The promotional synopsis for Cheryl Dunn’s documentary Moments Like This Never Last promises that it will explore the complexity of an artist responsible for “forever changing the course of art history.” Given that the film is about the late Dashiell Alexander Whitney Snow, that claim made it intriguing enough to review. Watching it was like experiencing an extended version of Dunn’s 2009 memorial in Interview Magazine following Snow’s death by heroin overdose. At its core, the film is a personal tribute to her friend. Through archival footage and new interviews with the artist’s inner circle, Dunn constructs a picture of the paradoxes that seemingly trapped an artist whose life was singularly dedicated to the pursuit of freedom.
Actor and gallery director Leo Fitzpatrick candidly describes this trap: “Something about Dash rebelling against his rich artist family by becoming a rich artist kind of backfired.” This observation comes near an all-too familiar turn in Snow’s arc, from his cocaine- and alcohol-fueled ascent to his descent into heroin addiction. For an artist to turn his life into art, the maintenance of authenticity was crucial. Dealer Jeffery Deitch describes how more conventional, rules-bound collectors sought out Snow’s work to vicariously experience the libertine freedoms he embodied. For the less well-heeled Vice reader, he had to live the lifestyle he promised, even if it wasn’t entirely real. Peres Project’s Blair Hanson explains that while Snow’s Polaroids appear candid, many were in fact staged, and people were willing to be misled. As curator Neville Wakefield notes, though Snow was a pre-internet phenomenon, his practice would be familiar to today’s Instagram influencers.
The biggest threats to Snow’s credibility came from his unresolved relationship with his family and with success itself. The 2007 New York Magazine article “Warhol’s Children” made public his status as a scion of the de Menil family, art world royalty, putting enormous stress on his authenticity. Critic David Rimanelli scoffs at the idea that this should matter: “Do you not like Manet? He was a rich kid too!” But Manet was not producing Manet as his art. Fitzpatrick observes that even maintaining his image through endless art world receptions and dinners became a kind of performance for Snow: “You just have stayed in your little circle and talked shit about this art dinner. ‘Hey, who has drugs?’ and that kind of thing. You know, that shit’s fun for like a night or two, but eventually you just feel like you are being put on stage and playing a part.” As the title of the film suggests, it’s impossible to remain 25 forever.
After watching Moments Like This Never Last, I may have an entirely different reading of how Snow could have changed the course of art history. By collapsing any distinction between life and art through his durational performance of being Dash Snow, perhaps he dead-ended the idea of the “bad boy” rebel artist. Maybe he demonstrated that absolute freedom is as much a myth as that tired role. The final two years of Snow’s life were marked by the birth of his daughter Secret and multiple attempts at rehab. The film reveals that he was terrified of poisoning his daughter’s life, and alludes to the possibility that his death by overdose was intentional. Fitzpatrick points out that in never getting the chance to know her father, Secret lost the most of anyone connected to him. Seeing footage of Snow dancing with her in golden afternoon light is a poignant reminder that the one freedom that escaped him was the ability to change.
Moments Like This Never Last is available to stream via DOC NYC through November 19.