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The Sohoiad: Or, the Masque of Art: a Satire in Heroic Couplets Drawn from Life

NEW YORK, MCMLXXXIV

Close by the Hudson, in Manhattan’s town,
The iron palaces of Art glare down
On such as, wandering in the streets below,
Perambulate in glamorous SOHO,
A spot acclaimed by savant and by bard
As forcing-chamber of the Avant-Garde.
‘Tis there, dread Dulness dwells in sweats and glooms,
Gnaws her brown nails, and shakes her sable plumes;
Frivolity extends her flittering hand
O’er the distracted, fashionable band,
And Youth sustains its present coalition
‘Twixt vaulting Arrogance and blind Ambition,
Whilst rubbing shoulders with the newly-great,
Impartially selling Smack and Real Estate.
Such is the spot for Apodictick Rhyme,
The Gadfly, yet the Mirror, of its time.

Now at thy hands, great Chaos! are restored
The brief and foolish pleasures of the bored:
The pompous novelty, the well-hyp’d trick
Delivered in the merest Augenblick.
The patronage of younger talent there
(A favoured sport) is flinging Eggs in Air
To mark if they will fly; and when they fall,
As fall they do, it matters not at all:
The temper of the age decrees at once
That none may tell the Dancer from the Dunce.
Opinion bows and scrapes, to Trade defers,
As Disco-Owners turn to Connoisseurs;
Historians to the urinous subway fly
To scribble theses on ‘The Spraying Eye’;
From Kutztown and the Bronx graffitists throng
To find, though Art is short, Reviews are long;
Our purblind virtuosi now embrace
KEITH BORING, and JEAN-MICHEL BASKETCASE.
The spraycans hiss, the ghetto-blaster shrieks,
Above the clamour, DODO GRUESOME speaks:
“My pa-in-law became a millionaire
From unguents to straighter Negroes’ hair:
A generation later, I have come
To bring a new cosmetic to the slum.
In this fat piping time of cultural plenty
Art sheds its bloom when it is over twenty:
Whiteness is staleness: connoisseurs, behold
Th’apotheosis of the Twelve-Year-Old!
My Noble Savages, on sneakered feet,
Flock to the doors of Fifty-Seventh Street;
The infant dauber, whom MAYOR KOCH appalls,
Now sprays on Belgian Flax instead of walls;
The matrons twitter and the Cash-Bell rings,
I serve Hawaiian Punch and Chicken-Wings,
The fame of my invention spreads afar—
Part day-care center, part Bateau-Lavoir.”

With corybantic dance and bacchic cry
Th’infatuate procession passes by:
And now the hybrid child of Hubris comes—
JULIAN SNORKEL, with his ten fat thumbs!
Ad nauseam, he babbles, honks and Prates
Of Death and Life, Careers and Broken Plates
(The larger subjects for the smaller brain)
And as his victims doze, he rants again—
Poor SoHo’s cynosure, the dealer’s dream,
Much wind, slight talent, and vast self-esteem.
“Shall I compare me to Picasso? Yes!
Within me, VAN GOGH’s vision, nothing less,
Is wedded to the genius of TITIAN
And mixed promiscuously, without permission,
With several of BOB RAUSCHENBERG’s devices.
The market’s fixed to underwrite my prices—
Compared to my achievement, JACKSON POLLOCK’s
Is nothing but a load of passé bollocks;
My next show goes by Concorde to the Prado:
‘Painter as Hero: Snorkel, Leonardo.’
Yet the comparison’s a trifle spotty,
Since Leo says I’m heir to BUONAROTTI.
Though those old Guineas knew a thing or three,
They’d certainly know more if they’d known me.”

Behind, a pliant and complaisant throng
Of Art-Reporters flatulates along
With tongues a-wag and wits made dull by rust,
Trustees who deal, and dealers none may trust,
Curators clutching freebies to their breasts,
The bureaucrats, the urgers, and the pests.
The Critick here expounds her fribbling law
That scarce an Artists’ Groupie was before;
Now rise the squeals of diarist and bard
Of WITLESS-PINKIE, of RENE RETARD,
Whilst PETER SHELLDUCK, of poetic mien
Straps on his sandwich-board to puff the scene,
And bravely lays aside the critic’s rod
To greet each Neo as the Son of G-d.

