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Bi-Coastal Adventures in Modern Art

Charles Krafft and John Morgan appreciating art

Charles Krafft and John Morgan appreciating art

1,617 words

September 29th: My friend Anastasia (not her real name) hits town. She’s staying with some friends in Brooklyn and invites me to meet her at the Participant Gallery, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Anastasia’s old friend Clytemnestra (not her real name) is going to perform what is described to me as a “cat dance.” I arrive on time to find the place quickly filling up with the most appalling collection of artsy-fartsy New York hipsters and self-conscious “individualists” that I have yet seen. 

Anastasia and I sit on the floor alongside the stage. She used to be part of this whole scene. Her parents were both artists and she grew up in Manhattan. But she has a healthy critical distance from it all. The show is supposed to begin at 7, but the appointed hour arrives and the stage still stands empty. Time creeps by and my empty stomach is rumbling. 7:30 and still no cat dance. All I can think about is getting out of there and finding something to eat. Anastasia is a few feet away from me talking to another old friend, this one of indeterminate sex. She keeps glancing at me and smiling, aware that I’m acutely uncomfortable.

At last around 7:45 there’s a bit of a hubbub around the door to the gallery, then some gasps and a good deal of laughter. I can’t see anything through the crowd, but I hear a human voice crying “Meow! Meow!” And then Clytemnestra appears: stark naked and covered in gray body paint, with pasteboard cat ears, whiskers, and tail affixed to her body. She slinks and claws the air in a sort of Julie Newmar fashion. “Meow! Meow!” She is then followed by two other identically-clad (and unclad), buxom young catwomen, all meowing and menacing the audience with their glued-on plastic claws.

Everyone is tittering and videoing the whole thing with their IPhones. Predictably, I can’t get the camera on mine to work. Stagehands in the inevitable black turtlenecks and leotards bring out a huge litter box. The catwomen get in it and begin scratching imaginary litter. “Please don’t . . . Please don’t, umm . . . go,” I think. My friend John Morgan of Arktos Publishing told me that he saw some performance art in Sweden in which a naked women peed on stage and a man tasted it and said “Ummm. Tastes like art.” But contrary to its reputation, this New York stuff is pretty tame and the litter box segment is, thankfully, pure pantomime.

The box is removed and then a giant cat toy is produced from backstage and held out before the catwomen: a long pole with some strands of fabric dangling from it. The catwomen circle it frenetically, clawing at the strands, cat boobs jiggling. Then the toy is whisked away by some po-faced stage hands, and our performers begin banging drums with cat faces painted on them. They chant something or other, but I can’t remember what it was. No matter. It made no sense anyway. And then the performance is suddenly over – ending just as enigmatically as it had begun. The question on everyone’s lips: “Why?”

Much applause, followed by a short intermission which is then to be followed by someone doing a monologue about being a hermit. But I have had enough. And blessedly so has Anastasia. We step outside so that she can talk to some of her old chums. Inevitably, I am asked what I thought of the performance. “I’ve lived with a cat for thirteen years,” I say. “I was not convinced by that.” One of Anastasia’s friends raises an eyebrow. “I doooooon’t think that was the point,” she responds, her voice dripping with condescension.

Anastasia is an attractive and charming woman. One of those people who seem to be able to fit in just about anywhere, and to charm any crowd. But she is so high-energy that at times it’s exhausting, especially when she’s around others. I desperately want to ditch these artsy people and go off with Anastasia and have some dinner. Miraculously, I succeed. And a few minutes later the two of us are sipping drinks at a Thai restaurant on 1st Avenue. “People think it’s supposed to be funny,” Anastasia says to me of Clytemnestra’s performance. “But to her it’s all about the fact that she doesn’t know who she is or why she’s here. It’s an expression of existential angst.”

And I just thought she was expressing hairballs.

Flash forward to October 15th: I am bumming around San Francisco with the artist Charles Krafft and the aforementioned John Morgan of Arktos. We take a bus to North Beach with the intention of visiting City Lights Books and pouring scorn upon their inventory. But first Charlie wants to have lunch at the San Francisco Art Institute. Their food isn’t very good, but the café has a great view of the bay. I tell Charlie and John about my introduction to cat dancing two weeks earlier. The tale makes us all hunger to experience more contemporary art, and fortunately the San Francisco Art Institute is positively bloated with it.

