mat (coagula) wrote,

The Effective Way to Scorn NY Times Critic Ken Johnson

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This is the first article of mine that the Huffington Post has declined to publish... There could be one or a few reasons why, read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions...

There are times when figures with cultural clout inadvertently stumble into public discussions about touchy subjects, brandish some garden variety ignorance and find that they suddenly have less capital and fewer, frayed connections.
Do you recall the quick end to the legacy of sports commentator Jimmy the Greek, gloating to a camera and microphone about his knowledge of the upside to the nineteenth century slave trade?

Do you remember the live Nightline appearance of Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis refusing to get out of the hole Ted Koppel let him dig, insisting ever deeper that African Americans were too dumb to work in baseball management? In both these instances, a man of stature sent himself to the village idiot stockade. The outrage was immediate, vocal and effective in challenging outright ignorance delivered as fact. Pipsqueak lamentations of free speech trampling ignored that nothing was silenced in the insistence that responsibility be shackled to that oh-so precious freedom.
And so this week the art world has been handed it's Jimmy the Greek and Al Campanis moments all rolled up into an ongoing parade of ignorance by a prominent art critic. How the art world responds to this will mark a cultural moment in time. Will this be seen as an era where willful and proud ignorance can be paraded by a leading intellectual and left unchallenged? Do we live in a decade where those old, tired strategies of petitions and boycotts allow the bigots equal stature in the popular media's simulated democracy? Or do we live in a time where we force our intellectuals to swallow the poison they secrete?
Ken Johnson, art critic for the New York Times, trashed two recent exhibitions that dealt with race. Of course a critic should go at it, but in doing so, Ken Johnson channeled Al and Jimmy. In his review of "Now Dig This" (LINK TO ARTICLE), a show of what Los Angeles African American artists were making in the 1960s, he shackled the whole identity of black America to its politics and freed the white man to make art for art's sake. A money quote:
(The exhibit) divides viewers between those who, because of their life experiences, will identify with the struggle for black empowerment, and others for whom the black experience remains more a matter of conjecture. Those who identify may tend to respond favorably to what those viewing from a more distanced perspective may regard as social realist clichés, like the defiant fist.

What he is saying is that, for "THEM", art is always political and Ken can't look at their art objectively because... well because they are black.

Maybe he was auditioning for Fox News, but more likely he was earnestly crafting a critique that revealed his contempt for artists outside his true cultural circle. Since Ken Johson vulgarly stereotypes, allow me to return the favor in pointing out that the suffocating insularity of New Yorkers like Ken Johnson long ago unplugged that city's claim to incubating any cultural zeitgeist.

If it were but a one-time thing we could shrug it off as just another cocky New Yorker in daily Vinny Barbarino strut, excited to give us details about how cool Studio 54 was like his city's great disco days are still the high water mark of western civilization.

But the shackled non-white artist is a pattern with Johnson. In 2010, Ken Johnson was scorning La Raza  in his scolding review of "Phantom Sightings" (LINK TO ARTICLE), a sprawling museum show of Chicano art that embraced conceptual strategies and presentation methods. His tisk-tisking is predicated on the demonstrably obscene assertion that a few inclusive group shows of minorities in the 1970s solved race relations and ended racial identity association forever. Didn't you get the memo? Some of Ken's best friends danced with black and brown people at Studio 54, these "mod" New Yorkers are "with-it". Groovy?

Like the best culture being produced in America today, "Now Dig This" and "Phantom Sightings" were created in Los Angeles and then travelled to New York City. This is a dialogue between the city of the 21st century and the city of the 20th century. An enlightened Los Angeles mines the fertile territory of diversity's present. An ignorant New York City winces when reminded that people the color of their help are delivering their own visions of the world, not some yesteryear disco fantasy of a token minority show in a New York institution way back when Ken Johnson freed the slaves.

And so action is required. What is to be done? Shall we sign a petition? There is an online petition circulating. In 2012, signing a petition is like going to a church and lighting a candle. You get a warm feeling about being a part of something bigger than yourself and then nothing changes but your own self opinion and the distance between you and that original concern.

Is there something to boycott? Should we all boycott the New York Times? Oh dear god it took strength to even write out such a pathetic example of what some would clamor for as a sign of activism and commitment to "the cause". Rhetoric demands such strength of a writer but it reveals the weakness of true options in the face of the power of major media monoliths like Kenny-J's employer.

There is no boycott in the age of occupy. Just as there should be no collegial politeness to an exercise of ignorance riding in the limousine of published raw power.
And so I offer you this simple phrase, to those who care about dignity as much as they do about aesthetics, culture and the transformative power of the creative experience. My only response to the obscene black and white double standard of Ken Johnson's world view is to forevermore call him Klan Johnson. Try it for great results! You cannot have a polite cocktail chat about the Sunday Times with the WASPs at the club if you correct Muffy when she mispronounces his name "Uh, not to interrupt, but I think you mean KLAN Johnson, his pen wears a white hood and his words burn crosses."
Instead of signing a petition, instead of telling history that this decade let shit slide with regressive do-nothing tactics and the politics of acquiescence, stand the fuck up and make this man's name mud. Worse than mud. Put this man in the Klan where he belongs. Make these old, ensconced gatekeepers responsible for the dimwitted parading of their ignorance. Make them stutter on camera like the doddering Mister Campanis still clinging to the Missouri Compromise. Klan Johnson might not even be welcome at the galleries if everyone shamed him. What clan would then have him if the art world stands up and says "not us"?
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