Thursday, March 31, 2005

Myth making, stretching the truth and baldface lies


Yesterday, while reading Greg.org I came across this little tidbit about Matthew Barney and Bjork; according to them, they are living in "Noel Coward's old house across the Hudson from Manhattan." Which, if you know your geography, translates from the Icelandic into "New Jersey."

Then a little later, while reading the wonderful Chicago Art Blog, Iconoduel, I read this little snippet from a Simpsons episode.

Why are these related? Well, ever since Bill Burns had his "Safety Gear for Small Animals" exhibit at the Liane and Danny Taran Gallery, I've been trying to verify one specific thing about the Simpsons. Mr. Burns (the artist, not the character) claims that the creators of (or somebody responsible for the) Simpsons stole his idea from the exhibit he had at Art Resources Transfer in 1998. He told it to me when I interviewed him, and it was published in the Globe and Mail when Sarah Milroy interviewed him.

Unfortunately, unless you think that putting snorkels on giraffes constitutes intellectual property theft, Mr. Burns seems to be embellishing what actually happened. And as the majority of the Canadian Art press is too darn lazy to do anything that even approaches fact checking - stuff like this gets through all the time - which annoys the heck out of me.

Now, you're probably wondering what Noel Coward and a certain Icelandic pop singer have to do with all of this. Well, it is way easier to verify Mr. Coward's bio than it is to track down old episodes of the Simpsons (even more so for me, as I don't own a TV). And as I am not tracking lies and mis-truths 24/7 it only occurs to me every now and again. Well, according to Gareth Pike of the Noel Coward Society, Mr. Coward never owned any property in New Jersey - just as I suspected. Which means that pop music critics in Britain are getting as sloppy as Art writers here in Canada.

Then finally, because it just popped up in front of my nose - If you look at Mr. Burn's CV, he lists his show at Art Resources Transfer as having happened in 1998. However, on the Art Resources Transfer website they don't list him as having had any show there, ever. Now I might be looking at the wrong Art Resources Transfer website, and as it doesn't seem to have been updated since 2003, I'm not entirely certain how much cred I would give to it, but it does raise some questions.

Which leads me to my last point - if an artist is going to lie on their CV, they gotta do better than this guy.I know for a fact that there ain't no such thing as Gallery 1320 here in Montreal.

[update April 16: Apparently "this guy" got nervous, he has now switched the original link so that it now re-directs to the New York Times. If you're interested in seeing the new and improved CV (without the Gallery 1320 show) click here.]

The question of "why are these folk doing things like this?" is a little more complicated, and probably should be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Burns (the artist) plays with the concept of reality in his exhibitions, and as such, when he talks about the Simpsons episode should be taken and understood in a context based on that. However as the Canadian Art Press doesn't quite know how to explain Mr. Burns' variations on reality to the readership well, all too often everything he says gets repeated verbatim instead of as the sly wink on modern life that it is.

Mr. & Mrs. Barney on the other hand, are doing something that should be best left to their analyst, therapist or guru. Why they would think it important to reference the ghost of a superlative playwright and composer (perhaps the second best ever), I have no clue.

And then for the poor shlub who thinks it better to falsify his CV, heck he thinks that by doing so he's is going to look better in the eyes of the world, which might work for a little while, but eventually is going to catch up to him and bite him on the ass, hard.

But ultimately, at least to me, instead of viewing writing about culture as a cushy gig that only requires an ability to bend your elbow, I'd like it very much if the arts writers here in Canada took their jobs seriously.

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