This place is a school, in case you don’t know. Filled with young, wan, entitled brats with “raised consciousness,” sipping fair trade coffee and debating which local sushi joint serves the most ethical tuna, rolled-up yoga mats protruding from their North Face backpacks, lovingly assembled by barefoot Guatemalan peasants for pennies an hour. “Trustafarians,” Herr Krafft declares. Grungy stoners with trust funds. Trust funds and no talent, as we soon discover.

The Diego Rivera gallery contains an interesting mural by Rivera, but its purpose is not to house the mural but to serve as a space for the petite larcenies that these kids call art. In the center of the room is a small group of mechanical plastic daisies, their stems swaying back and forth to battery power. In order to better understand the artist’s intention we lie flat on the floor and study the daisies up close, as another friend (who must remain nameless) snaps a picture of us. Other visitors come and go, perhaps thinking we’re just part of the art.

KrafftMorgan2On one of the walls someone has taped a small square of human hair. “What’s that?” one of us asks. “It’s Hitler’s moustache!” I proclaim, feeling suddenly inspired. And we are photographed with this exhibit as well. We visit other galleries at the Institute, and they are no better. It’s all bollocks. Only one instance where I looked at a piece and thought, “It’s crap, but I can see that the guy does have some talent . . .” I told Charlie that I have one hard and fast rule in judging art: if I look at it and think “I could do that,” then it can’t be any good. My being unable to do what the artist has done is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition of the piece being any good. And a five-year-old could do most of this.

But he would have to be a pretty malevolent five-year-old; a bad seed. Because this stuff is just a sneering fraud. A revenge against beauty and talent by a group I’d like to label “envious mediocrities” – but that would be paying them an undeserved compliment. Pardon me if I’m sounding like Ayn Rand. But for all her faults Rand had much of modern art nailed:

“Something made by an artist” is not a definition of art. . . .

“Something in a frame hung on a wall” is not a definition of painting. . . .

“Something piled together” is not a definition of sculpture. . . . (“Art and Cognition,” in The Romantic Manifesto, 2nd paperback ed.)

And so on.

Most reactionaries dismiss modern art as bullshit. I don’t think that is necessarily so. Attacking “modern art” is kind of like attacking “modern medicine.” These categories comprise quite a lot – both good and bad. And there are modern artists I appreciate – like Paul Klee, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, and, of course, Charles Krafft. But what we think of when the term “modern art” is invoked is “non-representational art” and “conceptual art.” Some spots flung on a canvas; some stuff piled together; some human hair glued to a wall; some plastic mechanical daisies lined up.

But, ironically, a lot of modern artists seem to agree with the reactionaries, which is why most of today’s “serious art” is just a cynical bullshit industry. There are no “concepts” behind “conceptual art.” There are no “meanings” here for pretentious critics to expatiate upon. It means nothing. These narcissistic hipsters admitted to places like the San Francisco Art Institute might actually have some latent talent, but they quickly get the message: their job is simply to come up with something – anything – that’s less meaningful than what the last guy did. Maybe this is all they really can do, because there’s just no meaning inside them to come out.

The real, sorry truth is that the Nietzschean-Randian analysis – according to which the “modern” artist is moved by envy – probably gives most of these people too much credit. It’s not that they want to spit at great art: they really just don’t want to do anything of significance at all.

As we walked up Columbus Avenue, headed for City Lights, I thought: “Take heart, one day every last bit of it will wind up in our new exhibit of Entartete Kunst.” Cat dance and all. But the Germans were too generous: they actually sold off all the stuff once the exhibit was over. Let’s demolish it, and redirect these “artists” to their true calling: waiting tables.


