Friday, April 06, 2007

Performance Art's Reluctant Stylist

New York Magazine's longtime art critic Mark Stevens is leaving as the full time art critic. He'll be replaced by Jerry Saltz, one of my favorite critics, who is leaving the Village Voice for New York.

Stevens never really wrote anything that caught my eye (his non-review of the Munch exhibit last year at MoMA was particularly uninspired). His sentences are usually too abrupt. His writing isn't as fluid as, say, Jerry Saltz's, and it lacks a distinctive voice. Until he covered Britney Spears' head-shaving as if it were performance art:
What the press, which was busy moralizing ("her poor little boys") and faux-empathizing ("she needs help"), never acknowledged was that Spears's crack-up was the most interesting performance of her life. She seemed to be trying, with befuddled brilliance, to tell the truth. She recoiled from celebrity culture by mortifying her own flesh. She stripped herself, publicly, of her sexuality. She presented herself as a grotesque. Few gestures are as symbolically rich as the shaving of a head. That's what monastics do when they reject the flesh to dedicate themselves to the spirit. In boot camp, soldiers lose their individuality with their hair. Delilah cut off Samson's to make him defenseless. The French, after the liberation, shaved the heads of collaborators.
Yes, Spears has finally stumbled upon something real, and so has Stevens. But he's moving on. Stevens is leaving to write a book about De Kooning, but he'll still be a contributor.

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