In the March issue of Texte zur Kunst, David Rimanelli attempts to redeem Dash Snow and his lukewarm exhibition “Freeze Means Run” at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut. Rimanelli seems to think that the fragile art world doesn’t get Snow’s work because it’s too “raw and rough” and “of the streets.”
“Dash Snow: Freeze Means Run” was met with polarizing objection. On the one hand, certain parties (be they the fan base or the self-declared Reasonable and Just), feeling Snow’s work to be so “of the streets,” and raw and rough, etc., ad nauseam, that it is somehow wrong to display it in Greenwich – particularly at the public, non-profit exhibition space of a noted collector. To that species of opinionizing, I ask: Was it wrong that the Whitney had a Keith Haring retrospective in 1997? On the other hand, there are those who believe this show in Greenwich somehow “proves” that Snow is a fraud, in death as well as life. The venality, however, is neither in the late artist’s art nor was it in his life, but in those who assume to speak with authority when the issue at hand is, precisely: Who has authority? But Snow has always mixed codes in provoking ways. It’s not hard to imagine him laughing hysterically at this affair, loving the rightness-wrongness of it all.
On the contrary, Greenwich, Connecticut is the perfect place for a Dash Snow retrospective as it exemplifies the exclusive wealth the artist grew up with and the wealth collectors throw at him and his friends, the purveyors of Bad Boyism—Dan Colen, Ryan McGinley, Nate Lowman, etc. The celebrities and other 1%ers who go to the Brant Foundation aren’t horrified by Snow’s raw and rough work; rather, they’re titillated by it. They want to buy it and hang it on their office wall to remember the good old days when they didn’t have to wear a tie and have a soul-crushing job pushing money around. Snow, Colen, and the lot have consistently and all-too-readily commodified themselves as downtown, drug-addled street legends. To a collector, the transaction for a piece of this legend comes with both exclusivity and a hefty price tag.
The controversy of a large-scale Dash Snow exhibition lies not in his “realness,” but rather in his mediocrity as a bad boy. A bad boy who made thoughtless, codified enfant terrible art, and who, as part of the De Menil family that has been called the “Medici of modern art” by the New York Times, annoyingly rejected the resources he was born into, and for which any actual struggling artist would kill. What’s at stake in rebelling when you have a fortune to back up your youthful indiscretions? The codes Snow mixed were merely “uptown wealth” with “downtown rebellion,” which could only be seen as radical in the context of a Forever21 campaign.
Rimanelli also strangely attempts to recuperate Snow’s authenticity as a real person of the streets by problematically recalling that he was friends with a gay black man in a tagging crew, as if his friend’s race magically imbues Snow with street cred.
When Snow, circa 2000, joined the tagging crew IRAK, soon thereafter this already well-known group achieved a kind of legendary status, in part because the leader of the crew, Kunle Martins, who appears in scores of Snow’s Polaroids, was an unapologetically gay black man and the tagging community was notoriously homophobic; the addition of rich kid/runaway Dash Snow, and the seeming unconventionality of their relationship, made IRAK the ne plus ultra crew of its time.
Rimanelli contrasts Snow’s perceived authenticity with Hito Steyerl’s alleged lack thereof (a woman of color who was not born an heir to an oil fortune). He writes that Steyerl’s treatment of violence and race in her 2012 video Guards is somehow sanitized and relegated to “pictorial strategy” because the video is shown in a gallery, and because Steyerl doesn’t have a personal relationship with the guards, as if she should become friends with her subjects or work as a security guard after she made the video to render it truly authentic.
There’s delicacy in all of Snow’s production, but it feels different from a pictorial strategy, more like real humor and sweetness, and even gentleness, combined with an implacable urge to rub people’s faces in the mire. Still, there’s the question of how, or if, Snow’s own life squares with what one might call the “networked” logic his art operates against. Does one take Snow’s position entirely seriously, contrasting it with artists who assume the “Bad” mantle as a strategy? The visceral power of violence easily becomes a seductive hook for artists such as Hito Steyerl, whose 2012 video “Guards” makes full use of the jarring body language two museum guards replay from their former lives as cops/Marines, against a backdrop of works by de Kooning, Hesse, et al. The appeal of such rough play for gallery audiences is sanctioned by Steyerl’s distance from her actors’ world. And yet the deployment of working-class men in her video is essentially a temporary human transaction, contained in a project destined for the same museums where these guards continue their anonymous labor.
Steyerl’s Guards speaks to the common misconception that cultural institutions and the systems perpetuating war violence are separate: rather, they are directly, intimately connected by their shared personnel, and abstractly by function—both are systems set up to protect capital in various manifestations. That both of the guards are black speaks to the structural forces that push people of color into high-risk, low-paying jobs. Steyerl’s video is not an abdication of race, but rather an inquisition thereof.
There’s a lot of backward logic in Rimanelli’s text. To suggest that an artist somehow maintains a bourgeois critical distance for not having a personal relationship with her subjects is a red herring thrown out to obscure the absence of any real justification for extolling this artist’s work other than that he’s Rimanelli’s friend. (The intro to the TZK piece notes the author’s personal relationship with Snow: “Rimanelli makes his position on Snow clear: as he recently answered a skeptical friend, ‘I would kill you a 1000 times just to have Dash back for one night.’”) Snow’s work is absent of any politics and his entire career is based on the masochistic desire of rich people to have someone younger, cooler, and more attractive than them “rub their face in the mire.” This is the artist who, as an art project, ejaculated on copies of articles that criticized his work. To somehow wrangle logic into placing him categorically above Hito Steyerl is, first, totally unnecessary, and second, strange and false.
I’m not propagating a wholesale rejection of Snow. I recognize that he was an important figure in the post-9/11 New York art world and reportedly a great friend. It’s very sad that he passed away. However, aggrandizing his artistic contributions and needlessly positioning his work above others’ in quality and authenticity seems painfully misguided, and something Snow wouldn’t have cared about, anyway.
Image of Dash Snow via highsnobiety.com