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March 17, 2010



Since your criticisms definitely include my post on Powhida I feel I should comment here. I brought up Grosz, Daumier, and Hogarth, because Powhida sells himself as a Fine artist. He, and his keepers, are putting him in the same company as the artists I mentioned. That is why I chose them. I could have used (especially with the help of my good friend Wikipedia) the names of other caricaturists but I didn't and I don't see how this invalidates my points. Also, his art is really and truly all about insiders or people who have some reference point when they are looking at his work and trying to figure out who is who. If you aren't part of the art world then you have no fucking clue what anything is about or who anyone is. So saying that you have to be in the know to get ANYTHING out of his work seems like a valid criticism. I should have gone into some detail about how pretentious, stupid, and ineffectual his whole art persona shtick (He's wearing boxers and sunglasses holy shit!!!) is but I forgot to. Maybe in a future post I will. Regarding the ingratiating way he portrays the good and bad guys in his cartoon universe, I think he makes everyone look the same. They are mostly recognizable to the in-crowd or the wannabes who are trying hard, and no matter how he portrays them they come across as being part of the scene, and therefore relevant, in the limelight (even if Powhida is trying to be critical). I mean he isn't doing muckraking journalism. He can suggest power relationships (the thing he does most often) and who is on the winning or losing side, but we are not dealing with any real depth here. So why should anyone feel shame or embarrassment when they appear in his work? Walter Robinson was probably just angry about not appearing in one of his drawings or not getting him to do pro bono work for artnet.


Hi eageageag,

Thanks for commenting. Obviously I had read your post, along with stuff at AFC, Powhida's own site, probably other places I'm not thinking of (including stray comments here and there, etc.) So while I wouldn't deny that it was one of the things in the background of my mind that brought this post about, I wouldn't take anything I wrote as intended as a direct criticism of your post specifically. Even if were, you shouldn't feel too bad. After all, you at least mentioned Grosz, not just D&H--that means you're a step ahead of everyone else!

In any event, the question about caricaturists was meant to be funny. If I were to be more serious, I'd say that a lot of the discussion of "insiders" and "outsiders" (and I am speaking in general, once again--this is not something specific to any one post or person) has been somewhat over-simplified. That's the blogging way, of course, and it's hard to expect much more. (Who has the time?) Still, it's too stark an antithesis. The audience for drawings about the art world (whether used in print, published online at blogs and magazine sites, or displayed/sold at galleries, fairs, etc.) and become part of the general media environment surrounding that world, needs to be talked about in a more nuanced fashion, as do the uses to which the different types of audiences put the images. I'd do it myself, but I'm too lazy.

I do agree with some of your last sentences, but: even if he's not doing muckrucking journalism (and I don't think he claims to), putting the muckracking of others (more-or-less what the New Museum drawing did) is not nothing. As for whether anyone feels shame or embarrassment per se, it's likely that those who have the most reason to feel ashamed are the ones with the least capacity for it. But I can imagine some people being angry; it's been my experience that people often have less of a sense of humor about themselves than one thinks they should. I do think that the more biting of his pieces have tended to be the ones that are more purely lists, probably because they're a better vehicle for dramatized self-loathing. Though I certainly wouldn't mind if he found a way to use the sort of shots he took at that critic from Time Out NY in his most recent blog post into a drawing. That might up the ante.

You'll be delighted to learn that my initial idea for a post involved a comparison between Powhida's cartoons and yours. Once again, too lazy; I may still get to it, though.


Mine are crap and his look nicer. There, I did all the work for you. Also, I also have absolutely nothing to lose. There is no market for me to wedge myself into. And Powhida would never try to rip Saltz a new a-hole like I did in my post about his scuffle with John Yau. But again this goes back to having absolutely nothing to lose.

