Picture

 

By Rebecca Kuzemchak

 
 
 
 

No, this girl won’t paint nice pictures.

I’ll be blunt and cold, obtuse,

My angle too abstract but not abstract,

The opposite of loose.

Sharp. In control, the words I’m using

Penned to cut in deep.

I choose from references outside the canon;

Shoot, refusing to retreat.

 

Ballistic? Irreversible.

It’s art, its targets purposeful.

No Renaissance; I’m oscitant.

It’s ominous, this oxidant,

A competent and obstinate

Reconnaissance on opulence:

Art objects and their subjects

Ordered here in measures on this sheet

In overwritten sequences

Of content marked in rows of ink.

You think their context problematic.

Yes, I know. But fuck, it’s not been cheap

To stand here, cry “I understand

Your references, the words you speak.”

So I’ll talk back. Relax.

It’s institutional critique

Of a world that’s no nice picture.

 

A calculated industry

Where social codes are sacred,

Art is insular and quite opaque,

Its patron-sainted figures hated.

Obfuscated by design,

Its market structures charcoal-shaded:

Burned works bought in,

Hot ones weighted

Heavy with association

To top dealers and their clients,

Mutually-enforced reliance

Curated to act in silence.

Pictures, smoke-screened, sold unseen;

No validated need between

The JPEGs, emails, calls, and leads.

With taste long since outdated,

Labor, technical skill antiquated,

If the work’s authenticated,

Value hinges on its brand,

On provenance, and on demand.

Why visit something that will stand

In storage in a foreign land

As part of a financial plan

To hedge your other holdings?


Yes, it’s true that some collect for love,

To live with what they purchase.

Though more rare at higher price points,

In some cases more than worth it.

They’re positional, these goods, investments,

Sound ones if the work impresses

Guests whose blessings and respect

Are social currency. You see,

In art, connection equals power:

Forced displacement over time.

And its abuse is no surprise

When money creates taste and lies

And morals are for little people,

Not for megas. Stakes are high.

 

The statusphere’s barometer?

A factory-farmed collection.

And when Cars can’t crash,

The pressure rises,

Testing gaskets of all sizes:

Freeports, shell corps, other guises,

Art advisors, legal briefs.

When, crack, the gavel hammers down,

Price up, the art world sighs relief.

 

A rotting shark? Sold, twelve million,

Not the worst fish in the sea

Of Princes, hot-air-filled balloon dogs,

Colen, really Pace, Jay-Z?

Publicity. A Christmas tree?

A superflat vacuity.

The artist isn’t present.

Millions missing, Nude unseen.

 

And Panama? Still burning,

Turning diamonds back to coal.

Some cry, “The system’s broken!”

Yes, but really, was it ever whole?

Was never democratic,

All those bronzes and their molds.

The demographic always whitewashed,

All those white walls and white faces,

White dicks chasing after hot young things,

Engaging, flipping, trading graces.

Some say, “But, the system’s changed now.”

Yeah, keep chafing; you self-satisfy

By acting like that’s not a lie.

 

No, this world is no nice picture.

(Say again; it’s worth repeating.)

It’s obsessed with image and prestige.

A playground for the ultra-rich,

The art fair circuit by degrees

Grows more heeled, less souled, more pastiched.

 

So artists have to sell out

Shows to make it,

Give their hands away.

And what the market is demanding

They produce and hope it holds some sway.

They make and dream and wait and pray,

But know deep down that if they burn out,

Have a sales drought,

Play their cards wrong,

Lack a name,

The game won’t care.

The game goes on,

Replaces them; they’re all the same.

There’s lots more art from where they came

And value add’s an easy change.

 

And me? I’ve got one twenty grand

Of debt. It’s easy to forget

Why once I thought I’d not regret

Accumulating it, but yet

I plod ahead believing,

For some reason self-deceiving,

Thinking, “Yes, this is worth seeing.”

So for now, I’ll talk unheard.

 

And the words won’t paint nice pictures.

They’ll be black and white and somber,

Save some scattered emerald tones

To make the composition stronger.

 

I’ll admit I’m jaded, green-eyed,

Every bit complicit.

Did my time my eyes on cash,

So now I write a hypocrite.

I double dip, I know, but shit,

Don’t treat my class like trash

Then wonder why I write like this.

 

Before we left, we asked advice

Of anyone we trusted.

All the same, the words of wisdom,

Empty guidance, unadjusted.

