PARIS — Soon, the desire for art that distinguishes itself from pop culture might become like how drugs used to be: a transgressive, covert endeavor. If Korakrit Arunanondchai’s passionate but frivolous extravaganza Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3 is any indication of this (and it is), we may be living in the stupidest times ever: a state of culture where much art has capitulated to idiocy and banality.
At the Palais de Tokyo, New York-based Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, a 2012 MFA graduate from Columbia University brought to the world’s attention by Hans Ulrich Obrist in Kaleidoscope, molests our eyes with lurid paint splashed on walls and fashion dummies. Arunanondchai’s painting-as-installation churns and spits on us, while the artist poses like a heavy metal, cock rock, super-stud star of painting. His brush is so hard!
But Arunanondchai’s art — which seems to me more like masturbating a corpse than a way of visually rocking out — is an abuse of painting. It turns painting into theater; chaotic and empty, this scenic art is like much art-as-spectacle that panders to the contemporary art market today, where oligarchs launder money and celebrities trade cash for artistic credibility. The work is both indulgent and drab. One wonders: just how much mindlessness can painting take?
Arunanondchai has abandoned the quiet, profound, and subtle qualities of art in favor of entertainment, which must be accessible (written large). He presumes the viewer is docile and passive, lapping up his juicy, splashy world with relish. Not I.
His bread-and-circuses installation claims to blend Buddhist and Animist traditions in Thailand with popular culture, which seems to me not only a terrible idea, but I also have no clue how these elements came together in the work.
The show is the epilogue to a series of works created over the past four years, where the auteur is presented as an imaginary painter. Not that this “painter” persona offers any solutions or alternatives to the art of painting. Rather, Arunanondchai develops a, what he calls, “memory palace” for this fictional Thai artist who sloshes paint on denim.
The installation is divided in two parts. The first, “The Body,” is composed of large, denim paintings, which are only visible in their entirety from a bird’s eye view. The installation, the press release claims, is meant to “function as a landscape and a stage for the audience.” In that sense, it treats art like a trendy fashion store.
“The Spirit,” the second section, presents a video where the artist converses with Chantri — the invisible “painter,” whose voice Chutatip Arunanondchai (the artist’s mother) embodies. They discuss connectivity, popular culture, geopolitics, and technology, questioning what it means to be an artist today while celebrating the merging of art and life, fantasy and reality, and science and incorporeality. Here, Arunanondchai reduces art to light entertainment, like celebrity watching or sports or Trump-a-mania. He’s not a particularly gifted painter/polemicist and not nearly as entertaining as Paul McCarthy’s “Painter” (1995) character, who is far more radical in his painty sloppiness and much, much funnier.
Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3 leads us away from the history of art as modesty, ritual, mystery, and beauty. The further one goes down this rabbit hole, the more depressing this vomit-suggesting paint explosion feels with its modish air that squeezes the art out of painting. It should be considered by any person (young or old) once — and only once, at most.
Korakrit Arunanondchai: Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3 continues at the Palais de Tokyo (13 Avenue du Président Wilson, Paris) through September 13.