“Artist and Assistants: The Art Assembly Line” WSJ 3 June 2011
After beginning to teach at MOCA a few months ago I have had to confront my own prejudices and delve into the indifference I often feel towards contemporary art. My students occasionally react to the art in the museum with bafflement or hostility, asking me how these things can be considered art. I readily come to the defense of Rothko, Pollock, Franz Kline, Frank Stella, Sam Francis, pointing to their deep understanding as artist of composition, media and value in their pieces. I come to the defense not only of painters but sculptors like Alberto Giacometti, David Smith, Louise Nevelson and John Chamberlain who spent their careers mastering their craft and designing their sculptures.
I hit a wall however with Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst and other conceptual artist who rely heavily on assistants to do the bulk of their work. On a fundamental level I understand there is little distinction between the artist workshops of the Renaissance, but what I do object to is the lack of mastery by the ‘artists’ who are overseeing the work. It is true Michelangelo had numerous assistant, but art historians can identify his brushstroke as a graphologist can identify an individuals handwriting. Renaissance artists not only came up with the concept for an artwork but usually painted the most important parts, namely the figures while their assistants merely filled the background. Contemporary artists, like Alexander Gorlizki who was interviewed for the WSJ article, scoff at the effort which would go into achieving such mastery. Gorlizki admits outright, “I prefer not to be involved in actually painting. It liberates me not being encumbered by the technical proficiency.” I am afraid I am not yet open-minded enough to accept Mr. Gorlizki as an artist. Picasso’s paintings are so groundbreaking and respected in part because he was such a superior draughtsman. He broke the rules so successfully because he knew them.