CRITICAL ESSAY: NOT AN ARTIST (2008) by Adam
I am often intimidated by the art world when confronted with artists, so it was with a fair amount of trepidation Wednesday evening when I headed to the ACC-Weimar for a lecture by Ondrej Brody, a self-proclaimed “neo-Dadaist” Czech “artist” with No Nickname Guy and Chica. Brody is partners with (presumably in a platonic fashion) Rio-based Kristofer Paetau, and I went in with a relatively open mind, but my bullshit detector turned on. With artists I have trouble detecting if what I am being told is legit or fake since I lack the knowledge and background to adequately understand both visual arts and music. This so-called artist set off my bullshit detector with a rapidity that I cannot recall having experienced in a long time save for approaches to American airport security checkpoints. Ondrej’s talk consisted of him sitting at a little desk, a lit cigarette in one hand, a beer in his other; an audience of Weimar’s cultural elite awaiting every word. Occasionally he would put down his beer and click his mouse in order to start video “excerpts” of Brody-Paetau performance pieces from across Europe. There were several ways that I was annoyed with Ondrej: he contradicted himself, was painfully sexually frustrated, and unwilling to discuss his work.
The first work presented was a little ditty called “Licking Curator’s Ass.” It was a video of him and his partner tying a gallery curator up, pulling down his pants and licking the curator’s ass; something he is apparently an expert at, both physically and metaphorically. Ondrej emphasized that they had been asked to do something shocking at the gallery and that, in his words, shit and vomit are not shocking. Set in Antwerp, I find it hard to believe that ass-licking is really that unusual or shocking. Antwerp is home to many world-famous clubs where I would expect that kind of behavior to take place not just in darkrooms, but on the dance floor. Be that as it may, I was open to the possibility that this “performance” was actually “art.”
My suspension of judgment lasted until he contradicted himself a few minutes later when showing us the film for 2005’s “Art Forum Accident”, which featured Ondrej’s partner vomiting on the floor of an art fair in Berlin. I leaned over to No Nickname Guy and whispered, “Didn’t he just say that vomit wasn’t shocking?”
Any remaining hope for Ondrej was destroyed when he showed us an untitled work performed in Prague in 2004, when he and several other Czech artists shit in front of works by the director of the Czech National Gallery. It was a vague form of protest (and bio-hazard) with no apparent effect. The film elicited only one question from Weimar’s cultural elite: “How did you all shit at the same time?” I leaned over to No Nickname Guy and whispered, “Didn’t he just say that shit wasn’t shocking?”
A few videos later Ondrej presented a video of his appearance on Artstar, a Czech attempt to have an artists show similar to American Idol, Deutschland Superstar, and (presumably) Česko hledá Superstar. He was a contestant, and was asked to perform/present on the show. So he did, and the judges were mystified until they noticed that he was pissing his pants. After a brief discussion, he was escorted off the stage. I leaned over to No Nickname Guy and whispered, “Why would pissing be shocking if vomit and shit are not?”
Beyond the fact that Ondrej was contradicting himself, it was clear that Ondrej is sexually frustrated. Much of his work has a sexual focus that suggests to me that he is in endless pursuit of gettin’ some—a goal that he can only achieve when he pays (or not) somebody to model for him. One of his performances, Miss Krimi featured what the website calls “a woman of an uncertain age” and I call an older woman walking down a path and she’s order to show her “cunt”, which she does, as well as her breasts. Filmed in 2005, this was quite possibly the first time Ondrej had ever seen a woman naked, and it fascinated him.
We were also shown a video of a 2006 performance piece called “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”. It too revealed Ondrej’s life long curiosity surrounding the female vagina. Using video, Brody & Paetau loosely replicate Édouard Manets painting of the same name; once considered shocking now hanging in Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. Using blue screen technology, the girls in the video were filmed up close and personally as they used vibrators in their vaginas. We also got to watch the women being eaten out by older men and give head to the same, all while repeating highly unlikely French phrases, such as “Go on, go on my dear… eat it!” The “actors” (and I used that term loosely) were Czech, speaking French, although they had, quite obviously, never spoken French before in their lives. The camera work, which would reveal new techniques to professional pornographers, allowed me to get up close and personal with something that I lack any interest in examining, but did allow Ondrej to see something he had never seen before.
UNWILLING TO DISCUSS
Ondrej’s most remarkable flaw was his complete and total lack of willingness to discuss and defend his work. More than once he would introduce a video clip by saying something like, “I’ll tell you more after we watch the clip”, and then after the clip was over, would refuse to discuss it further. It was most explicit when he didn’t discuss Miss Krimi, which I specifically remember him refusing to talk about, beyond telling us that they “did, didn’t, not really” pay the woman in the video. The most vocal defense of his work he would make the entire evening was when he explained that we were only watching “excerpts” of the performances, not the entire works, which was a bullshit answer, because I’m not really clear what we were missing that wasn’t germane to the actual performances.
NOT AN ARTIST
I do have one specific standard when it comes to art: if I can do it, it’s not art. In this case, if I can think of doing it, it’s not art. Ondrej presented only one “recent” piece of “art”. He introduced it by telling us that it is possible to send photographs to China and have painters in China send back your pictures painted on canvas. It only took me ten seconds after he introduced the idea for me to formulate exactly what I would do with this knowledge: I would naturally send pictures that are otherwise not allowed in China to be painted. I didn’t have anything specific in mind after thinking for only ten seconds, but given the fact that China is not known for its human rights, it shouldn’t be that difficult. — Yeah, that’s what Ondrej and his partner did: 1,500€ later, they got 30 pictures which they put on display. Unwilling to tell us explicitly what his art meant, he said he would sell the entire collection for $25,000; should somebody be interested in purchasing it. I will, however, for him, tell you what the art is about: It’s full scale human irony and the triumph of the all mighty buck. China is perfectly willing to make its citizens paint pictures that they would never otherwise see in order to profit. It’s also a way for Westerners to try deviating China from within, boldly sneaking information past the official censors.
PAINTING CHINA NOW (2007) View complete documentation of PAINTING CHINA NOW
Ultimately there was a bitter taste left in my mouth—Ondrej either wouldn’t or couldn’t defend his art; unwilling to explain what his art was about, I left distinctly unimpressed. And after visiting his own personal homepage, I know that Ondrej has, at least once in his life, gotten up close and personal with a woman’s vagina. Too bad it made him look like Hitler.