Death!

February 19, 2008 at 11:15 pm (art, culture, interesting, thoughts)

I really enjoyed The Simpsons this Sunday (for the first time in a while), featuring Nelson and Lisa as Sid and Nancy. I kept waiting for the Malcolm McLaren guest spot that never came, but they made up for it by having the kids freebase chocolate which was pretty cool too. But what it left me thinking about is a variation on the very simple pop culture question that haunts me when there’s a pop culture figure I haven’t thought of in a while: So… Malcolm McLaren, alive or dead?

Ok: he’s alive.

But then I started thinking about how an artist’s death really affects the interpretation of their work, the way that I sort of liked Dan Flavin‘s work a lot more once he died, as terrible as I feel saying that. Maybe it’s the age I was when he passed, but it seemed to me that his work became less like this pre-fab thing just stuck in the corner and more a glowing presence, like an eternal flame.

All of which then lead me to think a bit about this question:
Which artists’ work will substantially change (in their interpretation, to me at least) once they’re dead?

I imagined that I would arrive home with a list of artists I could post up here and it would just be totally fascinating (again, to me, at the very least). But after a day of ruminating on it as I went around to galleries, I could only come up with two.

On Kawara:

Ok, this one is huge. The presence of his work is going to totally feel different once you know there aren’t any more coming down the pike ever. They’ll seem like weird little whispers from beyond the grave or something… very creepy, but in a good way.

and…

Biz Markie:

(Please note that this is probably the first blog post ever to mention On Kawara and The Diabolical One in the same breath.)

Ok, in my book, The Biz is truly an unrecognized master of… music? performance? performance art? I don’t really even know. The guy is just brilliant and hasn’t ever really gotten his due. Not that he hasn’t been given a chance at least here and there, but I think that Biz is just a little too weird for the mainstream, a little too mainstream for the avant-garde, and just generally gets left out in the cold as a result. But man, is the guy amazing. I have to start working Biz Markie into all of my lesson plans.

But I always watch his performances (yes, the ones on Yo, Gabba Gabba too) with total awe… but will that all change when he’s dead? He brings this amazing mix of pathos and humor to his performances, but will the pathos eventually overtake the humor?

For the record, as far as I know the Biz is very much alive and healthy (um, as is Kawara). I just happened to think of him because I was reminded of how much the lyrics, “Ronald Reagan may be pres but I voted for Shirley Chisholm” changed for me when she died; the way it made the song seem something like a relic of a distant past.

This entire post, by the way, is evidence that Tom is right and I think too much.

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3 Comments

  1. Andrew Thornton said,

    I think that there are certain artists who play with death, if not directly… then a sort of essence of it that act like the olden vanitas paintings and remind us of our mortality and the fragile condition of the human experience. Kind of like Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Ross Bleckner isn’t dead, but I think anyone’s work who deals with AIDS sort of deals directly with mortality and in a sense a direct sentimentalizing of the work and the associations. Like trying to capture those fleeting whispers.

  2. amywilson said,

    I think you make a really good point and that this actually goes a long way to explaining my decades-long fandom of Biz Markie… the way that he celebrates (or at least elevates) the pain of being alive. You know while watching him that you are seeing a very real person – there isn’t the tiniest bit of artifice there. Take away the alive-ness and there’s just pain, which is a lot less interesting.

  3. Stephen said,

    The Biz never sleeps.

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