The New Art Anarchists?
And their immense canvas
May 17, 2002
by Tom Adkins
Richard Ankrom is poised at the
cutting edge of the nether regions yet explored by the wacky,
brooding tortured souls that staff the art world in modern America.
From coast to coast, Ankrom is being hailed a genius for thumbing
his nose at the status quo. Did he insult the Pope? No. Did
he gather the Beautiful People for a rally to save oppressed
gay whales? Hardly. Make a ten story mural of a giant phallus
and drape it on an office building in Manhattan? Not exactly.
In a fit of artistic rage, Ankrom
righted a bureaucratic oversight by creating and stealthily
installing a functioning freeway sign that actually gave California
drivers good directions, thereby creating a new art form: the
"Guerilla Public Service Artist."
Take that, Establishment!!!
Ankronís bold strike was launched
against a perfect symbol of the uncaring, slovenly bureaucracy
of the modern federalist American empire: the California Department
of Transportation, AKA "Caltrans." By secretly installing
a much needed direction sign that Caltrans never got around
to doing themselves, Ankron singlehandedly dragged the cutting
edge of art back from half a century of worthless self-indulgent
pop drivel, and dramatically towards function, conformity and
common sense. Will the art world ever recover?
Over human history, artists were
rewarded according to their majesty. Michaelangelo defined sculpting.
DaVinci married art and science. Monet, Renoire and Cezanne
created the impressionist era. The Dutch Masters mastered portraiture.
Great art was
well, it was art.
But after a million portraits,
a zillion landscapes and countless fruit bowls were painstakingly
rendered, the twisted dark side of art burst from the cellar
in the twentieth century. Art was hijacked by popular culture
and carted off by the anarchist left. Wyethís subtle Pennsylvania
water colors and Rockwellís prolific Americana illustrations
did their best to uphold noble artistic progression, but were
trumped by Picassoís geometric misunderstandings and van Goghís
post mortem insanity. America suffered a deep slide into the
sick cultural toilet. Just follow-the dots. From Buddy Holly
to Motley Crue and Slim Shady. From Will Rogers to Lenny Bruce.
From Mary Poppins to Linda Lovelace. South Parkís greatest art
critic, Eric Cartman, succinctly summed up underwhelming contemporary
art films as "gay cowboys eating pudding."
And pointless "Modern Art"
slid into inane Andy Warhol soup cans, which eventually gave
us vulgar Piss Christ, HIV blood-tossing and the Cow-dung Virgin
Mary. Today, insulting anything good, moral or Christian automatically
results in a swishy "Faaaaaa-bulous!!!" exhortation
from the self-anointed art divas. There isnít an icon unsoiled,
a reason left unreasoned, and a virtue left unraped.
where to next? Well,
when youíve invaded every territory, conquered every acre, laid
waste to every building and slain every moving thing, there
is only one place left
you go home.
And that is precisely where the
probably unsuspecting Ankrom has trudged. By intent or by accident,
Ankrom has actually brought good purpose back into art. And
heís getting overwhelming attention. Instead of another NEA-funded
dung-tossing foray in some dank Soho gallery, Ankromís art gets
150,000 cheering fans every day, drivers who seethe at the government
dolts who rarely move their well-entrenched butts from their
chairs to check if their beloved bureaucracies are actually
working. Into this void, Ankrom did the All-American thing.
He saw a problem, ignored those bureaucratic bunglers and fixed
it himself. Just like they did in the old days.
And now, Ankrom is a hero.
Who knows if Ankrom is aware
the artistic irony heís created? Where we once hailed tempermental
misfits, Ankromís Guerilla Public Service Art has blazed a new
trail, leaving the annoying performance artists scratching their
heads, naked in a pile of Jell-o. If artists start vying for
sharpshooter status in the public-service guerilla army, maybe
America will make that long awaited change from a culture of
"getting-away-with-it" back to the "do the right
thing" mentality that once dominated American life. Today,
a road sign. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe Berkeley students will
riot for more calculus.
Itís hard to tell if culture
follows art, or vice versa. But if Richard Ankrom and a guerilla
public service army continue attacking Americaís bureaucratic
bungles, he may become elevated to American icon, inspiring
a new genre of artists dedicated to circumventing the stupidity
of bloated governmental bureaucracies. They certainly have a
big audience. And an endless supply of canvas.