As they proceed beside the wat’ry deep
B-LL R-B-N mutters “Pablo!” in his sleep
And BARBARA WOOZE, in descants loud and long
Rends her fair locks, and chants her Willow-Song,
“O entropy! O misery! O Hell!
G-d’s dead, Art’s dead, and I am far from well!”
Yet KAKOPICTA, Muse of Transient Modes,
Sweeps her slack Lyre, and charms the list’ning Toads.
“Behold!” she cries. “‘Neath my indulgent wand
Fresh talents gather on Manhattan’s strand
Where (never care how hasty, botched, or patchy)
They’re bought in loads by their Maecaenas, SCRATCHY.
Thus is confirmed, before the skeptic’s eyes,
The motto that It Pays to Advertise,
For if New York museums come too late,
I foist them on the trustees of the Tate:
What other Muse will hold to her so dear
The mannered charms of the Italian, CH—?
What other Goddess pour her horn of plenty
On psychobabbling doodles by CL-M-NT-,
Or bless young ENZO SPOOKY’s murky flood
Of art, and feeling, thick as Umbrian mud?”

So saying, she ascends a little mound,
Shades her blear eyes, and gestures all around
At orts and fragments that bestrew the ground:
“As once the tourist, ‘midst the ruins of Rome,
Cull’d from the earth the decor from his home,
A cornice here, a herm or statuä there,
To prink the prospect of the dull parterre,
Cumbering his house with false Etruscan urns,
Such is the custom of our Post-Modernes:
Post-Modernism long ago took note
That when Invention flags, we needs must quote:
And when the cobbled-up quotation drops
To semi-literates and earnest fops
(American collectors), the convention
Is to extol it as a new Invention.
Thus to advance, but likewise to retard,
Is purpos’d by the Post-Trans-Avant-Garde.
So in our world the energies are spent—
What few remember, dullards may invent.”

What relics of the recent past remain
And in disorder, clutter up the plain?
A woollen cart-horse by DE CHIRICO!
Copy the nag, and hear the praises flow!
One late PICABIA, rendered willy-nilly,
Provides a whole career for DAVID SILLY.
The raucous pederast by the Berlin Wall
On KIRCHNER’s figures may adroitly fall.
What if your style not fire the fickle town?
Then paint some lumpish fräuleins upside-down,
Wielding your crayon with coal-heaver’s mitts
After the manner of GEORG BUNGLEWITZ,
Whose strength makes Virtuosi reel and faint—
Thick wrists, thick neck, thick skull, and thicker paint.
In well-feigned homage to the Mantic Arts
Express yourself in spastic Fits and Farts,
Then sit and watch how HENRY GOLDBUG goes
Likening your drawing to divine WATTEAU’s.
A generation past, Abstraction’s sway
Prevailed from Brooklyn to remote Bombay,
Extracting homage from the subtle Jew,
The coarse Australian, and the mild Hindoo—
And on repealing its presumptuous law
‘Twas found that none remembered how to draw:
Yet this proved less a problem than a quibble,
Since none, it seemed, had quite forgot to scribble:
Thus from Academies in every nation
Arose the chant: Expressive Figuration!

Who are the patrons whose indulgent glance
The painter craves, for whom the dealers dance?
Expunge, young Tyro, the excessive hope
Of gathering crumbs from Humanist or Pope:
No condottiere holds his exigent sway
Like MONTEFELTRO upon West Broadway—
Instead, mild stockbrokers with blow-dried hair
Stroll through the soukh, and passive snuff the air.
Who are the men for whom this culture burgeons?
Tanned regiments of well-shrunk Dental Surgeons,
With leather-swaddled spouses, minds obtuse,
And ALDO GUCCI’s stirrups on their shoes,
Whose hope is to endow their own museum
With works of art, before they’ve learned to see ‘em.
Yet count these dolts superior to the misers
Primping beneath the name of Art Advisers,
Dragging bewildered clients by the nose
Down Spring Street, through the lofts and studios.
In days gone by, ere art became a cult,
The task of Ignorance was, to consult;
But now, lest Vanity feel itself affronted
Its expectation is, to be consulted.
The prattling, lacquered Divorcee makes haste
To deck herself in borrowed Weeds of Taste,
Gabble receiv’d Opinion, and flaunt
The blissful nescience of the soi-disant,
Combing the tyro’s studio to start
Corporate collections of the latest art,
So that, in turn, each fashionable Matron
Perceives herself as Muse, as well as Patron,
And joins the scrabbling legion of the dull
Whose beau ideal was B-B and -TH-L SC-LL.

