A Critical Homage to the Artist Personality: The John Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012
The following might be of interest to some. It concerns a recent project whereby New York City artist John Kelsey is criticized as an exemplar "radical-chic" personality. The project culminates in threats of police repression by Kelsey's benefactor Artforum magazine, as well as threats by certain individuals within the NYC anarchist community that Kelsey seems to have promised infamy. That is, anarchists collaborating with Artforum magazine to help defend their copyrights by invoking the involvement of federal police agencies! A truly repugnant development! Read on and follow the links for the complete story!
A Critical Homage to the Artist Personality: The John Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012
Paris 19 July 2013
Following on the heels of our conversation, concerning John Kelsey—thank you again for that exquisite dinner at your home and the stroll through Montmartre, I have always preferred le Droite — as usual our interludes birth a wealth to consider. During our talk you revealed that you were familiar with Kelsey from the late 90's, but wondered why anyone would bother to launch a public attack, especially now that the artist's personality is old hat. And when we delved into The Kelsey Collection Artforum 2004-2012 you expressed difficulty approaching the material due to feeling it crossed over to something … too personal… if I may interrupt, forestalling an accusation about my intentions, and quote a long dead Prussian politician,"Neid und Gier, das ist mein Bier." Which, as far as I've been able to make out, means, "Envy and greed — that's my beer."
Regrettably, I do not know John Kelsey personally, nor am I intimate with his art, curations, nor writing — let alone do I think that any time soon we'll sing a Trinkduett. My limited exposure came just last summer on a remote Greek island in the Ionian sea. Where for a few weeks I'd dwindle my daily bread in baths of salt water and sun, while at night, isolated, I'd read philosophy, fiction, and history. You see, the island was empty at peak tourist season, which broadly diminished my capacity to go out and socialize. It was there I came across a copy of "Welcome to the Tate Café," a conversation between Merlin Carpenter, Emily Sundblad and John Kelsey. The dialogue, staged March 2012, is mostly a drawn out family affair, climaxing when angsty-teen Carpenter blows-up over the apparently non-consensual appropriation of one of his paintings for an exhibition. An act perpetrated by Reena Spaulings (Sundblad and Kelsey's collective, gallery, etc.). I'll include the money shot:
MC: Yeah. It’s like rape. You are saying no, and then the no is a kind of yes.
JK: But there is always rape in art. We used to talk about being art-raped by our friends all the time.
ES: It’s a fine line, or not even, but sometimes it’s OK and sometimes it isn’t. If we had just refused to admit that we copied you, if we hadn’t said, ‘oh my god, Merlin, we’re so sorry’, if we had just said, ‘what are you talking about, you didn’t make those paintings’ ...
MC: If anyone else had ripped off my paintings, it would have been fine. It’s not the disconnection, it’s the connection.
On second thought, I realize this wasn't my first rendezvous with John. A couple years ago I was lent a copy of Michèle Bernstein's All the King's Horses which he translated. Impassively the book unfolds from the author's perspective, and the reader gets to glimpse intellectual Parisian cafe culture, the Situationist milieu, and even a ménage à trois with a young girl. I remember at the time considering how it placed Kelsey in le contexte juste (auf Deutsch: Kontext Kunst). Published by Semiotext(e), John Kelsey's name was placed squarely on the cover, just below Guy Debord's first wife. General Patton, the liberator, it seemed had arrived to the prom, fashionably late, with the right date making a show of his silver jacket.
In long-suffering tone (clearly anguished by the recent defeat of the May 68 disturbances), Kelsey's introduction to the book is about drifting through a post 9/11 New York art world and ends with a call to employ the jeun-fille, image of our very condition, against itself. He no doubt succeeded in this task. And it is with the utmost sincerity that I undertook the assignment, to continue his effort by accommodating an appeal for the elaboration of "future games."
Some readymade taboos were utilized in putting this collection together. From the impressions I have been able to cobble together of John, he seems to have built a reputation on the transgressive, stoping shy of saying or expressing tawdriness, he prefers coy adolescence. I won't lie, I lavished many delectable hours on collecting every piece of writing Kelsey did for Artforum, and with my effete meathooks scanning, saving and pouring over TIFF files. I replaced the original illustrations with similar colors, motifs and overall visual structures, staying true-blue to the lascivious platitudes of contemporary art.
