I recently watched the Powhida Trailer to get a better sense of of William Powhida's recent opening at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea. The trailer is an Untitled-meets-Julian-Schnabel masterpiece, described as "the story of the greatest living artist." Powhida endlessly drains champagne from the bottle, womanizes (they're not hookers, they're my friends), stumbles, staggers, and waxes incoherently about his position of power and authority in an art world he recognizes as utter bullshit. I was instantly charmed.
The press release for his current Marlborough show rhapsodizes that it is the artist’s “most ambitious installation to date.” New York Observer critic Michael H. Miller ranted that “performances like this only work if there is some follow through. No one was being provoked. Mr. Powhida was simply pretending—half-heartedly—to be an asshole.” The critic didn't know that this was a Hollywood actor and that the real William Powhida was at a residency in Wisconsin. Polemical, subversive, button-pushing, deeply offensive to critics. I am willing to go so far as to say that William Powhida is the real deal.
The Marlborough installation consisted of an empty gallery with one bad oil painting hanging on a far wall of a man in a black suit and a purple dress shirt with sunglasses releasing a white dove from his hands. The painting was called POWHIDA, Portrait of a Genius. In a roped off area of the gallery was a table and chairs, a mini-fridge of beer and champagne, Marlborough Reds and ashtrays. Pernod-Absinthe flowed freely for all gallery attendees. People stood around in the gallery, drinking Absinthe and looking confused. And annoyed. Powhida arrived through one of the front gallery garage doors in a dark green Mercedes convertible, arms around two beautiful blondes, drinking straight from a bottle of champagne. He got out of the car, posed, and declared “Well I’m bored as fuck.” He proceeded to sit on the couch the majority of the event with his ladies, hurl expletives, and pound champagne.
William Powhida’s work has become an art world sensation for its scathing criticism of everything ranging from the New Museum, George W. Bush, Jerry Saltz, Zach Feuer, Dale Chihuly, to the Northern spotted owl. Poor Northern spotted owl. In 2004 Powhida began a list of “enemies,” rendering portraits of each “enemy” in graphite and gauche with insults written beneath each face. In 2009 he produced a drawing called "How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality" for the November cover of the Brooklyn Rail. Holland Cotter of the New York Times has called Powhida an "art world vigilante, virtuoso draftsman, compulsive calligrapher and fantasist autobiographer."
As Powhida’s popularity grows, his own fame and celebrity presents an interesting challenge for an artist whose entire oeuvre has been critiquing the art market as elitist and celebrity obsessed. Which is what makes his alter-ego so bewitching and subversive. LA MoCA Director Jeffrey Deitch described that "the irony is that by exposing art celebrity culture, he's becoming a celebrity himself... So hats off to him." Jeffery just wishes he had thought of creating an art world doppelgänger... other than James Franco.
So how does William Powhida address his own fame and place within the art world? As he described to Stephen Squibb for Idiom, “for me, this was the beginning of a dialogue that might help address some of the uneasiness about participating in a star-system and provoke an authentic reflection on the ways in which we, all of us, generate value around art objects. I’m left with the feeling that the market mechanism is bent, but not broken and that we have some collective authority to re-shape it in a more equitable manner. Really, we want to find ways to elevate the importance of culture in our shared social life. That art is a privilege for the wealthy, and not a right for everyone to understand and appreciate about our shared humanity is a concept that we really did challenge.” Half-hearted? Asshole? I think not.
photo credit: nose picker by Micah Schmidt