version: Larry likes looking at naked adolescents, especially boys.
Tell me there's not a bluenose lurling behind that staement.
It's always a tough proposition to try to explain why you like someone's art to someone who's slagging it. (And have you ever seen any of Clark's photos or films? I have the feeling you haven't, unless you've seen one of his photo books over at Jack's house, since his early books are out of print and very hard to find and the films haven't played for that long.) The fact is, Clark manages to capture a very vivid, intimate feeling that a lot of more "skillful" photographers lack. (Another photographer much in the same vein is Nan Goldin, who's sometimes gotten similarly slagged, I believe.
And in fact a great many of Clark's photos are not nudes.
But it's always going to be more fashionable to sneer than to praise. The guy probably slagged Robert Mapplethorpe too. Who is in a whole different vein, admittedly.)

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 12:22 PM:

I don't hear bluenose. I can imagine myself observing that some author has an unnaturally high incidence of plots where people get tied up, but that wouldn't mean I disapprove of people tieing each other up. Besides, bluenoses don't use such flat, plain descriptive terms. The fact that they're disapproving doesn't matter; it's still a charged subject for them, and that shows in their language.

I've seen some of his Clark's stills, but not his films. He clearly has a knack for photographing intimate situations. What strikes me about them is that his subjects are showing off more than they're posing. They're a little awkward and shy, but they aren't doing those awful, cardboardy tableaux that are a staple of commercial erotica.

That's why he can get away with it, of course. If he didn't have that chrism of artistic and social significance, and if his subjects didn't come off as amateurs, he'd get shut down faster than a burlesque troop playing Vatican City.

#9 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 03:24 AM:

Well, perhas we can agree to disagree here. To me, the bald statement that begins the review (the negative part) is what is really bugging the guy. Let's say tha t Clark were a photogrpaher who specialized in photographing cats, or flowers. Would the reviewer be so acerbic? I doubt it.
Again, to compare Mapplethorpe: While the main things that the public saw were his photos of flowers or celebrities, it was one things; when his photos of a naked man with a whip handle shoved up his ass, or even actual hardcore sex, then you saw the hipper-than-thou attitudes come out about what a hype it had all been.
I urge you to take another look at Clark's work. He's not trying to be Ansel Adams. And as I say, the critic is off the mark, in that a great deal of his work is not nudes. There is a certain "exploitation" angle to his work, but there is to Diane Arbus too, and she's managed to wether the storm.

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