It would be naive to pretend that porn doesn't excite. By its nature shocking and repulsive, especially in the scenario where one is gripped with the unremitting terror to produce something current on FB, Twitter, Tumblr or merely writing their newest article—when suddenly a Vendôme Column flashes on the screen to be subsumed by the Commune's indelible vacuity.
Alien from the erotic, pornography, in ill repute, functions by molesting its viewer from the side, unbuckling his jeans, and sucking him off while he ponders ownership in the dark focussed on a glowing pin-prick of light. Wont to disavow sensation?
It could be this is just a collection of come late appropriation art à la Richard Prince mixed with some purple prose. Or perhaps the too personal is on the horizon, indicative that moderate distances are no longer a suitable bulwark against the production of the social.
Jeff, if you happen to see John, cause people sometimes do, could you tell him we'd like it if he'd cast off the false humility and become the fabulous star and spectator of her own story?
Yours, M. Roubignoles
Theses on Personality
Advertising doesn’t impose false desires. So when I tell you that I prefer to gaze upon the florid arabesque pattern on the yellow wallpaper you must understand — I don't feel good — don't bother me.
Stop and consider for a moment the Darstellungsform of commodity society — that is, the appearances of value that can only be expressed through the phenomenal identity of the exchange relation. Bring to attention here the ontological status of appearances. As Hegel was well aware, reality does not exist independently from its appearance, but is rather constitutive of social existence. “The essence of the world coincides with the statistical law by which its surface is classified.” This appearance of reality as reality does not take place in isolation, but contains its own negativity. An appearance is not something that appears, but rather an appearance for-another, an appearance that is other than. Activity, in its appearance, therefore must calculate how it can distinguish itself among others, while retaining an independence less precise than termination.
With keen objectivity and a certainty that comes from finitude's reflection, an audience titters in connivance at a Boy Scout who uses the reamer on his Swiss army knife to murder toads and a Girl Scout, with nothing more than a look, sells sweets.
Socializing in the company of commodities, it is smart to come prepared with the rational kernel of publicity. Since the commodity form of value consists in its movement for-another, that is, to be exchanged, the logic of publicity must, somehow, saturate the dynamics of accumulation. Expressing the unity of difference and sameness, value is a social relation wherein difference is equalized into the identical, and the identical is separated out into difference. This dynamic is demonstrated by the intrinsic relation between use-value and exchange-value. The relation both affirms and denies difference insofar as it contains the identity of the non-identical and the identical. The moment at which difference, or the exceptional, is affirmed refers to the logic of publicity, which must differentiate itself to itself as identical.
Within commodity society, the formal principle of exchange is also the substantial principle of publicity, a difference laid bare in the identity of commensurability. Here, exchange emerges as the basis for publicity, that is to say, the exchange of all with all. All exchange aspires for sufficient publicity. The appearance of exchange value is the raison d'etre of publicity, a rationale which incorporates both the act of objectifying social appearances and those appearances themselves. As Rousseau enunciated, the thirst for publicity is therefore always the thirst for the appearance of wealth, a craving for which the contradiction between the public and private self is superseded.
Within the longing for publicity, aspiration is both encouraged and disappointed. The latter constitutes a modern form of poverty as the loss of advertising. Not to be recognized remains the most agonizing of tribulations.
If communication between people is hung up, switched off, or uncomfortable, picture the exchange relation grinding to a halt. Woe to the individual who doesn't make of himself a generic platform when he meets universality in the eyes of a potential sale.
The exchange relation is the generic par excellence, the instantiation of the particular to the abstract universality of the generic and of the typical. Advertising is none other than the genre of an individual. Individuals, claiming to be themselves, create advertising as their genre. Not however as an abstract universal power, one opposed to specific individuals, but rather as their own being, their own business, their own lives, their own creative spirit, their own criticisms, their own wealth. Here, the generic acquires a real and true existence through the idiosyncrasies of the individual. Advertising is therefore the tendency to produce oneself in everything; nothing may be unrelated to the personality.
Advertising, as the revelation of the truth of the commodity as a form of appearance, must appear in its immediate promise of freedom in the creation of a world that offers all possibilities. In this immediacy, advertising depends on itself as a result. It is the beginning we deserve, one that never ceases to begin again and again, ad infinitum as an eternal novelty. Advertising is the appearance of the total commodity, society in all its wholeness.
The advertising of a world seemingly without advertising chatters on about what it doesn’t sell, and correspondingly sells what it remains silent about.
