Raphael Ru­bin­stein’s The Mirac­u­lous

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by An­thony Graves

Pa­per Mon­u­ment, 2014 An il­lus­tri­ous French in­tel­lec­tual once called for a mora­to­rium on the au­tho­rial at­tri­bu­tion of texts. When I was young and an un­der­grad­u­ate in art school, I re­mem­ber think­ing how stag­ger­ing a shift in the art world this would cre­ate if it were put into prac­tice, if we were to sus­pend the mo­ment of bi­o­graph­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and ap­proach art­works un­en­cum­bered by the pres­tige value or cul­tural cap­i­tal that an artist’s name gives and raises, like a stan­dard or a stock port­fo­lio. It is not for noth­ing that suc­cess is of­ten re­ferred to as “mak­ing a name for your­self.”

Even those of us in­vested in art, and who live our lives by it, have con­sciously and un­con­sciously staked out our af­fil­i­a­tions and can’t help but pre­judge an artist’s work based on the rep­u­ta­tion branded into an artist’s name. How­ever gen­er­ous one at­tempts to be, one knows in ad­vance how some­thing should be taken. Ref­er­enc­ing Bas Jan Ader’s In Search of the Mirac­u­lous, Raphael Ruben­stein’s The Mirac­u­lous is a con­cise, de­cep­tively am­bi­tious book of apho­ris­tic de­scrip­tions of artists’ lives. It is also a present- day echo of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. Un­like most books on art, Ruben­stein avoids in­ter­pret­ing artis­tic prod­ucts and fo­cuses on the cre­ative propo­si­tions and some­times ab­surd pro­cesses that fol­low. Each short chap­ter takes on the char­ac­ter of para­ble, even more so since the artists de­scribed are un­named. An in­dex at the back of the book is there for those who can­not re­sist the de­sire to con­firm an at­tri­bu­tion.

The book ges­tures to­ward a kind of resti­tu­tion of the sub­ject of art (the artist) while to­day so many nar­ra­tives merely ges­ture at the trans­for­ma­tion of artists into hu­man cap­i­tal. These apho­ris­tic chap­ters re­mind us that above all art is a dis­course, a de­tail lost in the cryp­tom­ne­siac world of con­tem­po­rary art. The chap­ters read like his­toric gos­sip, myth—the kind of sto­ries ex­changed among artists. Each one con­tains a per­sonal anec­dote, yet the gnomic de­scrip­tions brush against larger trau­mas—the AIDS cri­sis, the Ch­er­nobyl dis­as­ter. In The Mirac­u­lous, as in our lives, history is re­vealed as the ground against which we spend a day at the stu­dio, eat a par­tic­u­larly bad lunch, or lose a friend to AIDS. In The Mirac­u­lous the po­lit­i­cal is the per­sonal.

One should be sus­pi­cious of the bi­o­graph­i­cal anec­dote that as­signs neat causal­i­ties to de­vel­op­ments in an artist’s work. To imag­ine Robert Longo (who goes un­named in the text) chastis­ing his girl­friend (who is) for tak­ing too long with her makeup is ap­peal­ing, but this mo­ment is pre­sented as decisive in the de­vel­op­ment of ar­guably the most no­table fe­male pho­tog­ra­pher of post­moder­nity. While un­doubt­edly fac­tual, this is the kind of spu­ri­ous causal­ity that struc­tural­ism, with its pro­hi­bi­tion on the bi­o­graph­i­cal, would cut down.

The Mirac­u­lous leaves one wish­ing once again for a mora­to­rium in at­tri­bu­tions so that we can fo­cus, not on the branded proper names that bloom like al­gae across our screens, but on artis­tic deeds, those mirac­u­lous, lu­di­crous ac­tions that make up the sub­jects of our work. Ergo, “To a mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment, an artist makes a salad.”

— An­thony Graves is an artist based in Brook­lyn who

DAVID HAM­MONS, draw­ing by Elana Ber­riolo, ink on pa­per, 2015.

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