But lo! What sight divides the ambient air
And makes the Hierophantes turn and stare?
The authoritarian sound of muffled drums
Announces something major this way comes:
A chariot of iron, wreathed with flowers,
Shakes the wide streets, and o’er the pavement towers,
Such as the pagan Balinese prefer
In rites of Exequy and Sepulture,
Bearing the God of Mammon on its frame
Whilst on all sides, bells chime His sacral Name.
Dread Effigy! Eyes glazed with fiscal lust
And nostrils caked with prime Peruvian Dust—
Around it, acolytes and nautch-girls throng,
Roll the wild eye, and raise the choral song:
“When culture comes to cash, Less is a bore:
More is, and was, and ever shall be More.”
Thus is arriv’d, as in the past foretold,
The gross Saturnian age of iron and gold.

The monstrous Ikon, decked in gold and blue
Rolls ponderously down the avenue,
Dragged by twin chains, dependent from its cage,
The first one drawn by Youth, the next by Age.
The former by the hands of MARY SPOON,
Part secretary, part goblin, part Raccoon,
Scribblers’ fancy, opportunists’ muse,
Her claim to taste, two hundred pairs of shoes.
The latter’s harnessed to the wiry belly
Of SoHo’s household word, LEO C-ST-LL-.
Arriving on Manhattan’s primal scene
When half the artworld, and its art, was green,
He proved the City’s proper go-between,
Flogging to Taxi-Lords and Smoothy Dons
Encaustick canvases by JASPER JOHNS;
But in the Seventies, a decade drear,
He took to seeing mainly with his Ear,
And his advisers caused him to impart
His reputation to Conceptual Art.
Yet now he blooms again! A process which
Inspires him to extol pretentious Kitsch,
Attributing the genius of Proust
To Gallick rubbish like GERARD LANGOUSTE.
Let flattering daubers their C-ST-LL- paint
Rob’d as Philosopher, a Secular Saint—
He has become, throughout the noise and glory
A shrewd Italian imbollitore,
A dancing-master of the passing rage,
The victim, not Petronius, of his age,
While, as collectors smirk and criticks gape,
He leads them as the Organ leads the Ape.

Perched like a Syce on this colossal bauble
Sits Leo’s protégé, pale ANDY WARBLE,
Whose social lusts, like Chicken Little, grew
Into the world’s worst journal, Interview.
Earth hath not anything to show more fair
Than Andy’s wig of silvery plastic hair:
With mild regard, forgiving, sweet, and dull,
He grins to show the skin beneath the skull.
“Since Leo’s smile has authoriz’d my Muse,
Chaste be my conduct, and detached my views—
My life in Art is ever to confer
With Stars and Catamites, a keen Voyeu.
Thus my example helped this spot to grow
Into a stew or sweaty Bagnio
Where rosy Artists posture in the steam
Soliciting trade; and their collective dream
Is that I use my certifying Power
To make them famous for one-quarter-hour.
If BARNEY NEWMAN showed them Laws of Moses,
Today, I show them Aretino’s Poses:
Thus, though my painting long since came to naught,
I am the valet to this Juggernaut.”

Yet hark! New sounds upon the eardrum fall
And ominously echo through the mall:
Proceeding from great Mammon’s gilt behind,
A susurration of escaping wind!
As Fame’s posterior bugle softly blows,
What stench now fills the unsuspecting nose?
Pervasive, fruity, sulphurous, full, and ripe
It is the odour of an Artworld Hype!
The Statue shudders, and is proven soon
No solid monument, but a Balloon!
No child of bronze, but mere Inflation’s son,
Sustained by fiscal dolts in Washington!
As all escapes, its poor and shrivelling skin
Proclaims the vast Vacuity within.
The revellers shriek, the priests draw close and mutter,
SH-FR-ZI grovels in his place, the Gutter,
When random sparks, ascending from the road,
Ignite the gas, and make the God explode!
The vast percussion shudders on the air,
Galleries totter, boutiques are laid bare,
The fiery gust of driving wind contorts
Bald-headed mannequins in leather shorts;
Pâtés and pumpkins, chèvre and golden beets
Crash from DELUCA’s window to the streets,
The crowd of celebrants is whirl’d from sight
As PHOEBUS disappears, and all is Night.
Thus to distracted Culture justly come
The punishments of Herculaneum.
The Antipodean Shepherd drops his gaze,
Brings to an end his Apopemptick Lays,
Resigns his Doric flute, and hopes for better days.

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