Jolie, Bless’d…art the Hallmark Cherubs

January 7, 2007 § 2 Comments

Katie Kertz of NC has ignited a firestorm that burns in the Land of TwelvePack Pabst as brightly as it does on the blog pages of Washington Post art critic, Blake Gopnik:


The painting is described by the artist as an attempt to explore the “cycle” of celebrity, using the “unattainable” Jolie and the “psychological oppression” of Wal Mart to provoke questions.

And provoke she has. She alludes to a torrent of activity at her blog, on email, and via phone that includes everything from requests for interviews from the AP to death threats.

Most amusing to me was the Washington Post blogosphere’s treatment of this “event.” Liz Kelly drew attention to the painting on her blog, Celebritology, and feeling both out of her depths doing aesthetics and fearful of contacting Kretz directly (she says this tongue-in-cheek, supposedly, but one can’t help reading class fear here — the Washington Post dabbling in the world of front lawn tire sculpture and “van art” evoking terror of The Heavens….), so she asked Post art critic Blake Gopnik to weigh in. Here’s the ruling from above:

“Kate Kretz’s painting comes closer to magazine illustration than to the subtle fine art you’d expect to see in a major museum of contemporary art. It gets its messages across, alright. It presents Angelina Jolie as our nation’s Madonna of Consumption. In a glory of siliconed breasts, collagened lips and foreign-adopted cherubs, Angelina reigns over Wal-Mart’s banality — its all-American brands, its all-American flag, it’s all-American obesity. The problem with the picture, art-wise, is that its messages are way TOO clear. It’s more like a puzzle-picture than a probing work of art: Once you’ve deciphered it, there’s not much chance of giving it a second look. Its van-art technique, especially, is so generic that it hardly has a thing to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before — often, much better. The crucial question, in our busy age: Why spend time with this work, when a 500-word Op Ed would do a better job expressing its opinions, and any number of Old Master paintings would mean more to an art-loving eye.”

“Deciphered it” in “our busy age”? Anybody breaking down your e-door with missives over that last traveling Monet exhibit you de-coded in 500 words for the uninformed, Blake? And though I could summon many adjectives and a few expletives, perhaps, re: Wal Mart, “banal” is not one of them. If the Wal Mart phenom was a trivial matter, we might all have a better handle on the psycho-aesthetics of consumer culture. We could start with the Gallery culture of the NY high art scene and work our way up to Wal Mart. I think the joke’s on the Post if it sees the aesthetics of Wal Mart as the triumph of “banality.”

No matter what you may think of Kretz’s art (but do check out “psychological clothing” at her site!), you have to concede that she has managed a social performance that goes far beyond “de-ciphering” the “message” and the texture of oils (I’m beginning to think that Rey Chow has it just right in her new book when she warns that representatives of the humanities and arts now sound more like Cold War operatives than impassioned practioners and critics interested in the capacities and potential in the potential of Being…get out your de-coder rings and beam that woman right back to her trailer park…).

But while we’re on the subject….

How about this…


Ever so subtle ideologically.

If you don’t spend much time with 17th-c. art (van Dyck), you may not be familiar with this masterpiece, but I’d bet money you’ve seen the cherubs cut from the margins and planted, out of context, on the front of a holiday Hallmark card.

Kudos to Kretz for appropriating her “high art” into another meaningful performative context, the “museum” of consumerland, class and race in America, and the e-public sphere.

{I would love to be a fly on the wall in Miami as the crowds trickle by}


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