Saltz: William Powhida Mocks Me, and I Love It

ABMB Hooverville, 2010. William Powhida & Jade Townsend. Graphite on paper. 40 x 60 inches.

Last weekend at the Pulse Art Fair, William Powhida unloaded a great big art-world stink bomb. The artist-cartoonist-flamethrower has raised hell before, notably last November, when his diagram lambasting the New Museum for exhibiting the collection of one of its own trustees appeared on the cover of The Brooklyn Rail. This time, he let fly from the Pulse booth of L.A. art dealer Charlie James, where he (working with artist Jade Townsend) unveiled a gleeful 40-by-60-inch drawing called Art Basel Miami Beach Hooverville.

It’s intended to show the art world as a Babylon, depicting a super-detailed shantytown, teeming with shacks and scores of recognizable art world–ers reveling, wandering, and getting aggressive with one another. In the foreground, mega-collector Dakis Joannou (among others) stands in front of a pike displaying the head of Jeff Koons, and artist Terrence Koh wears a fur coat as he crawls in the dirt, reaching for a loaf of bread. Nearby, collectors Charles Saatchi and Eli Broad watch a cockfight while Damien Hirst stands on a roof grasping a bag of money.

It’s mayhem.

But as I was smirking at it all, a viewer next to me suddenly let out a yelp, grabbed my arm, and said, “Hey! You’re in this!” I looked and there I was, set upon by a gaggle of mad bloggers and stalkers trying to stab me. I started laughing out loud.

As mean as some find Powhida’s pencil, I think it’s necessary institutional critique. Some New York museum should immediately commission him to make a huge drawing of the art world as it is today. Fifteen feet tall, twenty feet wide. Pay him whatever he charges, and give him a one-year deadline. Then show the thing, and give it a museum gallery to itself. Crowds would come, laugh, tremble, cringe, sneer, feel Schadenfreude, and glean how tangy and strong the power of art can still be.

Until some curator is brave enough do that, we have Art Basel Miami Beach Hooverville, and you can take a good close look at it below.

Saltz: William Powhida Mocks Me, and I Love It