Any lack of advertisements does not abolish the social necessity of advertisements. In fact, even where society has developed in the absence of advertising, its truth remains the unity of advertising. That is, even the lack of advertisement advertises itself. A pleasant afternoon in the Adirondacks occasions a boastful sermon on the pristine landscape devoid of image pollution, a virtue to be appreciated by any tourist guide. “The prevailing urbanism absorbs as its ideological complement whatever fulfills the desiderata of urban life without bearing the stigmata of market society on its forehead.” The means of advertising are the means of production.
It is the profound sense of advertising that drives individuals to flaunt what they have to exchange or even share. Exchange has become the purpose of advertising, while advertising has become the medium of exchange. Advertising, the widespread fame extended to all, fortifies all relations of production. The mutual dependence of individuals is manifested in perpetual need for advertising.
The activity of the individual must be a pure self-exhibition. Advertising has become the only active ideological mechanism, overriding and preexisting critical judgment or transforming such judgment into a mere conditional reflex. The complex operation of sales techniques has reached the point of surprising even the ad professionals by automatically creating subjects of cultural debate.
As the correlate to advertising, the purpose of the publicity of the personality, or persona, is itself the concretization of the generic as a self-generating substance. It therefore refers to no specific content, but to the self-moving commensurability of any content made visible.
As the inseparability of the universal and the particular, the truth of the advertised personality is neither the individual or the generic, but rather the already completed and internal passage between the two. While the individual and the generic differ absolutely from one another, each appear directly in their opposite. Their truth is therefore in the movement of direct appearance of one into the other. The advertised personality therefore emphasizes an exceptionalism while abolishing it. The result expresses the identity of the generic with that of the individual. The nominalism of the advertised personality reflects the generic by virtue of obdurate particularity.
Only in advertising is the distinction between the generic and the individual maintained. As such, advertising is never be restricted to either side of this pole, but rather operates as the dynamic movement of one into the other. Individuals must have their consistency only as generic. The individual is the absolute form while the generic is the real social substance. The advertised personality is therefore the effective unity of the absolute form with practical substance. Those seeking public recognition would therefore profit by admitting the truth of the matter: there is nothing exceptional about them. Personalities are merely the a priori patterned dignitaries for a ready-made world, functionaries for the intersection of countless and identical individuals.
All personalities have advertising as their truth, one which subsists on any number of generalities and must possess a complete stock of accepted human qualities — such as the good, the beautiful, the curious, the innocent, the adventurous, the cynical, the ugly, the reclusive, the grotesque, or even the pornographic. Despite their organic appearance, these personalities are assigned to mathematically exact positions. Both their efficiency and their coefficient of friction are included in the calculation. The style of the personality always guarantees some breadth of variation.
To have this world, what must we be? As a phenomenal form of exchange-value, the personality — in its aspiration towards an identity of distinction — has its roots in the process for which class identities are composed. The valorization process grasped as the identity of the non-identical and the identical, wherein the relation between use-value and exchange-value unfolds the expansion of capital, has as its personification the formation of class identity. The concept of identity refers to all those conditions under which attitudes and behavior are one's own. Here, in the case of the proletariat — one pole in the class relation and the contradictory expression of capital itself — the conditions for the possibility of articulating its identity can only be that of capital. The class identity of the proletariat is the articulation of capital that manifests itself as the valorization of capital. The non-identity of the opposing classes expresses itself in the identity of the class relation as the personification of the valorization process. Class identity however is subject to the historical dynamics of accumulation itself. Since the early 1970s, for example, the proletariat asserts only a negative relation to itself within the capital relation and in doing so calls into question the identity of class belonging. At a slight distance from the direct wage relation would be the additional example of the identity of the intelligentsia, a role that becomes peripheral by the interwar years and erodes into a pseudo-romanticism and merchandised bohemia by the postwar period. A crisis of identity is always a crisis of the conditions of possibility for identification.
The life and death of the personality unfolds in accordance with the cadences of capital accumulation, which, like the consumption of commodities, is subject to the tendencies of novelty and obsolescence. Mimicking the cyclicality of fashion, the personality’s ability to remain beyond the season requires carefully crafted attention to one’s pose, which should always remain only slightly malleable so as not to appear desperate for adapting to her surroundings. While innovation may ultimately always win in its struggle against tradition, there remain exceptions that undergo only minimal alterations. For example, rendered most explicit since Chateaubriand — although its precedents obviously extend as far back as Hamlet — the quality of melancholia has sustained the uninterrupted change of styles. Here, to remain melancholic is to insist on the reliability of blue jeans. The regulating sphere of culture has not been supplanted as the primary resource for which new genres of identification are fortified. The tattered derelict becomes a piece of nostalgia through the advertised personality.
