Friday, September 11, 2009

We'll Take Our Semen Where We Can See It: Unpacking the Lecacy of the Late Dash Snow and the Emergence of a Low-Brow Aesthetic

THE PASSING OF THE ARTIST DASH SNOW last month seems to have put to bed a certain art world fiction that has been particularly pervasive over the last few years. Snow, who began his career as a drug-addled teenage vandal, until his death seems to have embodied the myth of the artist-adventurer that has become emblematic of the anti-intellectual, museum-bashing fervor that has dominated so much of contemporary discourse over the last decade.

If Snow, who was probably better known for his copious drug use and his unlimited funding (he was the heir to an oil fortune) than his art, will be remembered for anything it will undoubtedly be his sloppy, aesthetic exuberance that seems to have made an indeterminable mark on the art world (and beyond.)

Without proper training, evident intellect or artistic wherewithal, Snow’s photographic and collage work could be categorized by its lack of formal grace, confrontational perspective and often disturbing subject matter. In one faded Polaroid we see a man snorting a line of what appears to be cocaine off of an erect black penis, in another the frozen corpse of a dog decaying in an alley. But the images, shocking as they are, take on a sort of beautiful ephemerality as we see the late artist and his friends dancing before the camera: fucking, sucking and bleeding in clumsy synchrony as if characters in an absurdist stage play or a lucid dream. One curator described Snow’s work as a sort of “impromptu circus” with “midgets and whores [and] an endless supply of [drugs].” Others declared his work “beautiful filth” and dubbed him the “low-brow king of the lower east side.”

Despite his reputation as a “low-brow” artist, he developed a following among rich collectors (like Charles Saatchi) and jet-setting curators (like Javier Peres and Jeffrey Deitch.) Deitch in particular liked what he called “Snow’s melding of high and low culture” and invited him to turn his gallery into one of Snow’s infamous hamster nests (in which the artist and his friends make a nest of what ever they can get their hands on and take enough drugs to “feel like fucking hamsters.”)

Nest, as it was printed on monographs and invitations, opened at one of Deitch’s fashionable Chelsea spaces to a crowd of highly-educated, art world aficionados who drank PBR from the can and trudged through semen stained newspaper and telephone book confetti to spray-paint the dirt covered walls of the usually immaculate gallery. Notably absent from the scene, were the band of vandals in Snow’s “alleged” posse and by the end of the night it was evident that the artists’ “low-brow” sensibilities did not extend beyond the surface.

But this, is seemed, was of little interest to those in attendance who were happy enough to take part in something novel; to take their semen where they could see it, to have there cake and eat it too.


  1. Some Notes:

    1. I realize I didn't cite any of the quotes I used here but the first two are from an interview with Javier Perez (Snow's longtime Dealer) and the Deitch quote is from material distributed by the gallery and while I've attributed it to Jeffery Deitch it is more likely that it came from Kathy Grayson (Deitch's chief gallerist and head of publications.)

  2. 2. Also some links to Dash's work: