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David Rimanelli's defense of Dash Snow a feat of cognitive dissonance


#1

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.”

He writes:

“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.

He writes:

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


#2

This review by Christy Lange of a 2007 exhibition by Dash Snow in Berlin is still the definitive piece of criticism on the artist: http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/dash_snow/

What more can you add?


#3

This text unfortunately says more about the hopelessly divided left than it does about the merits of Dash Snow’s or Hito Steyerl’s work. The shortcoming’s of Rimanelli’s piece—which mostly come down to his engagement of a colored gay friend in Snow’s defence—are interacted with and thus exacerbated. Rimanelli could have been rebuked for using underprivileged elements in the defence of the economically privileged Dash Snow, whilst urging that we establish a concensus across disaffected individuals of any color, sexual orientation or class background. Instead his cynical divisiveness has been used to further an agenda which openly conveys a disdain for a particular white, male form of rebellion, underlined by the statement that Hito Steyerl is colored and female. Here the politics of identity falls into its usual trap. Namely, by highlighting people’s difference we see the creation of individual cells and factions when what we need is a way of unifying peoples discontents, in the art world and elsewhere. Beyond this, the assumption that Snow can not be a real rebel, in the political sense, because he comes from financial privilege is particularly counterproductive. How precisely then should rich people in the art world behave? There are plenty who live in a bubble completely unaware of their privilege causing endless frustration to any attempts to devise a explosive political response to the status quo from within the art world. Whilst Dash Snow was in no respects a political artist, his work conveys a deep angst and frustration at a world he clearly disdained on a personal level. The fact that the symbolism he employs is particularly white and male should not be seen as weakening his invective, nor should the fact that he came from money yet mixed with people from other social class backgrounds. Such a criticism can only burn rather than build bridges, as does the description of the kind of men who may buy Snow’s work (which whilst presenting a novel form of critique is pointless unless we then ‘review’ the kinds of people who buy Steyerl’s work on the basis of their income, gender and race). However much one likes or dislikes Snow’s aesthetic the fact is, that despite his privilege something about contemporary living made him sick to the stomach, evidenced not only by the messages in hs work but by his substance abuse. It was a peculiar white male upper class rebellion (even in the fact that he masqueraded as from the street), but he could not very well have peformed any other kind of rebellion. If he stands accused of being white, male and rich he is guilty, but one feels that in the process more valuable time has been wasted in dividing the discontented factions of this world in an opportunistic critique of a figure who can’t respond to the charge. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual out there… And finally, I’m left wondering what kind of ‘bad boy’ Snow should have been and if there may be a follow up piece describing the right kind of ‘bad boy’? One is reminded here of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality where the philosopher states that we assume that because the powerful are ‘bad’ (evil) the poor must be ‘good’. Only here it is flipped on its head… Bad boys are generally poor so rich boys must be ‘good’ (mummy’s and daddy’s boys incapable of insightful critique), even when they’re blue faced and dying of a drug overdose due to a habit developed in part to cope with the pressures of an illustrious family background coupled with the relentless demands of the capitalist art world machine they were born into.


#4

With a line of powder crossing generations over and over and always relapsing on this kind of poor little rich victim kid. Nihilist and narcissist, better artist or worst, just as all the dead overdosed rich kids of the world united.

Rich or Poor, since industrial revolution, the monster city, can take you down to the Opium/ Coque/ Crack den… and this is what transpired at the back of Dash S sad life.
He was quite the courtesan too, as his art had this touch, in this sense, the supposed punk, hard coredness of Dash S work, was a kind of narcissistic pomp from an insider of a certain courtesan context, that considered on his times as an uber coolness: to vomit, piss, shoot one self, suck dick or tits and so on wile taking selfies and been photographed… we talking about the ultra decadent french rich kids shit magazine Purple with its folks like Terry Richardson and his so French editor, always on the look for the displaying of such “decadence” ( as a post-modern artificial paradise and addiction) the co-optation of that, that once had been a bit more corrosive, even if just a bit. The simulacra over and over on a nightmarish eternal return of the same baroque shit.

Making of J.M. Basquiat and the downtown New York in the 80’s a sort of shadow mirror black double effect. Poor Jean Michel B versus rich Dash S? Nothing to do, nothing comparable. Just New York streets and huge Art Galleries and Collectors, just death of the fast and young, both exploited by a context.

By this time all levelled up in line with the likes and works of fellow “artificiels” as Jim Goldberg, Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Boris Mikhailov, Corine Day… as their subjects, almost naked sexy bodies, with their crusty white noses, their syringe hanging … the smashed bottle…the vomit and the piss… the trash reality show on all day.

The sinister side of the life and work of Dash S actually is precisely, that he was known, that he had a great gallery, that his work was very well framed and expensively showcased, that he was posing at the same time that he was some kind of ghost. He was the ultimate rococo phenomena of our bored to death society. His visibility, the sign of his imposture. Not because he was rich or a bad boy, but because he was too willing too collaborative.

And as some may know, when a kid is on crisis with its own world and a victim too, ( just as a rich or a poor kid ) it just disappears, it just commits social suicide and only few really know of their existence. A very private photo album where their teenage healthy bodies and fresh red mouths smile under a blue sky and of course a glorious sunshine, keep reminding us of a before it all went wrong. Not so much to celebrate, even less to want to sell.

This is the great difference between some of the authors mentioned above ( the ones who showed us a world, a crude, fucked up existence, to make us reflect or even feel with it) and the ones who replicated it, sold it and transact with it, as a glamourised life style. As a hype. This is the deep question here: what it really meant that discourse, that work, what was really telling us about and about how far one of his makers and producers was willing to go, in order to full fill its narcissistic supply.