The lie of the generic refers to the compulsion of individuals learning to model their existential attitudes and behavior on identikit portraits assembled together through the mechanisms of market research, opinion polls, and sociological and psychological surveys. This compulsion for advertising however does not originate in such devices, but is rather the phenomena of the personality brought to its industrialized conclusion. All intimate quirks and idiosyncrasies become the means of integrative variation. While their historical antecedents are derived from obstinate and laggard medieval ethical categories of the knight-errant, saint, sinner, hero, thief, scoundrel, troubadour, honnête homme, princesse lointaine, etc., the generic standard of the personality within the present moment, for which the entrepreneurial freedom of the bourgeois individual remains decisive, reflects the velocity with which commodities exhibit a wealth of paltry differentiation under the law of perpetual obsolescence.
Advertised personalities become the only work worthy of man in its present state — that is, social estrangement exhibited. As a mode of exposition constitutive of its own inverted world, the personality is a luminosity unfolding upon the terrain of the false, one for which nothing may be unrelated to it. Fastened unto a cycle of uninterruptedly repeating their own self, the closed circle of perpetual sameness ascends to omnipotence.
The increasing prominence of the artist personality locates the meaning of an artwork within a “socio-institutional” network. Presently, art is so highly defined by personality that it can hardly be considered outside of its reception as the pathic projection of the artist personality. As a beauty contest necessitates judges, the current tendency of moneyed art production follows suit. To see the artist as a primary mover, on any rung of the art system, would be giving her too much credit and too long an occupancy within the frame. What seems relevant is tracking the adept spectacular feats that permit artists to maintain continuation: at times through a target-less belief and otherwise through the reproduction of engagement.
The index, the identifiable standard that an artist produces alongside an artwork, fractures the perception of a unitary work. The means of reception, in a referential relationship to a suppositional moment of authenticity, are adjusted to fill categories designated by the able hands of dealers and critics, and then more broadly, stocking the rolling culture industry with supplies whose trajectory survives most honestly in lobbies and cheap hotel rooms.
The bourgeois and his list of restaurant recommendations. The life of the artist is her work. Nothing of any possible importance remains except the personality of the author, who, in turn, is no longer capable of possessing any notable quality beyond her age, a fashionable vice, and a picturesque craft. The cherry on top. The spectacularization of vacuous and talentless personalities expresses itself in the diverse forms of publicity referred to as art. For this, every artist is their own market; l'art pour moi!
Within the present moment, the artist’s personality emerges as a brand. Eclipsing the styles of exhibition, artworks are pockmarked with fascinating rabbit holes of personality. Abramovic’s stint at the MOMA testifies to this: her very person hung up on the walls during the business day — although, undoubtedly her “off-hours” appearances at various cultural events garner greater exhibition value.
Out one Sunday night, you discover the whorehouse you attended has been replaced with a bar, and the prostitutes traded for barmaids. Mark my words — commerce changed, and the new sign of value will be the bottomless spiritual pit!
It is not a particular medium or manner that is of interest to the galleries, but rather a personality, a view of the artistic gesture, of its situation in society; like figurines to the ventriloquist, desperate for the most manipulating voice-trick, that is, the best trough to feed from.
The denial of the exceptionality of the artist by the artist is almost always a trope for conceding the reality of an already bloated market. Such a recourse veils itself in the most mundane of tasks such as preparing food or education. Ambitions for public esteem remain the implicit solicitude for the artist personality trafficking in appearances.
Money, as the means of advertising, has the capacity for purchasing everything and is therefore the most desirable thing in the world. The fame of its quality is the omnipotence of its essence, its celebrity. Celebrity is the amplified double movement of universality and individuality, the exchange relation made independent of any particular exchanges. Celebrity is the independence of the appearance, the appearance that moves itself. Celebrity is the dominant form of social separation, society as separation. Celebrities exist to freely act out various styles of living and embody the inaccessible result of the total social labor by dramatizing its commodities magically projected above it as its goal.