Don’t lose hope. Keep going.

Don’t stop making. It takes time.

Just give a year, fifteen, forever.

Things get better. Hey, those letters?

Worth it all, I promise.

 

Yeah. Honest work, the payout clear.

With no reserve, I guarantee

That nobody will bat an eye

When words like these go public.

Writing lines is punishment enough,

The staring world a fixed part of it.

 

Still since banks see profit from

Street art sold in a central booth

As dismal as a gift shop,

We internalized as truth

That commentary could be couth.

So though it seemed at first to be

To underground in form

Your clients that

Exceptions are the rule for now.

 

New grads, to bed, collectors wait

On line; no time to ponder.

This liquidity is prone to freeze

And ice can sometimes shatter.

Though, the market is controlled enough

That bigs can bank on states of matter

Trying to conserve,

And there are specialists around to aid

If preservation seems unsure.

 

And worse comes worst, You tire of art,

Go back to jets and galas, Or to office jobs,

Or tending bars, Or wishing stars,

Were never what you’d shot for.

 

So take note, young artists out there,

Of this bifurcated plane.

In English clear and resolute,

Go state your name and take your aim.

 

But as for me, for now,

Reverse Broodthaers is underway.

I avow I will return, and soon,

But you’ll remember my refrain.

 

So you can keep all your functions

And structures and strictures,

Your injunctions and your junctions;

You can keep all your fictions.

But take this as well, a gift, one of diction.

One thousand rhyming words:

Your nice pretty picture.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 ---
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

To The Artists Who Claim Their Work “Channels The Pain” Of A Struggle To Which They Bear No Connection

 

 

 

 

 

You claim that you’re an activist, an artist and an advocate.

The long list of citations on your record is your proof.

Defending views is what you do in arguments and framing truths,

But when did you last mute your group and take a breath to reckon

With the world outside, with people's cries, with how your lines look in their eyes?

 

Consider this thought exercise.

Outline your motives; bear in mind

The benefactors you'd defined.

Describe how you would justify

Your value add with them in mind.

Perhaps your meter needs revised?

Here, some rhymes to consider if you're so inclined:

 

Come down from your tower; the people can't hear you.

Your ivory notions are sweet but their purview

Is closed. It's didactic, lacks practical tactics.

As theory, applicable. Uptake though? Minimal.

Elephant’s in the room, hiding but whispering:

Maybe your “social engagement” is distancing.

 

Structures don't change when art points at their cracks.

One-off gestures do harm or just underscore facts.

Floating notions without proper steps won't gain traction.

They block their own access; how could they see action?

 

Yes, discourse is pivotal. But not enough.

When critics are insular, real change is tough.

Your chambers? They echo with powerful words,

But when circles are closed crucial voices aren’t heard.

 

Art defines you and shields you and closes you in,

Institutionalizing your views it's akin

To a well padded cell, one with sound insulation,

A safe space in which you can vent your frustration.

 

You scream, “Storm the castle! Dismantle the structure!”

Cite forms of oppression, then move for a rupture.

But look where you’re standing when making such calls:

You're inside your own fortress, behind armored walls.

 

Where you focus on building a movement and team

Of supporters already entrenched in the industry.

Mounting aesthetically driven critiques

As though you and your bubble know what others need.

 

Like you think you have license to co-opt a pain

That you bear no connection to, for your own gain.

No, the struggles of others are not yours to claim

To exploit from the safety of art as a game.

 

Your defenses are thin and your skin’s built of paper.

You break under questions, inflamed til they taper.

When asked what real changes your work has created,

You have no good answer, just “build conversations.”

Then pressed on the ethics of representation

You flounder completely, but with confrontation you

You say you embody their pain with your choices.

You say you speak up for them. You drown their voices.

Rebecca Kuzemchak is a New York based artist and writer. Her drawings and paintings use the aesthetics of late-60s conceptual art to explore the history and politics of language and labor; while her poetry focuses on art market dynamics, identity, pain, and power. Kuzemchak received a BA from Duke and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. Her art has been exhibited nationally, including at the 2017 Whitney Biennial (as part of Debtfair) and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Pauley Center Galleries.
 
The images that accompany these poems are part of Kuzemchak's ongoing investigation of language and labor. Both poems are part of a currently-in-development poetry compilation entitled "The Picture Album."
 
View the artist's website at www.rebeccakuzemchak.com.