After Kenneth Goldsmith*
It was clear that the artist had gone mad when he began to mistake his tools for works of art. And yet, as is often the case, there were those willing to indulge his madness. Hangers-on who praised his insight into art’s dependence on mechanical processes. Gallery owners who displayed his palette knives, worn-out brushes, canvas stretchers, rags. Wealthy patrons who relished the adventure of investing in aesthetic futures. These audiences were small, however, and soon the modest living the artist made began to dwindle, until he had no choice but to take a teaching job at the university. The reputation he’d gained among his small but passionate coterie helped him secure a position, which in short order led to tenure—a condition within the academic hierarchy where madness is the norm. Lately the artist has become the subject of scholarly articles, documentaries, and fractious blog debates. He is also the object of adoration by students who find his focus on tools a great relief, since it frees them from the traditional rigors of apprenticeship. I saw his latest exhibition in a stylish space not far from the MOMA. I was about to alert the owner that a workman hanging the exhibition had dropped a screwdriver, which lay dangerously on the floor in one corner. Luckily I noticed the tags tied to the acrylic handle. The blue one bore the price in bold black figures: $3,000. The red and white one simply read: SOLD.
* This bit of prose was inspired by Kenneth Goldsmith’s send-up of post-avant-garde theoretical writing in his introduction to the “Flarf & Conceptual Writing” section of Poetry Magazine’s July/August 2009 issue. “With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more?” he asks. “Instead, let’s just process what exists.” What a delicious irony that this statement appears in an paragraph that clearly did not exist before Goldsmith invented it! Similar ironies exist throughout this wonderful satire on the post-avant-garde project, which seeks to elevate language—a tool of thought and expression—to the status of art itself. Goldsmith insightfully summarizes the result as “disposability, fluidity, and recycling,” while slyly managing to drag Dionysus and Apollo into the mix. Of course, nothing exposes the deadendedness of these moist rumblings in the gut of late-late capitalism than the selection of writings Goldsmith brings together for our perusal. If only any one of these inanities were as subtle and hilarious as his own.