By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Itwasamadhouse,bloated and bursting with young hipsters, dressed to impress and eager to be seen. I edged my way through a stagnant and heavily inked crowd toward the much-touted “new work” (singular), attempting to glimpse the art, willing myself to grasp the Mark Ryden–as–Outsider Art God phenomenon.
“Excuse me,” I squeaked as I slid past giggling goth girls and cell phone–toting poseurs. The sheer density of the unlikely crush of people at the Pasadena Museum of Californa Art consumed personal buffer zones and made exposed insteps fair game. I excused myself repeatedly as I attempted to glean a better look, only to be assaulted by a lumbering oaf, who snarled, “Watch yourself,”and threw his elbow into my solar plexus as he shoved his way past. He now stood with his saggy, Gap-clad ass mere centimeters from me, a diminutive, bespectacled Jewess, traveling alone and just trying to make sense of the hype.
I made eye contact as I jimmied my way toward the front.
“I didsay excuse me.”
He turned to his date-for-hire and snorted, “She must be from New York,” as though I were not in fact right next to him and in full possession of working eardrums.
“No, I’m from L.A.,” I said, and went back to contemplating Ryden’s work.
As a fanatical champion of the Outsider Art movement and card-carrying Juxtapozsubscriber, I have always been suspicious and admittedly envious of Ryden’s overwhelming success. While his talent is enormous and his technique superb, I remain dumbfounded when it comes to decoding the numbers and symbols interspersed between recurring images of Christina Ricci and Colonel Sanders. I have spent countless hours, both stoned and sober, in front of his paintings, begging them to explain themselves to me. But the knife-wielding butcher bunnies are surprisingly terse, leaving me to conclude that either I am stupid or that Ryden is full of shit.
Is it merely the aesthetic that sucks his fans in? Press on Ryden is generally relegated to the fluffy ass-kissing reverence of the Outsider glossies. He is barely given a glance by the established art publications, which would rather ignore the phenomenon and hope it goes away, holding tightly to their stronghold on the threadbare and decaying art snobbery that maintains the illusion that art is for the rich, the educated, the refined — the dull and the superior, the sissies and the snots. But, as far as I know, no one has ever asked Ryden what the fuck he’s trying to express. I mean, seriously, man, what’s with the Lincoln heads?
I remained where I was, transfixed by the image in front of me — the numbers of pi adorning the figure’s belt, the dinosaurs in the background, the nautilus and the astrology, the DNA strands climbing up her gown, the mysterious and seemingly infinite space between her legs. Then, the lumbering oaf broke my reverie.
“You wanna get out of here?” he said to his date.
As they strutted past me, he thrust his elbow into the small of my back and dragged it along the width of my torso with aggressive intention. Every atom in my body screamed, “ASSHOLE!!!!!!!!!!,” but before I could toss a silver-plated ninja star at his jugular, I was hit with a white burst of comprehension.
I got it. The oaf’s elbow was like the alchemist’s secret ingredient that transformed my confusion into a gut-deep golden knowing. I got the knives and the Lincolns and the wide-eyed little girls and the starfish. I got that no matter how much you are enjoying an art opening, nothing is going to stop some overfed, slack-jawed jackass from assaulting you. That no matter how pretty it all seems, there is a violent and murderous underbelly to the entirety of this material existence, and no matter how many fluffy pink bunnies you choose to surround yourself with, there are still sharp knives and creepy crawlies and horrible atrocities going on all around you. And this is why we put our faith in the mystery — in pi and in planets and in the quantum field and the Mayan calendar and the SefirYetzirahand the Holy Trinity — and that these concepts — Santa Claus, Abe Lincoln, beauty and nature and cosmology and math — these are the things that comfort us when our mountains slide into the ocean and our vertebrae are severed, but when it comes down to it, they are meaningless and arbitrary, and that statue of Jesus you have on your dashboard isn’t going to save you any more than that Colonel Sanders figure you have perched atop your halogen-illumed cubicle. Wasps sting rich people, too.
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