Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Nat Tate...

"Artist Nathwell Tate was born in 1928 in Union Beach, New Jersey. On January 8, 1960 he contrived to round up and burn almost his entire output of Abstract Expressionistic artworks. Four days later he killed himself. This book offers an account of Tate's life and work which can be seen either as straight art biography or as fiction. It is an investigation of the blurry line between the invented and the authentic, the wholly false and the utterly real." From the jacket notes of NAT TATE by William Boyd.

Do you remember this great book from 1998? One of the finest hoaxes that ever pulled the wool over the eyes of the art world... Author and screenwriter William Boyd (with the help of one David Robert Jones) had many readers up in arms once the Mr. Tate's fictionality was made public. A gargantuan harrumphing sound could be heard echoing in the streets of London and New York after a number of prominent art world figures actually claimed to remember the (non-existent) artist. Brilliant...

When is a hoax not just a "gotcha" gimmick? When it calls out a greater system of bullshit. In fact, the book itself is so well written and poses so many invaluable questions about art, identity, and the so-called truth, that it leaves its pop "street hoax" aspect way in the dust after about page 3.

"Nat Tate" is a good example of Werner Herzog's "ecstatic truth," albeit one that leans especially heavily on the false side of the tracks. In his own quest for truth (in and beyond the phenomenal world), Herzog makes documentaries where entire scenes are blatantly created and manipulated by his own hand. He defends the notion that a fabricated image can be just as truthful as a "real" one. He does not waste time drawing distinctions between fiction and non-fiction. At the end of the day facts may be true or they may be manufactured. But truth, he seems to say, is something we instinctively recognize, as much in a painting or a song as in real life. Often more so, I would add.


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