“Art,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in an 1897 essay, “begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications.” This essentially communicative function is entirely lost on the widespread conspiratorial philistinism which sees only in contemporary art the cryptic relics of an obscure priesthood. It’s a fruitful space for trolls, and the examples are a dime a dozen: from 1964’s Pierre Brassau affair, where a monkey’s painting was used to fool one or two Swedish critics, to this recent BuzzFeed quiz, which repeats the familiar charge that it’s nearly impossible to tell between “multi million dollar art” and cheap rubbish. (Despite its use of unfairly grainy or cropped images, the quiz is actually pretty bad at proving this point.)
At any rate, the above video, disseminated widely over the last day or so, shows an “art student” meticulously copying the Suprematist works of Kazimir Malevich for a portfolio, then going around and showing his work for admission to a number of art academies under the anagrammatical name of Michael Mikrivaz. (Malevich is something of a go-to for art world malcontents — see also the Guerilla Art Action Group incident at MoMA in 1969.) This prank’s conceit: that Malevich, or “Mikrivaz,” would be rejected by today’s art establishment, or something.
Yes, “Mikrivaz” is rejected all around, but the reactions we see are entirely reasonable. Up next, watch a John Updike plagiarist get rejected from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.