Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Hidden George Tooker

Modernism, per se, is not only dying—it has become deadly to our art life. Take Marcel Duchamp’s playful “make ready” in the form of a urinal dedicated to the urinalysis of one “R. Mutt.” Undergraduate humor. Harmless. But not very bright. And how do we “make ready” nearly a century later? Tracy Emins is a revealing example: her installation consists of a futon on which she has just been fucked. And for the skeptics of her performance, she deploys the used condom that has prevented any other conception from taking place. Sweet, eh? Almost as revolting as Madonna’s recent on-stage masturbation! What contemptible crap.

Switch to George Tooker (1920-), a disgracefully neglected grim realist, who enchanted me in 1950’s graduate school. I just assumed he had died long ago. His latest works are gloriously alive. Just occluded from the public by a generation of abstract inexpressivist blather, led into this esthetic ditch by a mendacious Clement Greenberg, who tried (successfully) to cover up his facile leftiness in the 30s and 40s by “discovering” Jackson Pollock and other drunken barbarians (make your own list of dribblers and pretenders) whom a herdlike esthetic coterie in our art journals, greedy galerists “stuck” with a basement of unsellable Commie Art, and a thoughtless Academy eager to rise to FULL OF IT PROFESSOR on a new wave of nonsense legitimized by a modernist theory of ANYTHING GOES!

Well, it’s Judgment Time, ladies and gents. See for yourself: Dribble City or a grim gallery of the Real America of angst and ambition. The splendid Tooker Retrieval (Revival doesn’t get waste involved for several decades) began at the National Academy of Design and moves early in 2009 to Philly, where along with Alice Neal at Moore and Paul Saul at PAFA, shows us three national treasures we’ve been separated from by a false esthetic and glibly hip art media. 

I relish my annual visits to the National Academy of Design, founded in 1826, 21 years after Charles Willson Peale organized PAFA in Philly, the first art museum in our then semi-civilized state.) There’s a wonderful old fuddiness to NAD, including roundabout sofas, the better to rest your bones absorbing the art would you believe they have over 7000 classics mainly form the pre-Greenberg Flourishing. I’ve just christened the roundabout sofa “the Merry Go Rump” and urge curators to throw out the rectal linear (that’s not a misspelling but a nearly dirty joke which tells you what’s wrong with Mies and Breuer’s “classic” Seats. (For the slow members of class, they’re pains in the buttocks.)

The glorious building which now houses NAD at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, New York 10128, just before the Guggenheim; at 212 369 4880, Christine Williams will tell you what’s up after Tooker leaves for Philly, beside the always neat swatches of their permanent collection of Americana, the best in the world in my judgment. Their Beaux Arts mansion was the gift of philanthropist Archer Mercer Huntington and his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington, a grossly ignored sculptor, in her own “wrong.” Archer commissioned starchitect Ogden Codman, Jr. to redesign the original 1902 townhouse. It was refitted as a museum in 1940, and in 1959, the adjacent property at 5 East 89th Street became the school. Don’t leave town without it. A good look inside, that is. It’s one of our most neglected National Treasures.

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