Though it’s likely to get savaged by the art world, Ed Harris’s sensational Pollock (in movie theaters mid-month) is just as likely to make people nostalgic for a time when a fucked-up genius could sustain (if barely) a career as a painter without having to manage a simultaneous career as a pop celebrity. Unfortunately, Pollock’s 1949 appearance in Life magazine, a turning point in the media’s mainstreaming of modern art, was also an early tumble down the slippery slope of modern publicity. Suddenly, artists were no longer just colorful bohemians, they were entertainers; Pollock’s gestural dance above the canvas, recorded by Hans Namuth, was a boffo opening act.
Warhol, who knew that carefully cultivated celebrity was good business, accepted and ironized the role of entertainer, and contemporary artists can only aspire to his mastery of the media. A slew of current magazines demonstrate how well they’re handling it—or it’s handling them. John Currin is profiled in American Vogue, Rebecca Horn in Paris Vogue, and Damien Hirst superficially and at length in the new Vanity Fair (though Hirst is reliably quotable: “The only interesting people are the people who say, ‘Fuck off’ “). W has a long spread on London’s East End art scene; Harper’s Bazaar features David Sims’s photos of seven women artists (Kara Walker in Geoffrey Beene, Vanessa Beecroft in YSL) along with a vacuous take on New York’s young “gallerinas.” Gavin Brown and his gallery stable get a panoramic photo spread (credit: Roe Ethridge) and a handy pull quote or two (“the Stealth bomber of the New York art scene”) in Arena Homme Plus (stick to Steven Klein’s wicked David Beckham pix), and Details lazily scratches the surface of that same scene while upstart dealer Leo Koenig gets off one good line apropos of its denizens: “They’ll all become the clowns of high society.” But first they’ll become prime fodder for us clowns of the mass media.