Is this ART? (Meeting Mr. Brainwash)
Meeting Mr. Brainwash, a.k.a. MBW, a.k.a. Thierry Guetta, is not at all hard to do. His ICONS exhibit is currently on display at 415 W. 13th St. in New York City through the month of May, and from what I gather, Mr. Brainwash makes frequent appearances. He even briefly stopped by as I checked out the exhibit yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Brainwash looked a bit fitter, a bit less like a hipster Rob Schneider and a bit more like an artist-about-town than he did in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Attired in sunglasses and a trendy-sort-of hat, he nonchalantly smoked a cigarette on the steps before joining a group of young women slumped on couches in the center of the exhibit to tickle one of their adorable small dogs, while a tall young assistant followed him around pleading, “Thierry…” If MBW is a hoax, he’s certainly an elaborate one.
The exhibit widely favored full-wall graphic displays over art pieces, such as the large wall comprised of Alfred Hitchcock panels (which have also apparently been seen in Los Angeles) seasoned with fresh advice from Mr. Brainwash, as well as a major wall in the center, presumably the hub of the ICONS exhibit, comprised of smaller, familiar-looking pop art pieces, over which was ironically printed the message, “If everyone thought the same/nothing would ever change.”
If you thought it only natural that Mr. Brainwash would embrace the practice of using unusual materials to reconstruct several of his otherwise derivative pieces, you thought wrong. Apart from a few occasional touches, e.g., the image of the band “KISS” constructed out of broken record pieces, the manipulation of mediums was noticeably unimaginative. Meaning that there was nothing more innovative than what you’d find at a high school art fair.
But let’s be kind to Mr. Brainwash. I’m feeling particularly generous towards him right now; his exhibit does, after all, give away mountains of posters and postcards to anyone who wants them, and he did seem quite fond of that girl’s adorable puppy. Perhaps some art consumers really do prefer his versions of famous pop art pieces, even if his versions don’t quite take their source material in much of a creatively different direction. Adding the lyrics of “Papa Don’t Preach” to a Warholesque Madonna might not be revolutionary, artistically-speaking, but perhaps a would-be-acquirer of Warholesque Madonnas might find the lyrics an improvement. Maybe it just looks better. Or cooler. Whatever.
And who knows, perhaps pop art fans secretly have long preferred their Warholesque cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup as “Tomato Spray.” Perhaps Mr. Brainwash has an eye for these things, and understands the market on an intrinsic level. But even if that is the case, calling Mr. Brainwash an artist is still quite a long stretch; rather, he is like the editor to a writer, or the producer to a rapper – he only ever remixes.
But someone else must have always done the art first. Not just one part of it, but every single facet. Perhaps Mr. Brainwash can spin straw into gold (assuming that anyone actually considers his pop art versions to be gold). But that’s the job description of a PR agent, not of an artist. Mr. Brainwash has not produced any straw himself.
But you’ll find yourself softening your snide comments after discovering the giant playroom in the basement of ICONS, full of egg swivel chairs, wooden panels waiting to be graffitied, and about a hundred spray cans, brushes and paints. I wasn’t as fervent as the previous exhibit-goer who sprayed “I want to have 1000’s of MBW’s babies” on the floor, but it was more fun than most art (if that’s what it is) shows usually have any right to be.
LOOK, I didn’t have MUCH TIME…