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  1. Petronius
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    I guess Clytemnestra and many other “artists” of that kind are really expressing “the fact that they don’t know who they are or why they are here”. Certainly a deracinated society will produce such deracinated and confused people and a lot of “existential angst” as well. This is where a “New Right” should chime in.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Artists, like most other people, seek to give their lives greater significance by serving a higher social good. The trouble lies in the higher good of society today. The idols that white artists serve today are just ferments of decomposition spread about to destroy our society and them as well. I don’t doubt that white artists of real talent are out there, that their minds can be opened to the terrifying truth about the world today, and that some of them would rise to the challenge and put their talents in service of creating a better world. But how to reach them?

      • Kundalini Joe
        Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        All one has to do is spend time with serious young artists. Then you’ll know that they are looking over the popular horizon. They won’t have words for their dissatisfaction and gaze into the beyond because they haven’t been taught to consider themselves White. It’s a non-starter. It’s a non-referent for their blues.

        But if you quietly explain their “quest for identity” in racial terms then a light explodes in their eyes. This gets to the conundrum of art schools. So much emphasis is placed upon the path towards identity that parallels the path towards technical prowess. They’re indivisible paths. And yet, it is anathema for White kids to claim a local identity, enclosed inside a European identity, enclosed inside a bloated Universal identity. All the kiddies are taught to claim the bloated Universal identity first and solely. So the greatest gambit is lost: being a provincial Bach who speaks across borders and epochs. More to the point, being a folksy Bruegel who is full of humor, devoid of cynicism, and honored as a great master.

        Bach and Bruegel knew their core constituencies. Today, it’s forbidden for White art students to speak primarily to other Whites who’re anxious for renewed symbol-scapes. Yet, it is the key to the identity and authenticity crisis. That’s why, when explained delicately, New Right thinking is welcomed. You see kids who’re looking past their own ethnic/regional horizons to the remote horizon of universalism, and wondering how to compete in a state of complete dissolution. They’re relieved to hear that the horizon beyond universalism leads back to their own native horizon as a White from Boston or Podunk. It’s an intro to the Cycle of the Four Ages.

        The very best kids know that we’re living in the Kali Yuga. They just haven’t conceptualized it. They need hints, so that they can proceed to create a cosmic view for themselves. That’s the artist’s vanity. From this seed of individualism, racial pride can flower along with a sense of natural constituency. As with most learning, kids are attracted to a model presence first, and rhetoric second. A few dear words about White imperatives, spoken with confidence, goes a long way. The honesty itself is remembered. It’s a rare thing, a memorable event, to hear an honest word amongst the dilettantes.

      • Petronius
        Posted October 18, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        I do believe that those who can and who sincerely want will always find a way. Real talent always does. Thinking of the Cat Lady, I rather think of these types of people who become “artists” because they have this feeling of a lack of identity and purpose Jef’s friend is talking about. A New Right should offer people an idea of identity and purpose.

        As much as art is degraded today, there is still this faint memory lingering around that once it was supposed to serve higher ends beyond merely material necessities. The “pointlessness” of much of modern art is actually a distorted and often misunderstood hint into that direction. It points to a vaccuum, where there should be a God, so to speak. Some of course downright celebrate pointlessness and nihilism, but sometimes I see a lot of despair in that. I guess most of course are charlatans, cynics, neurotics, narcissisists or plain idiots.

        In a sense much of modern art really does actually properly reflect the (not-so) higher goods of society. It is actually the kind of art this society deserves. Much of what we see today is just the afterbirth of a long process. Some modern art started as a joke (Duchamp’s objects) and subsequently it was forgotten that it was joke. So it became a joke about a joke and some day some dope or cynic took it seriously, and some businessmen of course had something to “sell and sell quickly” (to say it with Ezra Pound). And so on.

        Likewise the “de-constructive” artists like Picasso or the Cubists and surrealists (some of whose work is brilliant, like Dali, Magritte or Ernst). Mircea Eliade wrote some interesting stuff about these around 1960: he regarded many of them as essentially “healthy” and vital people that followed the myth of destroying a (already crumbling) world in order to create a new one. A sort of “interregnum”, transitional, Kali-Yuga-art so to speak. Unfortunately he was wrong, much was destroyed but nothing really new and good followed after that, it was rather a dead end and limited to a few individuals.

