A letter to Even Magazine about Kyle Chayka's essay on the Seagram Building and the Four Seasons: http://evenmagazine.com/four-seasons-grill-pool/
29 September 2017
To the Editors of Even Magazine,
I am writing in response to “The Season Finale” by Kyle Chayka. The mission statement of Even reads, “We’re tired of hearing about culture as elite, opaque, and unapproachable.” I was therefore perplexed to read “The Season Finale,” which performs a masculinist exclusivity and an elitist nod to fellow “bro” writers who seem to have nothing better to do than rehearse boring screeds about the evils of capital. Chayka’s essay reads like the worst mid-century art criticism (or perhaps the earliest stages of learning to write art criticism), which is worthy of note considering the era he apotheosizes.
I would like to emphasize this section: “The Picasso curtain has been replaced by a Pinterest-ready plant-wall sculpture by Paula Hayes. In its superficial whimsy, it seems to play into the very attitudes Rosen despises.” The discourse on modernism was and remains anxiously invested in abjecting any whiff of the decorative as a metonym for the feminine. Scholars like Elissa Auther have argued that modernism and modernist criticism are constituted by this fear. To call a female artist’s work “Pinterest-ready” is appealing to the retrograde tenets of a heterosexist modernism that we should be writing against, not reviving. It seems though that nostalgia is Chayka’s goal, so that he might project an air of affected boredom with contemporary culture. Hayes’s work is architecturally informed, rigorous, and deeply invested in the material questions posed by minimalism (the ostensible subject of Chayka’s forthcoming book). In fact, Hayes’s sculpture affords us a moment to critique the same “venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs discuss[ing] platform transactions while sitting on stools of reclaimed wood” Chayka bemoans.
I imagine Chayka would find an ally in Hayes were he able to set aside his resentment toward a woman who replaced Picasso literally and Jackson Pollock conceptually. What is at stake for Chakya in asserting that Aby Rosen would not like Hayes’s intervention? This strange point is in fact counter to Chayka’s argument, since it reinforces myths of taste and authorship associated with the shrinking cultural imaginary he attempts to identify. Hayes demystifies those monoliths. If Chayka simply did not research Hayes’s work, he might consider not attacking a woman whose installation is in fact in line with his argument and part of an avant-garde lineage of institutional critique. If he researched it and didn’t understand its historicization, I might suggest an introductory course in modern art. If he did research it and found it frivolous, that’s a more pernicious problem.
There is nothing complicit about Hayes’s work. The complicity is in Chayka’s sexist snobbishness masquerading as populism. Critiques of culture require an awareness of history and a commitment to those who have been disenfranchised by sexist discourses. In this terrifying moment, our lives depend on these values, and we have no time for swollen egos.
William J. Simmons