A Tea Party in the Arts?

‘WHAT MIGHT A TEA PARTY IN ART LOOK LIKE?” That was the question asked by a reader in his response to yesterday’s aprés-election post. It is a delicious question. Poignantly quixotic, to be sure, but no less delightful for that. It deserves quoting in full for those of you who do not click through to comments:

Today we face the wasteland of a nihilistic official art world, daily on display at such sites as Art Forum or vernissage.tv, ruled by an Academy far more oppressive than any of the past owing to its belief in nothing more than the recitation of Soros/Code Pink politics and the exercise of its own arbitrary power. What might a Tea Party in art look like? Possibly a new Secessionism of citizen-artist-critics off the grid with no message other than respect for craft and tradition, saying “Trashed Enough Already!”

If experience is any gauge, I can vouch that a Tea Party for artists would be lucky to draw 10 people. And seven of them would probably come from Oklahoma or Iowa. In any gathering of artists, when talk turns to politics—as it invariably does—it is simply assumed that everyone is on the same page. On the left side of the page spread, naturally. Other artists begin talking to you in serene confidence that you share their stances and presuppositions. How could you not if you are intelligent and caring?

I went to dinner recently with two friends, dear people steeped in the bien pensant preferences of fellow Upper West Siders. One friend leaned across the table to ask, in all earnestness, “So, what do you think of these tea party people?” I had the fun (rueful but still fun) of responding, “Sal, who do you think you are eating with?”

But that is only one part of things. The other part is more ominous. Increasingly, young people go into art not to make something but to be something. Their primary interest is in the theater of themselves as artists. They ache to join the class self-commissioned to add to the sum of human happiness. And that means happiness as defined by every crackpot world-improver with the savvy to network and put out a press release.

A case in point is the current exhibition of Eugenio Merino at ADN Galeria in Barcelona. Called “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” it typifies the international artmind. Barcelona, Berlin, London, New York, no matter. It is all the same spectacle of world-redeeming pretensions. Merino, a 35-year-old Madrileño, takes it upon himself in his assumed role of “resistant critic” to make us face up to “naked truths.” His work unmasks the “cardinal cynicism” and “schizoid indoctrination” that makes heroes out of the men who fight, suffer and die to preserve his artistic freedom.


Eugenio Merino, "No Return Policy" (2010)


His press material congratulates him for his “direct and insolent production, related to the ethos of classical cynicism.” [Am not sure how classical cynicism differs from, say, modern cynicism. But let it go. Something might have been lost in translation.] It instructs us in the artist’s intention to “symbolize the symbiosis between the increasing weaponry and peace, as if war or the menacing power of army could really bring stability.” Ah, Eugenio, but we already have an example of stability brought by the menace of military power. It was called the Cold War. It did a good job for you guys over there across the Atlantic for more than forty years. It helped bring down the Berlin Wall. And it was funded by grants from the U. S. Department of Defense. Hardly cost you a penny, Eugenio.

Our Eugenio was only 14 when the Wall came down. The national stability in which he grew to adulthood was provided for him by others. His liberty to “unmask” the grounds of his own relative safety was a gift purchased for him by those whose heroism he refuses to acknowledge. Tea Parties are not accomplished by artists who compensate for their timidity by making loud noises—from the comfort of a gallery setting—against the “wires still trapping us.”

Contemporary artists are no more capable of comprehending—let alone sustaining—a Tea Party than garden variety pundits. Both put their art to work in the service of propaganda. Muddled propaganda, at that.


© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey


  1. This is another way of saying that artists themselves have come to despise art. Not all of them but enough. They want to be a social force in a measurable, ideological sense.

  2. Any step back from the “trash” would require a step away from all the political stances. That ain’t gonna happen, folks. Art is a political arena.

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