Thursday, August 2, 2007

Everyone loves a good tragedy

The art world has been abuzz for a couple of weeks with the tragic news of Theresa Duncan's suicide followed a week later by Jeremy Blake's. The LA WEEKLY is running a story this week about the couple by one Kate Coe who apparently knew them, or at least she knew Duncan.

I didn't. So I don't feel particularly invested emotionally; but having been hit with double-whammy tragedies myself I can only imagine how their families feel. I sure hope they won't read the Weekly article and the rest of the press. No one likes to see their recently departed portrayed as glamourous loser and/or mentally unbalanced.

I've seen Blake's art in several galleries over the last few years and I did like it, but I am not sure he truly qualified as a "rising art star" as he is depicted in various articles (I'm quoting from memory, I think it's the NYT and the LAT). He had a solid career, his work was promising though IMHO never totally quite arrived.
Yes it was fashionable with that nice video-clip high quality that looks so clean and sleek. But I never encountered any hysteria when his name was mentioned, or people getting crazy with that giddy excitement when confronted with that hot flavor of the moment. In short, he was not the next Matthew Barney or Pierre Huygues or even Rirkrit Tiravanija, just a very solid artist whose work was accessible.

The Weekly article focuses mainly on Duncan, zeroing in on her alleged paranoid personality and depicting her as a full-fledged compulsive liar. Maybe she was. I wouldn't know. It doesn't make her demise more understandable or explainable anyway. Most suicides aren't, and there are so many issues we do not know and which are not even pondered about in the article: health, money, family, etc. Blake is barely mentioned and only to describe him as more successful than she was.

I guess what really irks me personally is that old "the artist depicted as a wacko" line, the assumption that personal character and eccentricities become fair game once the artist is dead, making him/her a "public figure". Next step it the myth taking over, no one looking at the work critically/scholarly anymore but projecting their personal fantasies, the zealots interpreting every prior action "in the light of the tragic events that could be foreseen in this and that aspect of their work, etc." Then the artist becomes a lost hero, a pioneer for future generations, etc. etc.
It makes for a good myth, maybe a good story, but certainly not for good art history, and the artworks get lost in the brouhaha.

The fact that the Weekly article was published under this particular light makes lots of sense in this town, where aspiring screenwriters are probably already busy pitching the "true story" of the "tragic golden couple" to movie execs with, "like, Brad and Angelina channeling the ghosts of the tortured artists in an Oscar-worthy performance."
Nothing we can do about it, but it sucks nonetheless. May they rest in peace and the world at large let their private life remain just so.


Kate Coe said...

I actually spoke to family members on both sides. There's much more to the story than was room to print. The LA Times has a new story as well that has even more detail.

Frenchy but Chic! said...

yes, just read it and thought the last 2 paragraphs were ludicrous. Anyway, I don't want to add to the myth-making so I'll stop here.