The genus of the personality, for which all individuality is cultivated, expresses a type that the individual must exhaust. The individual is the whole man, the man whose needs and desires extend to everything that exists. The generic is the actual substance of this individual, while the individual is the capacity of the generic. The great mass of diversity is reduced to the same general unit that is sustained in a particular form.
The artist personality is fully capable of its own differentiation and exhibits each of its types as having equal access to the totality of consumption, a terrain wherein both happiness and anguish are commensurable elements of wealth to instantiate its caricature. Here, experience is replaced by the cliché, and thought substituted by the hashtag.
The validation of the personality is attained through reputation. Just as money — as a means of circulation and beyond a given magnitude — becomes capital, reputation becomes the personality through its own expansion. The appearance of the individual circulates through the prism of reputation and realizes its ascendance as the personality. A mimesis of the circuit of capital, the self-aggrandizement of the personality proceeds through the moments of being-for-another (commodity), being-for-itself (money), and finally attaining its claim to totality as being both for-another and for-itself (capital). P-R-P'. Reputation is the means by which the personality circulates.
If properly cultivated, victimhood is the sheltered fortune of the successful personality. Financial straits, an abusive childhood, a devastating break-up, ethnic persecution, drug addiction, etc. – each offer a wealth of resources by which the personality acquires ascendency. The personal and professional life must maintain a structural relation wherein only the former can exhibit the tumultuous background, while the latter remains calm and collected. The professional life however gains its exchange-value through the traumatic experiences of the personal life, an enriching inventory of assets capable of becoming monetized. Male pattern baldness must only be implicitly recognized therein.
When asked why a personality was targeted, I remember the note: “You must make your knife sharp and you must not discomfort your animal during the slaughter.”
Despite the frequently enunciated separation between character assassination, denounced as a crass overemphasis on the personifications of the economy, and the structural criticisms of the economy itself, the phenomena of the personality demonstrates the supersession of the divide between the public and private self. There is no disparity between character assassination and the critique of political economy.
Caricature is the loss of character, the stunted development of the individual, integrated in its disintegration, as the elevated imprint of the wrong life lived.
Since reputation presumes the democratic nature of exchange, wherein everyone can gossip, the critique of personality, for which the consistent sense of the non-identical confronts the untruth of the identity, cannot simply be a matter of wresting away control of the reputation, but rather by impregnating the reputation with associations which undermine itself and the specificities of its own circulation. It must deteriorate from within, rather than employ efforts to make the personality less popular. It must erode while nourishing, a dagger which is also a homage. Exploring the extent to which there is no such thing as bad publicity through the most exhaustive of measures can yield an abundant treasure if pursued strategically. The critique of the personality must mimic the proliferation of a plague.
When backed into a corner, the personality will utilize various tactics in order to fortify the means by which its reputation circulates. Its defense mechanisms can solicit a gamut of resources in which it has influence. These areas can include, but are certainly not limited to, its legal institutional leverage or even the grassroots social milieus to which it extends the promise of either fame or infamy.
The former maneuvering has most recently emerged through the artist personality’s request for Artforum to defend the reputation of one of its contributors. Publisher Charles Guarino has taken time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to mysteriously acquire the phone numbers and email addresses of both the alleged infringers and those suspected of having influence upon M. Roubignolles. Under the threat of invoking the mechanisms of state repression through the involvement of police and FBI on the laughable grounds of "child pornography," "cyber harassment," and "copyright infringement", Mr. Guarino — while amusingly requesting for his phone call not to be divulged — reiterated that Artforum routinely collaborates with the state both in and outside the United States, chasing down copyright infringers in China, for example, dragging them before Chinese authorities. Mr. Guarino comically warns that Artforum is willing to do the same in this case if their intellectual property, brand, copyright, private corporate goods, and reputation of their contributors are not resolutely defended. Revealingly, one can here witness the precious nature of the personality’s reputation with even the slightest desecration. Its nature is the nature of private wealth rendered seductively public. How could one not resist to simply reach out and nudge?
These recent developments stand as a most astounding recourse for the artist personality in particular, an individual which prides himself on the semblance of disregard to intellectual property, and yet, at the drop of a hat, pleads with an art publication to engage in censorship. Of course Artforum has their own pathological justifications for these troubling efforts. Again to paraphrase Mr. Guarino, there is, apparently, a “right” and a “wrong” type of institutional critique, the former championed for its implicit barrenness. What an error M. Roubignolles has made! Daring to investigate the extent to which defamation yields a wealth of opportunity!