        By the way, I do recommend the website “Art Renewal” – there is a HUGE, high-quality archive of classic figurative painting through the centuries, as well as an on-going promotion of contemporary figurative artists. It is refreshing to know that there are still a few around that have skill, talent and a sense for beauty. Hopefully these are seeds for the future… may the Muses provide.

      • Petronius
        Posted October 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        I think the “Art problem” does point to the necessity of deep and thorough reforms of society, maybe even unto the creation of something altogether new. The bigger the black hole of modern “art”, the louder the scream. An all-White society that continues with mindless consumerism and materialism and nihilism and mass culture idiocy and hedonism, only without obnoxious blacks and other colored people that spoil the consuming, would be pointless in the end. It would maybe be more sufferable than a “multicultural” society, but on different levels just as worthless.

  2. Jaego
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Ah the Cult of Ugliness and Anti-Life is still “alive” and meowing. How many of the gallery owners are Jewish? Israel Shamir, a Jewish convert to Orthodoxy, wrote a scathing essay in his book Pardes saying that they had come to dominate, with 75 to 80% (as of 1973) of the key figures in the American Scene being Jewish. With extraordinary humility he states that Jews generally have a poor visual sense and only entered this world to destroy it. They are also prominent in the world of Classical Music but here their abilities are more commensurate with their ambition with real performers, composers and conductors of note – and not just destroyers.

    • Posted October 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      “They are also prominent in the world of Classical Music but here their abilities are more commensurate with their ambition with real performers, composers and conductors of note – and not just destroyers.”

      Here too the Judaic does his work of culture-distortion, being the principle source of the cult of [empty] virtuosity among “star” soloists and above all flamboyant “conductors”. True European music never had any need of such monkeyshines. Think of all those weepy Judaic fiddlers!

      The “authentic” performance movement was, I think, implicitly — and unconsciously — White, shit-canning all this — implicitly Judaic – frippery and encrustation.

      The Judaic is happy to run the Met and conduct the orchestra — from a wheelchair, a la Dr. Strangelove! — while the White man pays for his ticket and thinks it’s White culture, because the lyrics mention trolls!

      “Among them, for example,
      were itinerant instrumentalists and minstrels who were said to have the ability
      to perform the music of earlier epochs with perfect ancient purity… When an
      orchestra of the Journeyers first publicly performed a suite from the time before
      Handel completely without ‘crescendi’ and ‘diminuendi,’ with the naiveté and
      chasteness of another age and world, some among the audience are said to have
      been totally uncomprehending, but others listened with fresh attention and had the
      impression that they were hearing music for the first time in their lives.” — Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

  3. Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    The folks I share the abandoned glove factory with have a much more useful version of cat art, which at least benefits real cats:

    Spengler would approve! Art is impossible in the modern world [hence, such pitiable ideas as ‘abstract’ art, ‘conceptual’ art, “art is what I do” etc. He counseled talented Aryans to go into engineering. But how about city planning? Or…. kitty planning?!

    “A team of kids, artists, and city planners are designing and building a thriving meowtropolis: Kitty City

    “Ribbon cutting ceremony, kitten adoption drive, and closing celebration: June 1 2013, noon – 6pm

    “Kitty City is an inter-generational experiment in collaboration and pedagogy, designed to encourage shared decision-making power and challenge the way we think about the urban environment.

    “During four workshops in May, we will design buildings, thoroughfares, and other urban elements to meet our strict zoning standards for living the good life. We’ll plan parks; devise water, transportation, and sanitation systems; map out housing options, commercial and cultural districts; and be sure there’s plenty fresh and healthy food. After our shared vision is approved by committees and review boards, we’ll build Kitty City in the Flux Gallery. On June 1st, we’ll flood Kitty City with kittens during a ribbon cutting ceremony that will double as an adoption drive.”

