”I saw no beauty, no form or meaning in them. Day after day I went to see and to hear contradictory explanations of what was called modern art, and finally I became disgusted, for most of the young critics were saying in effect, “What if we cannot see and understand these things! Great masters in the past were misunderstood and so we must accept and try to see, whether they please us or not”. ( Paul Jordan Smith )
Smith seemed to unconsciously follow the dictum,”If someone says his work is art, it’s art”,the famous phrase credited to Donald Judd. Smith titled his painting ‘Exaltation’ and wrote that it represented the shattering of the bonds of womanhood. He said the woman had just taken a bite of a banana and was waving the banana skin over her head in triumphant freedom. In the style of Sherlock Holmes, Smith created an identity of the presumed painter in the name of ”Pavel Jerdanowitch”, by slicking his hair back and making himself look as much the role of the brooding Russian artist,complete with tortured brow, small beard and anguished look. A suffering genius.He submitted this photo along with his painting so that the judges could see that he was clearly an authentic, brilliant ”new shiny” on the art scene. In all,he completed seven paintings, referring to them as the ”Seven Deadly Sins”.
After a slight to his wife’s work, Sarah Bixby Smith, by critics ,”as distinctly old school”,Smith set out to prove that critics would praise any painting they could not understand.The ruse worked. Like stockbrokers hawking false claims of millions of ounces of gold in an abandoned mine, the paintings became the subject of considered opinion. The rhetoric flying at high altitudes, of this new discovery of new-lost school, an eldorado of psuedo art reviewing to promote…..” an essential part of the aesthetic experience…..metaphysical pullulation of disparate forms…..impacting a tonal sporadicism, a universalized fragmentation……which will revolutionize fundamental concepts of meaning and image….. this is art that screams, roars… to express only a shred of the human emotions that lie prisoner” Again, the cult-of-precious-object-in-the-guilt-frame syndrome.Smith was hailed as a visionary. Art can indeed resemble more a three ring circus,with the P.T. Barnum style as the great American huckster of ”without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!”.However, every generation asks, what is art coming to?
”In 1924 Paul Jordan Smith, a Los Angeles-based novelist and Latin scholar, painted a blurry picture of a South Seas islander holding a banana over her head. He intended the picture as a spoof of abstract styles of modern art such as Cubism, and as a joke he entered it into an art exhibition. He claimed it was the work of the Russian artist Pavel Jerdanowitch (a name he had invented), the founder of the Disumbrationist School of Art (another invention of his). Smith used the foreign name because he figured that painters with exotic names were always a bigger hit with critics.”…To his chagrin, but not really to his surprise, the work was praised by critics. This inspired Smith to paint and exhibit more pictures under Jerdanowitch’s name, including one with a lot of squiggles and eyeballs that he named ‘Illumination’. More praise followed.”He called his school of painting “The Disumbrationist” for the reason that he could not create no shadows.
Smith, (Jerdanovitch ) represented a form of women’s liberation or feminism, in that the subject had broken the chains of her gender, and the Polynesian had killed a missionary and hung his skull on a pole behind her. The banana was forbidden fruit and now she was sexually emanicipated, and guilt and fear free of the consequennces of her acts. Another painting showed a jet-black Negress at a washtub, with socks hanging on a clothes line overhead. Displayed at the No-Jury Exhibition (Marshall Field’s, 1926) under the title “Aspiration,” it was selected out of 480 others for special praise and reproduction by the Art World of Chicago. Wrote Lena McCauley, art critic of the Chicago Evening Post: “a delightful jumble of Gauguin, Pop Hart and Negro minstrelsy, with a lot of Jerdanowitch individuality.” What is ironic, is Smith was the son of a Methodist minister, graduated from a school of divinity in 1908 and became a pastor of the Universalist church.However, In 1910 he resigned after being charged with heresy and became a writer.
”The Revue du Vrai et du Beau (Review of the True and the Beau-tiful), French art journal, wrote under a reproduction of “Exalta-tion” as follows: “This artist has a distinctly individual manner in representing people and objects, and uses the brush to symbolize the sentiments. In this he is at times a little literary. . . . Pavel Jerda-nowitsch is not satisfied to follow ordinary paths. He prefers to explore the heights and even, if necessary, to peer into the abysses. His spirit delights in intoxication, and he is a prey to the esthetic agonies which are not experienced without suffering.” ( Time Magazine )
Smith eventually revealed the hoax in 1927, and gave a lecture on declining standards of taste in the artistic community.A Chicago gallery owner displayed the paintings in 1928, and later called the show “the most widely noticed exhibition I have ever heard of.”In that sense he missed the point. Art is an industry, and standards as he proved, were highly relative and subjective, fickle and capricious for a form of art that had already begun to die. Art is basically about speculation. The personal art dealing, private art collecting, and individual artist -enterprising of personalistic privateering art needs to keep producing to feed the vast array of actual and would be collectors, investors, dealers, auctioneers, experts, critics, art historians etc.
Smith’s dream of educating the masses to appreciate precious object sort of art is a false flag, designed to appeal to a handful of square eggheads. The brilliance of Smith was the content of the work being the strategy employed to ensure that there is no content other than the strategy. Smith, who, depending on one’s point of view of such work, had either reduced art to a pure form, or an idiotic one. Or, Smith made a statement in the belief that the traditional form of art, like paintings and works of sculpture, had reached a dead end; Smith, as a former theologian believing paintings had become the holy objects of some oppressive and humorless religion. A religion, too, in which the artist has been exploited including by those merely file through museums to gaze with hushed awe at the works on the wall. In fact, Smith gest, was a form of conceptual art, a kind of anarchist projection onto the art world.
But, Smith was right in spoofing the abstract and surrealist styles of Picasso and Braque who were the rage at the time. The problem has always been to express in paint the sensation of motion as a substitute for real motion without bypassing the two dimensional limitations of a canvas. An erzatz real motion, in somewhat the same way as Picasso , realizing the futility of painting imitation wood and newspapers in his still lives, stuck pieces of wood-patterned wallpaper and scraps of newspaper onto their canvases, and so pioneered what have become the elaborate arets of collage and constructivism. The desire for motion in art, cannot be parked on a canvas indefinitely.
What would Smith have thought of environmental art, or the development of moving sculptures, from the first mobiles of Alexander Calder 75 years ago, the Art Happenings of Allan Krapow, the electrically operated mobile sculptres of Pol Bury, the gravity defying objects of the Greek sculptor Takis, all only 20-35 years after Smith’s hoax. Smith attacked the convention-ridden realm of consensual reality , and is thus a form of conceptual artist himself. As artist Les Levine once stated, ”so what if its stupid, at least its something”.