By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The truth was far more bizarre. No one seemed to have actually met Tony Johnson, and attempts to arrange a press conference were curtly rebuffed. An AP reporter was allowed to make a brief visit with someone who appeared to be a sickly teenager, but Tony refused a single meeting with a screenwriter that would have netted him $100,000 for an HBO docudrama. Then, a couple of years ago, New Yorkerreporter Tad Friend tried to track Tony down. Friend was given a five-star runaround — berated, bullied and threatened before finally concluding that “Tony” was, in fact, an overweight middle-aged woman from Union City, New Jersey, named Vicki Fraginals, who duped Monette, Armistead Maupin, Mr. Rogers, Jermaine Jackson and many other upright citizens with regular correspondence and lengthy phone calls in her own voice and a wheezy, higher-pitched “Tony” voice.
How is this an art hoax? If Ms. Fraginals were to declare herself an artist exploring the social construction of personality and the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction in the contemporary mediascape, she could be headlining the Whitney Biennial. Until then, the hoax-loving public will have to content itself, as I have, with an informed rereading of what must now be reconsidered as a signal piece — alongside Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Geniusand the collected works of Dennis Cooper — of exploitative voyeuristic pedophilial postmodern experimental fiction.
Those Damned Frogs Finally Get Their Comeuppance
While French post-structuralist theory played an important role as a lever by which a generation of avowedly radical American scholars were able to unseat their deeply entrenched elders, by the early ’90s it was clear that the impenetrability of the Gallic thought-stylists had spawned an increasingly insular culture of tenure-whores playing “I’ll pretend to know what the hell you’re talking about if you pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about.” From out of the physics department at NYU rode Alan Sokal and his essay Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, which ostensibly sought to tear down the barriers that had sprung up between the swinging revolutionaries of the humanities and “soft sciences” and the white-coated cold warriors of the science labs.
In his essay, published in the spring 1996 issue of the influential academic journal Social Text, Sokal envisioned a “liberatory” science based on emancipatory mathematics that would further articulate the obvious parallels between the emerging science of quantum physics and the philosophical insights of Derrida, Lacan and Lyotard. The subjectivity of consensus reality would soon be empirically verified, and everyone would have tenure! Problem was, Sokal was making fun. As revealed in the somewhat less stuffy academic journal Lingua Franca, the physics professor had deliberately set out to foist a nonsensical article filled with authoritative doubletalk on unsuspecting editors. It worked so well that the story made the front page of The New York Timesand Le Monde, and sparked a flurry of defensive recriminations from cultural-studies professionals.
I direct you to the excellently entertaining compendium The Sokal Hoax for the original essay and a broad selection of the fallout. The university art world, once a backwater of studio courses and art-history surveys, has been increasingly called upon in the last few decades to align itself with more traditional — i.e., verbal — academic criteria, and has relied heavily on cultural-studies departments to bolster its prattle quotient. The Sokal Hoax detonated a depth charge that is still reverberating through the halls and ivory towers of academe. It’s time for art schools to say, “Enough with the Deleuze, I’m trying to paint here.”
Thomas Kinkade — Heaven on Earth | At CSUF Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, through June 27; and at Main Art Gallery, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, through May 13. Opening reception, Saturday, April 3, 5-8 p.m. at Main Art Gallery, and 7-10 p.m. at Art Center, with a performance by Rev. Ethan Acres at 9 p.m. Shuttle available. For information, call (714) 567-7233.