  4. Walter
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    A delightful article. It is good to laugh sometimes. The modern-day concept of art as imbuing arbitray objects with arbitrary meaning while dispensing with such things as skill, that with the attitude of superiority and elitism is a laughable matter indeed. The typical verbiage “daring”, “novel”, “entering new territory”, “shocking” etc. indicate the confused state of the typical “modern artist”. These are empty words for an empty art(ful con-game). I think most people don’t want to be shocked, see someone urinate on stage or be otherwise disturbed by art. The dumb-founded museum visitor in front of an object is supposed to typify modern art reception and meaning.
    I remember a visit a few years ago at the monastery St. Gerold in Vorarlberg/Austria where a modern artist is celebrated for his pictures of the Holy Ghost, canvas with streaks of paint. The guide was very proud to point out the famous painter who had done that. The altar picture was replaced by an infantile picture that could be from a 5-year old.
    Thank you for this article. It is a great beginning of the day.

    • Jef Costello
      Posted October 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Lew
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Jef Costello,

    most of today’s “serious art” is just a cynical bullshit industry. There are no “concepts” behind “conceptual art.”

    Speaking of modern art, everyone here really ought to read Tom Wolfe’s novels if you are not already among Wolfe’s readers. Wolfe’s writings have a lot of “right-wing” themes that I believe most readers here will appreciate, such as:

    shallowness, materialism and degeneracy in the wider culture;
    status obsession in the wider culture, especially among America’s elites;
    class and class conflict;
    issues of manhood and the nature of masculinity;
    sex and sex roles;
    political correctness and cultural Marxism;
    the ongoing relevance of race and ethnicity;
    the inevitability of ethnic and racial conflict in struggles for power;
    and, to the issues Mr. Costello raises here, the merits of modern “art” …

    Mr. Costello’s essay reminded me of a particularly hilarious sequence (to me anyway) in Wolfe’s latest book, Back to Blood where he mocks and lampoons modern art and its admirers.

    For anyone here who might be interested, contextually, here’s what’s going on in the scene.

    A jewish billionaire named Maurice Fleischmann has money, but he is also a middle brow. He wants to appear cultured in addition to being a successful businessman, so he has hired an “Art Adviser” to tell him what he should like. On the advice of his “Art Advisor” (A.A.), Ms. Carr, Fleischmann has just spent 17 million dollars on what amounts to hardcore pornography that Ms. Carr (A.A.) claimed was iconic, cutting edge, “modern art” by an up and coming artist named “Doggs.”

    Ms. Carr (A.A.) is a 20-something female from the East Coast. As you read through this (if you do), your mental model for Carr/A.A., should be the prototypically haughty, condescending, New York/San Francisco hipster female. After getting a commission of 3.4 million dollars for her role in assisting Fleischmann’s porn purchase, Ms. Carr declaims on the “conceptual” nature of modern art and how the latest trend is creating art without using your hands…

    Magdalena sat at a table with Fleischmann, A.A., and Norman, whom she was now pointedly ignoring. She figured she owed herself at least that much self-respect. Mme. Carr was suddenly the life of the party. Magdalena wondered if Norman or even Fleischmann had any idea, out of 3.4 million possible answers, why. At the moment, she was answering a question from Norman … Norman, who had once told Magdalena, “Be careful asking questions. Asking questions is the surest way of revealing your ignorance.” Be that as it may, Norman had asked a question, and Marilynn Carr was saying, “How did Doggs learn how to work in glass? He doesn’t work in glass or anything else. Don’t you know about No Hands art and De-skilled art?”

    “Oh, I guess I’ve heard about it-but no, not really,” Norman said lamely, or lamely for Norman.

    A.A. said, “No cutting-edge artist touches materials anymore, or instruments.”

    “What do you mean, instruments, A.A.?” said Fleischmann.

    “Oh, you know,” she said, “paintbrushes, clay, shaping knives, chisels … all that’s from the Manual Age. Remember painting? That seems so 1950s now. Remember Schnabel and Fischl and Salle and all that bunch?

    They all seem so 1950s now, even though their 15 minutes came in the 1970s. The new artists, like Doggs, look at all those people like they’re from another century, which they were, when you get right down to it. They were still using their hands to do little visual tricks on canvas that were either pretty and pleasant and pleased people or ugly and baffling and ‘challenged’ people. Challenged … Ohmygod-” She broke into a smile and shook her head, as if to say, “Can you believe the way it used to be?!”