I am not sure about the term "the general media environment" because I do think there is a disparity in knowledge of the world of fine art. Currently, my only connection to the art world is via the Internet. On a day to day basis I do not deal with people who know anything or care one iota about the art world. So the art about art stuff I come upon so often stands out in a stark way and really alienates me. Now I am not a complete rube. I have studied art history and read a shitload of it through the years, have spent many hours in museums and galleries, and worked as an art critic for a number of years as well. So I am not a hayseed, etc. So who is being elitist or a dilettante, the person who doesn’t like art about art or the person who makes art about art? And I want to return to the issue of ineffectualness. So what if the people Powhida portrays as bad guys get miffed about it? The original point I made, that the cartoons will not change any of the situations or relationships that are portrayed in them one bit still holds. The artist says that he is trying to emulate Ad Reinhardt and record the history of a specific time period in the art world. Time will tell if he has achieved this goal, but I would say that Rheinhardt’s cartoons would be entirely forgotten if it wasn’t for the existence of his Fine art proper, his paintings. Rheinhardt’s smartly written polemics, his phone book collages and his art cartoons represent something substantial but all of it is known to the tiny sector of the public who give a shit because of his achievements in painting.


There, I did all the work for you.

If only I could outsource all my blogging. "Crap" vs. "looks nicer" doesn't quite get at it, though (although having nothing to lose is definitely part of the equation.) Hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère! is more the direction I was going to go, and not necessarily to your disadvantage. I'll try not to embarrass you further, however.

It's kind of you not to make too much of the fact that I used the phrase "general media environment" just after complaining about a lack of specifics in the discussion. It's certainly true that most people don't care in any deep sense about art. Still, a lot of people enjoy a bit of satire, and like to feel they're more-or-less informed about things going on in the world, and some of those people look at things like New York magazine, its website, or similar publications. So a cartoon that spreads around quickly, getting picked up and discussed here and there, mocks wealthy and (in some sense) important people in a knowing way while also providing an opportunity to figure out (if you don't know already) who all those people are, is a very useful thing. It might appear to one audience in one way, but a different one to another, is my point, and insider/outsider talk doesn't capture that.

As for the title of this post, the Dilettanti have been on my mind for a year or so now, not to mention dilettanti theatricals.


Hey you're not allowed to link to real writing (NYRB) when in a discussion with me. You are arguing from a phenomenological perspective. Obviously at a basic level Powhida's work isn't going to mean the same exact thing to every person who bothers to acknowledge it. I can't argue that one. But you could say the same thing about a cow shitting in a field.


I was aiming to get more sociological than phenomenological. But I do loves me some phenomenology.


I intentionally misspelled Ad Reinhardt. Aren't I clever? Yes you could say that Powhida is studying a particular class or group but doesn't that notion reinforce what I am saying? And I don't want to be the one to say that the world doesn't need a sociological examination of a small section of the art world at this particular historical juncture. I also can't think of too many sociological studies that use as many generalizations as Powhida does. MFA students crawling out of a hole in the ground. Maybe that's funny but where is the sociology in that? Yeah it sucks to be an MFA student nowadays, and what else?


I don't mean to say that his drawings are sociological (though of course they do, as you point out, examine a certain social world); I more meant that there's a broader audience for his work that doesn't fit into the outsider/insider dynamic, or at least not so neatly.


I would say that the audience for said work includes people who want to be insiders and the fans of contemporary art who have no stake in the game. They are not gallerists, artists, collectors, curators, art professors, art students. And I certainly couldn't estimate how large this group is. But I would say that the fact that Powhida's drawings require that the viewer know numerous references in order to understand the compositions in their entirety undermines the lasting value of the work. These art world figures that appear in them have limited iconic value. So his drawings are obviously topical, tied to specific events and relationships within a limited sphere.

Also isn't the trompe l'oeil looseleaf paper thing played out at this point?

Saying that his work has a wider audience than his critics would grant it leads to what exactly?

Your main criticisms in this post are that critics of Powhida give his work short shrift when they say that it has insider appeal only or doesn't hold up well when compared to Hogarth and Daumier. Obviously you are too pressed for time to write about Powhida's work in such a manner that you think it deserves. But short of committing yourself to fleshed out opinions what specifically do you think all of the critics missed?


I started a reply, but it's past my bedtime. Have to wait until tomorrow.

