Book Review: Get the Picture

Get the Picture

by Bianca BOSKER

Viking (2024)

pp 358


Get the Picture is a delicious romp through the New York City Contemporary Art World. Bianca Bosker draws in the reader from the onset with her tone that is equal parts confidential and confessional. From small time gallery owners and rising artists to outrageous performance artists and madcap collectors, she consorts with anyone who will reveal the answer to an age-old question: What is Art?

No one is given easy entry to a world that is closed, incestuous, and fiercely guarded by gatekeepers, whose idea of being cool is to pose and posture as being so totally uncool. Bosker penetrates this insular world by posing authentically as herself—a top notch journalist with a winning track record and the stamina to press on in the face of challenge that includes, incidentally, the art of face sitting.

Performance artist Mandy allFIRE sits on Bosker’s face in an unforgettable scene that reeks of a playful, sensationalized fetish, and not of a serious exploration elevating the power of woman through art. Yet Mandy allFire perseveres in her quest to be taken seriously by shucking off the shackles of the male gaze. Bosker is part of her all-too-willing support team, helping her to write proposals and press releases that will garner acceptance, accolades, and a greater métier of fame for allFIRE’S work.

Gallery owner Jack Barrett is controlling, manipulative, and abusive. Bosker does not state this as such, but she does paint a picture of a man who considers himself to be an elite force who has the power to make or break any artist he deems to be worthy (or not) of his ministrations. Barrett exhibits increasingly paranoid behavior toward Bosker; he is overtly suspicious of her mission to reveal the inner workings of his world to the lowly schmoes (outsiders who dwells in the large limbo outside of the New York City Art World). 

Another question posed: How does an artist rise above the rank and file MFA from Yale in this highly competitive world? Well, for starters having the MFA from Yale is an icebreaker. And having money helps. Not having to work for a living affords an up-and-coming artist abundant time to network, network, network. 

Artist Julie Curtiss oozes with supreme talent, but she also has a big appetite for hard work, spending endless hours in the company of other artists, going to shows and gaming her Instagram account. A whole bunch of truisms emerge. The persona of the artist is more important than the work itself. The intent of the artist is more important than the work itself. The artist should be talked up by other artists. Aesthetics need not apply (except when it’s important to the particular work). Women need not apply (except that might be changing).

Bosker works as a security guard at the Guggenheim, which offers a fun look behind the scenes. Damaging art is a real and present danger. It’s nice to know that security guards do more than search the movements of patrons for signs that they are about to pull out a can of spray paint or a knife. Guards might countdown to the five minutes before closing time and sleep on their feet, but when they open their eyes, they appreciate the fullness of the magnificent art they have been sworn to protect. Guards, in short, have (pardon the expression), The Eye. The Eye is the finely honed acumen that has been developed over time and through experience to truly see why a work of art is indeed art. 

Bosker asks other questions, too. How will I know art when I see it? How should I experience art? Far beyond the realm of self-proclaimed art cognoscenti, she also favors the research of  academics, experts and pundits to reveal the subtle inner workings of the human mind that are essential to getting the picture. The well honed Eye will see more than a moveable feast of colors, textures, styles and imagery. Having The Eye allows us to experience the rush of a sensory waterfall that commands our full attention and elevates us to a higher level of our own humanity. 

There is a long discourse as to why we must spend time with every work of art  to observe it from many angles, to examine the nuanced as well as the mundane, all to arrive at a sensory understanding. But that is never final. Come back the next day and look at this same piece again, and again. The way we look at art is never a final rendering. Factor in an important takeaway: we must all develop The Eye.

Returning to the all seeing and powerful Eye, Bosker describes the sentiment of erudite art connoisseurs… “looking at art should be a philosophical, not a physical, experience—intellectual and a little bloodless.” Aesthetics are dead is the consensus. But if beauty is dead, why are there so many Botoxed, big-lipped, big-butted blondes being stamped out in Instagram echo chambers? Here’s the drum roll: art marches on for Mandy allFIRE, to wit. “Weird, but I wanted weirder,” Bosker confesses. 

Anything deemed to be art by an artist doesn’t mean it’s good. Aside from developing The Eye, a criterion must be established to discern the merely good from the great. While Bosker cracks the code, unearthing the faddists, fetishists, cultists and gatekeepers, she tiptoes around the powerful art brokers and gallery owners like Gagosian, Zwirner, et al. More attention could have been paid to the artists whose work fetches millions of dollars in the primary art market, and the mega dealers, who wheel and deal in the secondary art markets. 

Get the Picture is a story that had to be written. What you see is not always what you get and what you get is not always what you see. There is a good reason why a cleaning crew mistook a piece of art as garbage and threw it away—it’s called sensibility, that rare mechanism known as a reality check; away in a specious world, there is an alternative reality that relies on alternative facts. In the final takeaway, the theme of the Emperor’s New Clothes pervades the art world, perverting its integrity and purity. Developing The Eye, notwithstanding, art is like pornography— “I know it when I see it.”







Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and ten books.

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