On Modern American Art: Selected Essays

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

MIKE BIDLO 1989

I recently attended a party at M.K., a trendy New York club much frequented by the art scene. Of the many paintings decorating the walls there, one, a large horizontal Jackson Pollock, attracted the most attention, prompting many casual inquiries about its authorship. There was, of course, not a moment's doubt that it was not by Pollock even though it was clearly a painted facsimile of one. Who, after all, would ever expect to find a vintage masterpiece of about 1949 in a crowded new hangout on Fifth Avenue? When pressed, a few of the art people there ventured a guess that the Pollock was a Mike Bidlo. I myself, and others, disagreed, and then the question was dropped. But it continued to bother me. Not too long after, I asked Mike Bidlo himself whether by any chance he had painted the "Pollock" in M.K., and he pleasantly explained that he knew nothing about it. I haven't troubled yet to find out who did paint it, but I did feel good, as well as perplexed, about being so certain that the fake Pollock was not an authentic Bidlo; and more peculiarly, that it really wasn't good enough to be a Bidlo.

In this minor encounter with a problem of connoisseurship of a sort familiar in old- fashioned times, when scholars would debate the attribution of a Giotto or a Caravaggio, a more major mystery is beginning to emerge. Bidlo's art, as the international art world now knows, consists of willfully accurate, handmade replications (right down to the same dimensions) of well-known works, and frequently masterpieces, of twentieth-century art.

His pantheon begins with Cézanne's great late Bathers at the Philadelphia Museum, launching the earliest years of our century, and then continues through the canonic Hall of Fame, undaunted by the hugest achievements in size and importance. The Demoiselles d'Avignon, Guernica, Matisse Dance and Red Studio, Léger City, Pollock Blue Poles-- Bidlo has taken them all on. Indeed, the works of Bidlo, even this early in his career, already constitute a surrogate survey of the high points of modern art, from Picasso, Kandinsky, and Duchamp through de Kooning, Klein, and Warhol.

Such seemingly slavish replication is at first, and maybe even at last, both completely familiar and completely unbalancing, so much so that Bidlo's work has quickly earned responses of both puzzled enthusiasm and dismissive outrage. As for its traditional character, there is little doubt that, on one level, Bidlo is doing what has been done for centuries in the history of art and what has never before evoked the kind of antagonism that so often greets this young artist's work. Hadn't Roman sculptors chiseled with love, veneration, and metic

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