Chris Rywalt

Personally I think Powhida should be compared to others working in his field. He's up against Nast, Oliphant, Herblock, Jeff MacNelly, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, David Levine, and, most especially, Mort Drucker. And those really are just off the top of my head -- I didn't even use Wikipedia! Sadly, he falls short of every single one of them.

Unfortunately that's the pattern for the art world: Elevate an artist who imports a narrow outside field into the gallery, even though compared to anyone from that field, the artist is incompetent. Cf. Roy Lichtenstein and Matthew Barney. Basically, if you can't make it in an actual professional field, you can always drop back to fine art.


Sorry for the delay in reply. It’s been a busy day. Anyway, in regard to the final paragraph of your last comment, eageageag, I should note that the post above wasn’t solely about critics of Powhida, nor was it really about his work. It was a brief list of some of my reactions to reading the online discussion of that work, opinions both pro and con. So for instance, the Daumier/Hogarth business: as you yourself pointed out, it’s something that was in a number of instances brought up by commentators cheering his work (such as this strange thing here.) I appreciate that it’s a natural response on the part of one who doesn’t like Powhida’s work to say, “Wait a minute, he’s not all that.” Heck, it’s a natural response even if you do like his work. What I found amusing was the terms that thus got set in the discussion and then repeated (or so it seemed to me): Hogarth/not-Hogarth, etc. And so I made a joke about it.

It’d also note that I don’t argue that saying Powhida’s work has insider appeal gives it short shrift. Obviously it does have insider appeal, and I haven’t been offering a brief for his work. What I have been saying is that discussing it in terms of a dynamic of insiders/outsiders presents an oversimplified model of to whom the work appeals and why. Or at least, to whom I’d guess it appeals and why—this being a blog, I’m talking out of my ass as much (or more!) than anyone else. For instance: I’d disagree with you that “Powhida's drawings require that the viewer know numerous references in order to understand the compositions in their entirety” or at least dispute the importance of such a claim. For one thing, who understands any artwork in its entirety? But more importantly, getting the references isn’t so hard when the work comes with plenty of text identifying figures, quotes from them (real or imagined), his own critical assessments, not to mention (as in the case of the New Museum drawing), news commentary, or when the satire comes (as it does in many of his paintings) in the form of mockery of familiar forms (celebrity interviews, market-watching news articles, etc.) So to turn to your first sentence, I’d say it’s in some sense right that the work’s audience includes “people who want to be insiders” if you extend “insiderdom” to include a certain knowing familiarity. Which is another way of saying the New York Times knows its audience and what it wants to read about. Or to put my overall point in its most general terms—and please don’t take this personally, as it’s not about you—the online discussion of Powhida has mostly been pretty crappy. Perhaps it had to be that way. To that crappiness, in any event, I’ve now made my own contribution.

As it happens, I do like what I’ve seen (online) of Powhida’s work. I don’t think it’s the greatest thing EVAR, but I’m amused and entertained, and that’s enough—I’m not asking any more of it. On the other hand, I have a great deal of reservations regarding it and how it's been received. Since ambivalence is my natural mode, this isn't really a surprise, and no one cares (or should care) what I think, anyway. Yet I do think Chris’s comment here starts to get at one of the questions that reading this stuff online over the past weeks and months (and longer?—I tried to remember yesterday when, exactly, it was that I started seeing Powhida’s work or hearing about it and couldn’t recall) has had me wondering. If not D&H (and decidedly not), then what? I brought up British caricature in the post both because (as per the links posts above) I’d been reading about Gillray and his works attacking the Dilettanti, the Pic-Nic Society, and other art/cultural elite groups of his time and because I’ve some familiarity with other examples from that field, but obviously it’s a distant world. I’m not sure most of Chris’s examples are actually that close to Powhida (we’re not talking about crazy expressionist stuff a la Steadman or classic big-headed, features-obsessed things like Levine here—Powhida’s work mostly depends on text and arrangement for its charge), so they don’t seem the best points of comparison, either. But it’s a good start, I think, or could be; there's not much point in pursuing it if, like Chris, one thinks that Powhida falls short of all relevant and worthy points of comparison.

