After having lapsed for a couple of months, our unsolicited subscription to Artforum appears to have been renewed by our mysterious benefactor just in time for the Liam Gillick and Chris Gilbert showdown. One is reminded of a number of other spats, most immediately perhaps, the exchange between Grant Kester and Claire Bishop, also in Artforum. Two other public "feuds" seem more apropos (or at least fun) to invoke here - Ryan Seacrest vs. Simon Cowell and David Letterman vs. Bill O'Reilly. Gillick mirrors the first figure in the pairings and Gilbert mirrors the latter.
In Seacrest/Gillick we have the media/art world darling whose very ubiquity makes him both endearing and eminently annoying. Seacrest has said of Cowell in a CNN interview:
"He's arrogant, he's pompous, he believes that everything he says is right...But he does know what he's doing."
This is a neat summary of Gillick's response to Gilbert's recent Artforum salvo.
In contrast to the crowd-pleasing Seacrest/Gillick, we have the stern Cowell/Gilbert who believes that his judgments should be final. Admittedly, it is a bit of a disservice to Cowell to to equate his wickedly funny self-regard with the humorless Gilbert, but go with it.
In Letterman/Gillick vs. O'Reilly/Gilbert we have the smug vs. the self-righteous. Just before O'Reilly made his entrance, Letterman said:
""I'm secretly hoping when Bill O'Reilly comes out here, I'll have the opportunity to call him a bonehead."
This also might be an accurate depiction of Gillick. He seems to relish any opportunity to call out what he sees as art world "boneheads" - witness also his exchange with Claire Bishop in October.
O'Reilly, at one point in the verbal sparring on Late Night accused Letterman of being:
"guilty of oversimplifying a complicated situation."
This, of course, is from someone who makes a living by doing the same thing. Gilbert utilizes an interesting twist by using tediously constructed theoretical arguments to oversimplify his vision of class struggle. Or as Gillick put it "[To Gilbert] It is a time of gross dualisms once more..." The Gilbert/O'Reilly parallel is succinctly drawn by the letter which appears after Gillick's response to Gilbert. In it, Renny Pritikin describes Gilbert as a "self-glorifying, deluded naif."
In all seriousness, Gillick (who's intelligence is irrefutable despite comparing him to Ryan Seacrest), the "petit bourgeois" critics, and the "manipulated" micropolitical theorists have this one right. Gilbert's faux vanguard politics are more than a little tiresome and reek of the righteous indignation so common of rigid ideologues. It is telling that Gilbert allows himself to be the final arbiter on how much 'selling out' is acceptable revolutionary behavior. When he engages the "deeply corrupt bourgeouis" subculture of art, he is furthering class struggle, but when others do the same they are "opportunist." Only Gilbert and those he deems as properly revolutionary are able to see, describe, and adequately intervene in, the "endemic corruption" of cultural institutions. Gilbert clearly sees Lenin, Marx ,and Gramsci as his peers, but given the messianic tone he adopts when he blesses the petit bourgeois with the truth, it seems more appropriate to situate him in the context of various apocalyptic cults. Of course, we at LeisureArts are probably just counter-revolutionary pawns anyway...
WHAT LED UP TO THIS
Gilbert's resignation letter (and follow-up at Metamute)
Gillick's response in Artforum