Sunday, September 6, 2015

Down Periscope: Amanda Oleander's Body of Work

by Drew Martin
The late art critic Robert Hughes said of a "self satisfied" Jeff Koons that he “really does think he’s Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can’t imagine America’s singularly depraved culture without him." Hughes compared Koons' work to that of Seward Johnson (I thought it was also to Damien Hirst) and said discussing their work was “like debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement”. 

I wish the cantankerous yet highly intelligent Nothing If Not Critical Hughes were around to chime in on a new phenomenon that has breached the levees of social media reality stars into the art world, which can only spell disaster. The Internet and social media have launched careers in the music and entertainment industry but have only been venues for artists to show off their work and get connected. The new reality is quite different. Think Rebecca Black meets the art world.

On my last post I wrote about my fascination with Periscope as a medium but since then I became familiar with Amanda Oleander, a 25 year old who jumped on board from the beginning and is on her way to drumming up half a million followers. She is backhandedly called the Kim Kardashian of Periscope and its first star. I would be fine with another LA-based starlet making it big based on her looks and self-promotion but this time it's coming to a gallery/museum near you. I don't think there are any news-worthy shows planned yet, but there will be, unfortunately, mark my words.

Prior to the Oleander phenomenon, mediocre artists were contained to sites such as DeviantArt but Periscope has become a way to overcome a bad portfolio with good looks. Left alone on the other platforms Oleander would have not had a chance but the ubiquitous phone camera turned on her glaringly white teeth, Disney-character looks, youthful glow, short-shorts and off-the-shoulder fashion gained her the attention that her artwork could not do on its own. As she admits "It took me four years to get 2,000 followers on Instagram. And I did this on Periscope in four days?!"

The difference between Koons and Oleander has a lot to do with Marshall McLuhan's infamous statement, the Medium is the Message, which he made half a century ago. Koons hired agencies to curate his image and plan his promotion in order to strategically insert himself into the art world and to tell us what we should think of him. Oleander moves very differently in a Periscope-controlled environment. She constantly blocks viewers who go too far in commenting on her looks (which draws them there in the first place) or who aren't telling her how good she is as an artist. What you are left with is an incredibly censored mass of flattering followers and a very superficial discussion about her work.

In all fairness Oleander has some talent, as does Koons. I think it is safe to say Koons invented a casting process based on an inflatable device, and that he is a perfectionist, which helps in his sculptures but makes it impossible for him to create a decent painting. Likewise, Oleander, who is originally from Florida and got her BFA from UNC in Charlotte, would be an OK illustrator for children's books but she only has one cartoonish style and not a lot of thought behind her work. I turned to my 16-year-old daughter, who is a much more talented artist, for feedback on Oleander's scopes and asked her prove me wrong, but she concluded that neither Oleander or her work have a lot of character and are boring: personality without character - enough said.

A few hours after posting this article with the top three images, I was alerted by Periscope to a new replay of a broadcast by Oleander. I watched as much as I could handle. It starts out with her phone streaming her reflection. She is wearing a gangsta panda T-shirt from her "fine art clothing collection" which is more about her showing off her belly than anything else. A screenshot from the broadcast is the fourth picture here. Later, she talks about this animal series. She shows a painting of a rhino holding an iPhone 6 and she explains that she put the iPhone 6 in the painting as a time capsule for future generations so when the owner of the painting passes it down to his or her children or grandchildren they will realize its place in history because she "predicts" that people in the future "won't even be using iPhone 6s." The day before in a cafe she shows off smartphone charging keys that you plug in and place on a charging mat. She says she came up with the idea for this six months ago (the technology has been available for some Droids much longer than that) and finally someone has been able to match her vision. It's the kind of ego-centric delusion that Hughes refers to with Koons, only that it is immediately followed by viewers texting "you are amazing"... "you are so inspiring" etc, followed by a signature Oleander "Thank you so much. I love you guys." 

Sept. 19 Addendum:
I stopped bothering to pay attention to Oleander's broadcast alerts and replays but a couple days ago I saw a replay titled: Life of an artist in Los Angeles: ripping up priceless limited edition panda prints.

Priceless?? Really?? I thought this was going to be a tongue and cheek piece but it was actually Oleander taking herself more seriously than I imagined was possible. She ripped up a couple prints of the amateurish painting she did of the gangster panda with as much suspense as she could muster as if they actually were priceless. She spoke about her integrity as an artist and how should could sell these for thousands of dollars (after saying they sold for $20 each) but there were flaws with these prints that only she could detect. Then she sat down and started pasting/gessoing them on a store-bought canvas and explained how she would make something new from the torn pieces. While she was busy and not deleting the critical comments a couple piled up that I thought were interesting and tied in to the original body of this post, such as this one from a guy...

"I am not a fan of your art, but I am a fan of your personality."