It may be that the trompe l'oeil looseleaf paper thing is played out by now; for all I know, Powhida agrees—perhaps that’s why his most recent work doesn’t use it. Not being an insider, I wouldn’t know about these things.

I regret to end without taking the opportunity to hate on Jerry Saltz, as that might have provided an opportunity for comity.


" Or to put my overall point in its most general terms—and please don’t take this personally, as it’s not about you—the online discussion of Powhida has mostly been pretty crappy."

Ah yes the old charge of sour grapes.Green and Johnson include Powhida in posts because they appear in his drawings. Is that right? Probably. So I guess the reverse must be true as well. I hate them because I am not part of his multi-verse. That angle is complete bullshit and one of the reasons why I have stopped writing art criticism. If I can't be negative without getting accused of holding a grudge why the fuck bother? And if the old saying all press is good press even has an ounce of truth to it, thanks but no thanks.

Sorry but stuff that is presented in Chelsea art galleries is marketed and packaged as Fine art. It is not meant to be compared to illustrations in magazines or on CD covers. Even though the distinction between high and low art has been erased theoretically it is all a lie. Those people who exhibit and promote fine art continue to believe that there is a real difference between high and low art. So let's not kid ourselves.

So if you are suggesting that it would serve Powhida's work well to put it in the context of the long history of caricaturist output I would strongly disagree. Also, you keep suggesting that his work has wider implications outside the solipsistic navel gazing art world and you provide no proof. There was an article about him in the NYT and of course that is a special moment for him and the compilers of his press kit but I do not see how this brings the work into a larger cultural dialogue once the article becomes part of the archive. Who reads the NYT Arts section religiously? The who give a crap about contemporary art.

Also when praising an artist it is always a good idea to avoid repeating things the artist has said about their own work.

I am glad you are entertained by the work and if you expect nothing but mild entertainment from Fine art that is your prerogative.


Ah yes the old charge of sour grapes.

Well, no. In this case, it was actually what I said--let's call it the old charge that it's not about you.

It's Friday night, and I've not much time for the rest. I'll only say that, if I have repeated anything Powhida's said about his own work, it was inadvertent (nor would I call much of what I wrote praise, beyond simply stating that I like it to some degree--then again, he probably does, do.) As for only expecting mild entertainment from art, obviously you know me too well.


"The who give a crap about contemporary art."

Should read, "Those people who give a crap about contemporary art." My mistake.

I wouldn't bother responding to the rest. I count for nothing and that will never change.

I do think that the whole issue of high and low art is rife with hypocrisies but this isn't the place to explore this. Thanks for the discussion.

Chris Rywalt

If Powhida's work is intended as comic book style work -- including visuals and words in combination -- then I think Mort Drucker is the most apt comparison that could be made. Drucker's even a satirist. Others working in this vein include Tom Tomorrow and Ruben Bolling, both of whom are better satirists and artists (although Tomorrow does a lot of photocopying and can be strident and pedantic). Ultimately, Powhida's work is political cartooning more than anything else.

As for the looseleaf thing, he's been doing it all month at #class. Now with trompe l'oeil masking tape!


As for the looseleaf thing, he's been doing it all month at #class.

I stand corrected. While I've read various things about #class, I've actually not looked at any of it. I have a lot of trouble watching video online, at least aside from the occasional music video. I don't think I was even aware that there were any drawings displayed as part #class until today.

While I don't think it's quite the whole picture to say that Powhida's trying to do comic book style work (though that's certainly an influence), I agree that Drucker is a pretty good comparison in a number of ways. Obviously there are differences as well, but this is a comparison that actually makes sense.

Chris Rywalt

It wasn't intended as a correction, not like that. I didn't know he or Jen were doing drawings as part of the show until I actually saw them Friday afternoon.

I know what you mean about online video. I don't usually watch them, either. I'd rather read. And the videos of #class are mighty crappy in just about every way possible.

Arthur Whitman

I do believe that Gerry Bergstein remains the trompe l'oeil masking tape master.


Wow. Someone is channeling Ivan Albright.

Arthur Whitman


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