    “Then how does Doggs do it?” said Fleischmann. “I guess I never really asked.”

    “It’s actually fascinating,” said A.A. “He got hold of, Doggs did, this call girl, Daphne Deauville, the one who cost the governor of New Jersey his job?-and on the strength of that she gets a job as a columnist for the New York City Light? I couldn’t believe it!

    So, anyway, Doggs gets a photographer to take some pictures of him … well, fucking her brains out”-lately it had become daringly chic for women to use fucking in conversation-“and doing this and that … and sent the photographs off to Dalique, and Dalique got their elves to reproduce the photographs in three dimensions in Dalique glass, but Doggs never touched the figurines-never. He had no hand at all in making them. And if he touched the photographs, it was just to put them in an envelope and FedEx them to Dalique, although I’m sure he has an assistant to do things like that.

    No Hands-that’s an important concept now. It’s not some artist using his so-called ‘skills’ to deceive people. It’s not a sleight of hand. It’s no hands at all.

    That makes it conceptual, of course. That way he turns what a manual artist would use to create … an effect … into something that compels you to think about it in a deeper way. It’s almost as if he has invented a fourth dimension. And there you’ve got the very best, the most contemporary work of the whole rising generation. Most of Doggs’s work in this show is iconic.

    Everyone who sees one of yours, Maurice, will say, ‘My god! That’s Doggs at the outset of his classic period,’ because I’m convinced that’s what his work is. It’s cutting-edge, and at the same time it’s classic. That kind of work isn’t available every day! Believe me! … Maurice … you have … really … scored this time.”

    • Kerry Bolton
      Posted October 19, 2013 at 3:30 am | Permalink

      Tom Wolfe wrote a non-fiction book critiquing modern art: The Painted Word (Bantam Books, 1980).

  6. Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Overall this is a good account of our artistic adventures, but I did want to clarify one thing. I didn’t actually witness the “woman peeing on stage” piece of performance art in Sweden, but it was something I was told about by Swedes. Just so my taste isn’t called into question!

  7. Charles Krafft
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Re: Negroes and Nazis exhibition in Ann Arbor
    Monday, February 11, 2013 12:48 PM
    From: “Scott T.”
    To: “Charles Krafft”

    As you suggested, I gave this whole idea a rest, but since your name had been bantered around the campus a month or so ago, today the Dean of Arts called me into his office and handed me printouts from Facebook, Stormfront, and other websites that you’ve posted on during the past several years. He received them from The Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors, who have suggested banning you from as many colleges as possible. Not sure what else to say, but thought you might like to know.


    • Jef Costello
      Posted October 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      It’s a badge of honor to be banned by these p.c. idiots, Charles.

  8. Randall Stipp
    Posted October 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Cats + nudity + performance art = bankruptcy. Maybe that was the meaning?

  9. Maple Leaf
    Posted October 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    “If you read no other book about art in your life, read the one that’s gripped me like a thriller for the past two days. … The $12 Million Stuffed Shark.”
    — Richard Morrison, The Times (UK)

  10. SWPL2
    Posted October 19, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this article, having live in NYC years ago. I found myself scratching my head at the Thai restaurant on 1st (what could it be?). For the record, there’s an outstanding Nepali restaurant at 1st and 1st (Himalayan Cafe). Very unassuming and non-flashy but extremely fresh. Miss that place.

    I’ve had the experience of attending an art/photography showing on the LES/or Brooklyn-land, and wondered aloud, “what is left for these clowns to rebel against? What is shocking?” Nothing really, except perhaps the sight of a them banging each other on command as performance art; but then again, would even that be shocking?

    I think most people have a b.s. detector when confronted with art: if it displays evidence of skill (E.g. hand drawn portraits) or effort (a completed novel or album), it is tougher to dismiss out right.

    • Cyprian Korzeniowski
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      “what is left for these clowns to rebel against? What is shocking?”

      I’ve always thought an art installation/concept album/both version of The Culture of Critique would be a fun, shocking modern art project.

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