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More Primitive Than Basquiat and Moses Combined!

Congo! Cezanne of the (London Zoo) Rainforest (Exhibit)! MOMA Faints in Giddy Anticipation, Bids Millions, Plans Funding Drive Around Project........

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 22, 2005.

There was a story in the media about a local four year girl, whose photo and name indicated she was sent from Central Casting to the media for a contrived story. But it seems legit. This recent puddle duck upgrade wanted a swing set, and on a whim auctioned off her refrigerator door art work and pulled in a surprising amount. Setting aside helpful relatives and charmed strangers, it just goes to show, doesn’t it? Or something?

There was another story in the papers about an artist whose works pulled in around $25k from a slightly more famous art house than Mom’s Amanda. Of course, this artist had been dead for forty-one years, and this always gives an advantage in the cutthroat world of Art, or at least Art Sales. On the other hand, he was even younger than the promising Nevada Fine when he went through his Blue Period, just after Picasso himself gave him a glowing review and just before his Fecal Brown On Window Glass Period, about two years old, before succumbing to the traditional disease favored by the biographers of struggling artists, TB, in 1964.

If cliché holds, he must have left a gorgeous corpse when he folded his easel and ascended into Heaven, because he was only ten when he died, and even the Publicist who named our local Frida of the High Plains couldn’t have scripted a more obviously destined-for-cinema story arc. And really, is a name like “Nevada Fine” cool, or what? “Ladies and Gentlemen: Kennedy Honors Recipient Miss Nevada Fine……” Let’s get used to it. We’ll hear it again, I’m sure.

Of course, the artist Formerly and Currently Known As Congo the Chimp faced certain prejudices in the harsh Art World of the 1950’s that Ms. Fine could not imagine. He was a chimpanzee, for God’s sake, so it’s not like Sardi’s would let him in the doors to be seen where he needed to be seen for his career. It was one snub after another. His fame today is only his due.

But thank the lord for the Internet because we still have the paintings, and that’s all that’s important, right? His style, his palette, his clear mastery of the brush are there for all to see. And that’s the problem. Because, it turns out that his impressionistic abstracts are, to most and maybe all objective eyes, no different than those composed by humans.

Coming so soon on the heels of computers composing more than passable music, this isn’t boding well for the great conceits of our species: Art. It's behaving just like another conceit, Science, vacated and prescribed itself the mandatory wearing of Attends Diapers (like the captive chimp babies in its own labs) after Jane Goodall came along. Goodall and others blew apart the definition of Man then in fashion, and proved that chimps did indeed make tools, and that they were cannibals and made war upon each other and other apes and that females and males both were guilty of domestic violence and premeditated murder. But the Collected Works of Congo, the Cezanne of Mandatory Confinement, With Concordance and Supplementary Comparisons to Other 20th Century Artists casts even darker shadows – in many interpretations – across the world of what is laughingly called Art and less amiably the world of human dominance.

You think the Kansas and Texas School Boards are upset about evolution now? Wait till Congo’s exhibition starts touring.

The provided logical escape hatch here is that it doesn’t say anything good about Congo but a great deal bad and laughable about, in laymen’s terms, “modern art.” This is handy for conservatives, because they don’t like art that isn’t, well, black and white and pretty all over. They want representations, not impressions. They want glorification or belittlement, not actualities. They want dead art, not visceral emotional upset.

But, let’s be blunt. They do have a point. Much, maybe most modern art is silly, weak, famous for being famous. I am including three paintings in the transcript of this commentary on my website. One is by Congo, the other two worthy offerings not subject to disdain. If you did not know ahead of time, I’d wager many of us wouldn’t be able to say right off which is the product of a tortured soul painfully and by skill rendering his or her agony on to canvas, and which is the product of an ape whiling away the hours. If we can’t tell the difference right off, and if we cannot tell a Phillip Glass composition from the programmed efforts of a Dell Latitude, what have we been talking about for centuries?

Or, rather, what have nobodies like yourselves been talking about if you cannot tell a math equation put to music from the works of a great musician, or the colorful flingings of a grumpy ape from artists who command millions? I can, of course. I'm an artist myself and know art as surely as vanity is apparent in all mammals and hypocrisy is the only thing that human beings can still claim is exclusive to themselves.