HUMMELS: FIGURINES OR FIENDS? AND DOES ART, THAT LOVABLE GUY,
NEED TO QUIT KISSING RINGS AND GET OUT OF REAL ESTATE?
This summer, I've joined the hordes of glassy eyed addicts
restlessly going from yard sale to yard sale seeking the ultimate
whatsis. Which, in "Kiss Me Deadly", turned out to be a box full
of glowing doom. At the average yard sale, boxes are full of
plastic dishes that have seen better days, old baby clothes still
faintly redolent of diaper and tangles of broken toys. Naked
Barbies are regulars. Last week I came across two of them, who
some sick puppy (Phil Giordano?) had twisted into lewd poses.
The 25 cent price tag stuck to their bare breasts added to the
sordidness of their condition. I adjusted their limbs to a less
akimbo position and bought them. I'll probably turn them into
queens of outer space. Other poppets are less lovesome. Like
the Hummel, those simpering figurines passionately collected by
many. Though chipped Hummels can only be unloaded at yard sales,
their sellers still believe them to be "collectable". And price
them accordingly. Mint condition Hummels crowd the shelves of Ye
Olde Shoppes - those stores that specialize in twisted wreaths of
desiccated (and probably poisonous) vegetable matter. When there
aren't enough lost hikers to disembowel, the Blair Witch must
spend time "crafting". But back to Hummels.
Hummels, and their various cutesy poo spin-offs, evoke European
folk types: gnomes, dwarfs, dirndl skirted shepherdesses and
lederhosen clad lads. In folk tales, jealous dwarves kidnap
children, greedy gnomes hoard gold and shepherdesses are vain
minxes who sometimes end up like Yard Sale Barbie. Lads must
perform super human feats of machismo, before they can even
hope for respect. The Hummelesque versions of these archetypes
are coy munchkins with plump tinted cheeks and rosebud
lips. Their expressions are vulnerable, yet oddly knowing.
Dwarf/gnome/shepherdess/lad-- all look pretty much alike, though
dwarves and gnomes sometimes have neat little beards. Hummel
tints are also ho hum: even when the colors are primary, the
dominant tone is a muddy, camel dung brown. No lime green hot
pants or shocking pink party numbers for these babies. On that
score, Barbie definitely tops out. She's lost better clothes
than Hummels ever wear.
Rene, in Albany, swears there's a black market of x-rated
Hummel knock-offs which are traded on the Internet. I pray
that's a cyber myth. And yet, as mentioned, there is a certain
curdled quality to the Hummel's saccharine expression. Speaking
of curdled, I recently attended the opening of a new art gallery
in a small city in upstate New York. One of those river towns
whose factories once clothed the nation, but which now sit
essentially jobless. Upon arriving I was surprised to see a slew
of cops out front. Ever the optimist, I thought perhaps the work
was so avant garde that the local law had bristled at the
challenge to the status quo. Au contraire mon ami. That's French:
the language of beret wearing art purists holed up in garrets.
In love with art, declaiming the same and having a hell of a
time before keeling over in poverty. Their art living after them.
In short, the corny artist archetype of yesteryear. Alas. The
gendarmes were only present because a local political big-wig was
in attendance, lending support to what was hopefully the first
quiver of a real estate revitalization. Over the last decade,
real estate, political boosterism and art have become good
buddies. The idea of government designated and supported
"artist districts" springs from that relationship.
Considering just the creative aspect, the "artist district" model
for art communities is highly artificial. Art created within such
constructed bohemias tends toward sterility. Not all art has to
break established forms or shatter expectations, but true art
does have to be organic and ready to go where the mental action
is. Bohemias originally blossomed naturally, from people enamored
of particular ideas. Difficult to imagine Jackson Pollack or
Jack Kerouac, or for that matter Andy Warhol sitting on a panel
and deciding who qualified for a subsidized loft. The commercial
world, at certain Kismet times, also has periods of magical
confluence. But government doesn't. It's behind the curve of
human creativity. By nature, it responds after the fact and is
often inaccurate when assessing the new. With both art and
technology, government typically beats dead horses, then leaves
the corpse in the road blocking traffic. And the conformist
shadow that politics throws across art isn't good for artists.
Politicians inevitably want art to kiss their ring: art too
often succumbs to temptation and goes smack smack.
In Jersey City, New Jersey in the mid 90's, local artists staged
a group show at city hall. The mayor at the time was Republican
Bret Schundler, who had the rep of being "artist friendly" and
who was holding out the carrot of an artists' district as part
of waterfront development. When the show opened, the artist
curators had included, in a breath taking suck-up gesture, the
"works" of Bret Schundler. Which consisted of his tourist photos
of his trip to India. They weren't atrocious (he didn't stand in
front of the Taj Mahal) but it was still the kind of stuff
ordinary folks have to pull out after dinner, when guests are
nailed to the couch by polite obligation.
The relationship of art, real estate and boosterism finds perfect
expression in the ubiquitous "studio tour". Artists wait in their
cribs, wares on display. Clumps of potential buyers come by,
shepherded by a realtor, who points out the artist's charms. An
occasional piece is sold. But the real sales object is the
neighborhood. If successful, artists (along with other, non-artist residents) get priced out of the area. Which means the
need for a government funded artist's district. If the pitch
flops, creating an artist's district still means access to
federal revitalization dollars. In both cases, artists will
demand that unesthetic smelly factories, or anything else that
provides something other than service jobs at McBistro, be barred
from the district. The ultimate result is "Artist Land". Bohemia,
by Disney. Throughout the chain of events, the artist is coy
about his or her role in low income displacement. Their attitude
vulnerable, yet oddly knowing. They favor camel dung khakis. All
look pretty much alike, though some have neat little beards.
It's enough to make you wonder, could they possibly be...
Feel free to pass Deep QT along to a friend.
Till next time,
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
On The QT/Deep QT/PEEP!
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