Above: A work by Brian Donnelly. Credit: Fair use.
Maybe we are just acting out the comedy of art, just as other societies acted out the comedy of ideology ... what lies hidden behind this falsely transparent world? Another kind of intelligence or a terminal lobotomy? ... But what could art possibly mean in a world that has already become hyperrealist, cool, transparent, marketable? What can porn mean in a world made pornographic beforehand? All it can do is make a final, paradoxical wink--the wink of reality laughing at itself in its most hyperrealist form, of sex laughing at itself in its most exhibitionist form, of art laughing at itself and at its own disappearance in its most artificial form, irony ... [contemporary art] now belongs to insider trading, the shameful and hidden complicity binding the artist who uses his or her aura of derision against the bewildered and doubtful masses ... Of course, all of this mediocrity claims to transcend itself by moving art to a second ironic level. But it is just as empty and insignificant on the second as the first level. The passage to the aesthetic level salvages nothing; on the contrary it is mediocrity squared. It claims to be null--"I am null! I am null!"--and it truly is null. Therein lies all the duplicity of contemporary art: asserting nullity, insignificance, meaninglessness, striving for nullity when already null and void. Striving for emptiness when already empty ... it is worse than nothing, because it means nothing and nonetheless exists, providing itself with all the right reasons to exist. This paranoia in collusion with art means that there is no longer any possible critical judgment, and only an amiable, necessarily genial sharing of nullity.--Jean Baudrillard
Baudrillard wrote the above text in 1996, thinking about Koons, however, the dynamic he elucidates is still functional in the present, and can be used to critique the work of, say, Brian Donnelly ("Kaws"), or Adam McEwan. The affront (SOED: an open insult; an attack; a position of hostility) of such work is its denigration of the act of art appreciation. Reflective illumination and edification (SOED: mental or moral improvement, enlightenment, or instruction) is not a probable, or even desirable, consequence of an encounter with one of their artworks. When confronted with a work by Donnelly or McEwan, the viewer, it is implicitly suggested, should simply abandon any such expectation as an irrelevance ... there is no longer any possible critical judgment, and only an amiable, necessarily genial sharing of nullity.
(17 January 2019, revised 23 January 2019)