Bad Boys

Bad boys bad boys
Watcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you

Three images motivated me to think of bad boys and to write about them. I have not witnessed these image-events in person, so I’m describing them based on other descriptions. I am imagining them.

First Image
Theater director Kristian Smeds is a resident artist of the Finnish National Theatre. “I no longer believe in art”, he announces on the main stage. He is crying and masturbating. In my mental image he is masturbating facing the audience, but when I asked for details it was described to me as a kind of shadow theatre masturbation, back to audience, behind a nazi flag.

The play was about another bad boy: outsider painter Kalervo Palsa who froze to death in his shack of a studio in the late 80’s. In the year that I was born. People who saw Smeds’s biographical play of Palsa described it to me as an end. A swan song. He can no longer get it up. #crying #masturbating

Second Image
 Artforum’s gossip-y Scene & Herd column reported that Oscar Murillo made his collector cry. The crying was related to a speech Murillo gave at some party. The speech was related to how the collector employed black servants. It was related to inequality. 
 It’s probably really stressful and confusing to be Murillo. Often compared to Basquiat, he is living out similar conflicting realities. Access to resources and exposure that in their case comes with exoticization and an inevitable loss of connection to some mythical authentic. The fact that he isn’t exotic after all. That no one should be treated as exotic. Does authenticity exist though? Does myth exist and how is that not exotic? 
 He is the first working class Latin American artist to reach these heights or whatever. He is like us now. Like them, the collectors. Or they consume him, because he’s not like them. But he has to be a bit like them to get what it is about him that they want to consume, which is probably not the part that can be in straight-forward dialogue with them. Hence the crying. Although maybe that’s what they paid for. To be moved. 
 They want to hear about the factory he worked in. They want to hear that his house had dirt floors. The reason why he became such a hot commodity in the first place: a connection to the earth. Used burlap coffee bags nailed to the wall of a Starbucks.
Third Image
A vague and understated one. Richard Prince, blogging. Richard Prince slouched over his computer. He is using a desktop PC. The lights are off in the room. He has white briefs and a t-shirt on.
 A dissatisfied 18-year old punk is trapped in the body of a rich old white guy. His blog is ~edgy. He says motherfucker a lot. He browses young women’s Instagram profiles, screenshots their pictures, prints them on canvas and shows them at Gagosian or other lost-the-plot megagalleries.
Should I be provoked by the lack of effort or the stuctural inequality in stealing content from broke 20-year-olds? I’m not provoked. Obvious troll is obvious. A cynical gesture is a cynical gesture is a cynical gesture.
 This art dad is replicating the pattern of unpaid internships and record breaking auction results. He is bored too. He sighs, leans in closer. Scrolls down a bunch of status updates about pets and fine wines. Opens another tab and clicks ‘Publish’ on one more rant about Paris and Revenge and Protest and East Berlin and Girls Who Don’t Shave. Maybe that’s what I’m doing too. Maybe that’s what we’re doing.

Last week I took a one hour commute to a meeting I was supposed to have with some curatorial students from a relevant-in-the-90’s central European institution. When I got to the meeting I was informed that they didn’t have time to meet with me after all. I could give a 3 minute presentation about what I was doing before they had to bounce. They seemed confused about who I was and why I was there, even though they had been the ones to request the meeting. The shade of it all.

I refused to talk to them which seemed to wake them up from their stupor, it was deemed ‘intriguing’. I was pissed off and made it known. My time had been wasted. I felt immature and thrilled. I realized I was employing the mildest level of bad boy tactics. Refusing to co-operate, refusing to be pushed around. It was cosmetic. It was weirdly satisfying. I was beaming with aggression. Fuck them, I thought.

I thought about status. To achieve status you had to start claiming that you had it, others would follow. Richard Prince’s importance as a thinker and maker was a delusion that he had, but the delusion was so strong that it had bended reality.

I thought that the curatorial students were really missing out, not having this talk with me. They had let a DaVinci slip through their fingers. Would this level of delusion suffice? Would it carry me through coming humiliations and microaggressions? Where would I be carried off to?

Richard Prince sighs. Richard Prince puts a frozen pizza into a convection oven in his fake-loft industrial brushed steel kitchen. Richard Prince listens to that Sonic Youth album he made the cover art for. He looks at his flabby torso and flaccid penis in the mirror. He decides to love himself more.

He was a skater boy, she said, “See ya later, boy.”
He wasn’t good enough for her.
Now he’s a superstar
Slammin’ on his guitar
Does your pretty face see what he’s worth?

A local bad boy artist pays someone 500 euros to make his exhibition for him. At the same time he repeatedly publicizes the 25 000 euro grant he got from an elevator company on his Facebook feed. I unfollow.

Santiago Serra of course took it further, earlier. Paying migrant laborers to hold up a wall or get tattooed. In South America it’s prob easier to find people to take advantage of. Finnish desperation often seems too mild to be easily dramatized.

Badness is the symptom of a highly individualized society. A bad boy is someone who uses the rhetorics of resistance and subversion to achieve opposite aims. Francis Alys is McDonald’s.

The most successful bad boys in 2015 are queer, they’re fluid: put ‘boy’ on and take it off again. Being in a minority affords you endless opportunities for being socially aggressive (on Twitter at least). It’ll cost you. It is costing you, but it might pay off as well. It’s what the people in your MFA program expect from you. It’s why you’re in that group show.

The bad boy is a figure from a bygone age. An age when the societal norm was one of being reasonable and “respecting authority”. People were bored back then. Excess seemed cutting edge. Now being a selfish asshole is the norm. It’s the least you can do. Bad boys follow the norm. Creative directors wanna be rockstars. Even the meekest curators have done coke off someone’s dick at this point.

The bad boy mainly exists for the market. Being rich is about sterile, hypercontrolled environments. All rich people are hypochondriacs. Being coddled and being said yes to, repeatedly, meekly. Purchasing bad boy art is about buying access to the untamed. It’s about paying someone to dominate you, to tell you to fuck off, to slap you around because maybe you’ve been a bit of a bad boy as well.

Originally published at