The Madness of Art is a sitcom set in the Chelsea art world, and more particularly in the Jim Kempner Gallery on the corner of Tenth Avenue and 23rd Street. Ten episodes have come out thus far, of which the ninth (with sculptor Bernar Venet) is embedded below.
We are not talking about the music of the spheres here, no subtle wordplay and delicate, chuckling aperçus on Ranciere or Wittgenstein. As in recent currency trading, the Euro gets devalued. The Madness of Art has a distinctly American, workmanlike approach to humor that can seem broad and a bit strained, with routines that often reference old vaudeville tropes. Sometimes the action verges on the corny or hackneyed.
But there is a rough hewn, ad lib charm to the series, which refuses to take itself or its haute art milieu too seriously. Some home truths are told, some ingrained pretensions of the art world are mercilessly skewered. A frequent descent into schtick and slapstick is balanced by the refreshing candor of amateur performers who approach their material with the shameless dedication of real troupers. Kempner and his gallery director, Dru Arstark, display an uncanny gift for natural comic timing: the double take, the quick sidelong glance, the blink of incredulity or incomprehension, the pregnant pause, the blank stare, the deadpan intonations and comic hiccups. They've got it all down pat.
This is a sitcom that will start you snickering and make you laugh out loud despite your better judgment. It is a joyful spoof of the entire scene, from hapless assistants to clueless collectors, from artists who are needy or hostile or intimidating to the machinations of fellow dealers and the vain hope for critical validation. Here's Episode One, with the inimitable Tony Fitzpatrick. "You're sensitive, I'm sensitive. They'll love this shit."
Here are two more videos that touch on dealer duplicity, Art Miami, good news/bad news, Yoko Ono's "Imagine Peace", the perils of parking, and what makes a good Twombly. Enjoy them. And if you must, write them off as a guilty pleasure.