Art and Its Evaluation

One doesn't know whether to be more astonished than indignant, more baffled than surprised, by Susan Kandel's Dec. 13 review of Matt Mullican's recent show at Richard Kuhlenschmidt Gallery in Santa Monica ("Matt Mullican's Clever but Static Project").

Her evaluation is nasty, brutish, and short, though scarcely short enough for her not to have uttered a farrago of illogical nonsense. When Kandel characterizes the career of this rising and quite young artist as immanent with "fascism," it is necessary to protest.

Fascism is not only a dirty word, it is a most violent one. Before using it to smear a rather large and unusual body of work, Kandel ought to be more careful. For her, "fascism" means "authoritarian," "solipsist," and is the result of a "surety underlying its cleverly designed but utterly static cosmology."

That paintings, carvings, banners, stained glass can be the product of "authoritarianism" seems questionable to me just as an assumption. How the work is that of a "ritualized order and endless circularity" and how that should be fascist is most problematical.

I will grant that "order" may be "ritualized," since that is what religious practice usually does. But fascism was not circular, let alone a ritualized order, though it had its ceremonial rites of mass-gathering.

Fascism was meant to be anything but static! Fascism had no cosmology, and certainly was not "solipsistic," since it was built out of vivid, often paradoxical rhetorical axioms and mottoes. Authoritarian it was.

Kandel thinks of Mullican's art as "implicitly brutal," revealing a "mercilessness" that comes of an effort to "permit nothing to remain unclassified, or unaccounted for." What would such a critic say of Dante or Rabelais, of Aquinas or Aristotle, of "Finnegan's Wake" and its predecessor "Ulysses"?

It would seem that Kandel has been terrified by the shadow of a big phenomenon, Mullican's art, and needlessly scared by whatever it is about.

Fascism, alas, like its hateful siblings Nazism and communism, was, if anything, all-too dynamic; they all evolved rather rapidly into totalitarianism. Those three modern systems are characterized by kitsch art. None of their works has anything at all to do with Mullican's "project," even less, I dare say, than Kandel's review has to do with intelligent art criticism.


Professor of English,

Modern Literature, UCLA

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