September 25, 2014

Miley Cyrus and Her Enigmatic Mask of Teddy Bears


Photo: Chris Cobb

As surely as the sun rises every morning, there was a kind of cosmic certainty that one day Miley Cyrus would start making art. Her show in the lobby of V MAgazine in Soho show made the New York art world pause for a minute, like it did for Jay Z and James Franco before her, and then it moved on.

And yet, after seeing her exhibition of tween trinkets glued onto various mannequin heads, there’s a ringing in my ears that just won’t go away. It’s like I stood too close to a loudspeaker in a club and all my senses got thrown out of whack. It was in that confused state I unconsciously gravitated to her mask covered in tiny teddy bears. It was a metaphor for every fake smile she flashes at the cameras that follow her everywhere.

“Yes, o.k.,” you might ask, “but is it art?”

Well, I am not sure. That’s the best I can do. Looking at the show, which was squeezed into a 15 foot x  10 foot space, I got the sense that  her whole persona is just the product of a clever marketing campaign. Here she is projecting a sex-positive image that radiates “young”, “free” and “independent” as if those are the keywords representing the market segments she’s trying to capture. Again, one might ask: “Is this what passes for art these days?” I still can’t say.

I do know, however, that as the head of a $350 million marketing empire, it’s more likely she has a committee ruminating over what her party girl persona should wear, how she should act, and what kind of art this figment of the imagination would make, if she made art, if she was real. And here was the committee’s decision – an obnoxious incursion into the art world.

That said, the teddy bear mask was the breakthrough piece for me. Her other stuff I could live without, but this was  self-referential enough to qualify as autobiography. Standing there face to face with it, I had the feeling that there might be a warehouse full of this stuff somewhere, ready to sell. I imagined a sweatshop of low-paid workers assembling her vulgar charm bracelets. I imagined future controversies over authorship and whether a charm bracelet without the proper provenance could be called an original work or not. I imagined the wrinkles in the foreheads of the auctioneers at Southeby’s.

To put the cherry on the sundae, on top of the icing on the cake, on top of the raspberry and fudge layers, among the bracelets, the clichés, and the dirty words: a meaningless, glitter-covered fortune cookie message that read: “You stand in your own light. Make it shine.”

If you follow her on Instagram, as I do (btw she has 12,891,975 followers), it looks like she’s partying harder than Jimmi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse combined. There is just too much to say about all this, so instead of trying to figure this out all by myself, I asked some art professionals their thoughts about Miley and her art.


Photo: Chris Cobb

Maurizzio Hector Pineda, curator and art administrator:

On Miley Cyrus and her “art”: Miley has been in the spotlight all of her life and now she is acting out in front of all of us while sticking her tongue out at us and rolling straight to the bank. When I first read her interview about her “Gluing Shit on Shit” practice, I rolled my eyes. I thought—perfect—this millionaire American celebrity gets to sit around smoking weed and going to town with a hot glue gun. I can only imagine her freaking out that she is running low on glue and shit to glue together, while rolling a joint. Maybe Miley visited the Ecstasy: In And About Altered States exhibition at MOCA  in 2005, she would have been 12 years old at the time. Hmmm…her sculptures do look like a 12 year old made them, but sadly they were made by a 21 year old. She admits that her practice is drug-induced and they sure do remind me of the RAVE era of the nineties. Please do not let her get her hands on a stick of Fimo. I have not seen her “sculptures” first hand so I cannot critique her craft. What I can critique though are the adults that have allowed her to become the young adult that she is now.

Dale Hoyt, artist

My first thought, Chris, at the first rumblings that she had commenced her “practice” was that is was just the James-Franco-fication of culture. But I think everything that stumblebum does is charmless and butt-ugly, while these are rather lush and appealing. The late Baird Jones would be snatching (pardon the expression) these up, I imagine, as fast as he did the works of Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Elke Sommer, Red Skelton, et al.

I have a limited appetite for artist’s opinions of themselves anyway, so I could do without the discourse. However, her work doesn’t seem, oddly enough, to be coming from any sense of entitlement or cynicism. I’m not tempted to say that this is what everybody else does and that it is, in fact, some subtle x-ray and she’s in on the joke. I see real joy here and some great color schemes. Better than your average sacrificial virgin.


Photo: Chris Cobb

Kal Spelletich, artist

In a way, N.Y. and Miley are made for each other. A show in N.Y. is everything and nothing. Every artist’s dream. Vegas would have worked as well, but it wouldn’t be as big of a jab in the eye of the stodgy art world from there.

It appears our society is obsessed with the antics of teenagers. I am not very familiar with her work, so I watched a video, what appears to be post-Madonna slut party (with major theft from Queer Camp). Or just post-adolescence being played out and manipulated by the suits of L.A.

Kristin Farr, artist and writer

My personal mission is to encourage people to explore their creative sides, and to try making art even if they feel like they can’t or shouldn’t, because it’s therapeutic. So, if I’m true to my own philosophy, I can’t judge Miley Cyrus for her shiny, new, plastic art that she glued together while she was high,  using drug paraphernalia and colorful plastic kitsch as her source material. She found a way to express herself and her brand new, drug-positive, raunchy personality through visual art, and the fact that she got a gallery show (and a fashion show) immediately only speaks to the fact that she’s famous. Other Hollywood stars such as James Franco and Shia LeBeouf have also been given gallery shows before they might’ve “earned” it, simply based on their celebrity status. Galleries need all the press they can get, so who can blame a gallery for showing a celebrity’s work?  When I see Hannah Montana and Jeffrey Deitch posing for the paparazzi, looking like two flashy peas in a pod, I don’t think “What has become of the art world??” I think, “Typical.” Everyone knows that the art world at large is an overcommercialized shit show these days, and Miley getting a gallery show is a natural next step.

Sabina Ott, artist


Photo: Chris Cobb

Okay, so the proverbial pussy is out of the bag – it was Miley and Me – I made Miley Cyrus’s artworks. Yes, it’s true. Miley and I go way back. When I made this body of work, well, she just thought it was real hot the way it transformed both everyday and precious materials into poignant meditations on themes including desire fetish and pleasure, taking absurd common objects that lend themselves to formal and poetic recreation. In fact, when she came to the studio she told me all about Lacan’s opposition between jouissance and the pleasure principle.  She explained to me that Lacan considered that “there is a jouissance beyond the pleasure principle” linked to the partial drive; a jouissance which compels the subject to constantly attempt to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle.

So I said, Miley, since you understand the work so well, why don’t we say that you made it. After all, I am just a middle-aged woman and no one pays attention to me*—but if you were the artist, everyone would love the stuff—cause you are a beautiful, bouncing ball of sexual signifiers and folks would pay attention. It would be a great experiment. You can title the pieces yourself and describe it as you like—let’s see if it gets any traction.  Well, Miley thought this was a great idea and that it would save her from being a just a pop-pop dumb dumb.  And so it has.

*right,  Siri Husvedt?

Melissa Pokorny, artist

In general I think she is sort of obnoxiously adorable. But I have a 15 year old daughter, so I am a little biased. As for a larger meaning? Just another symptom of the overly saturated, overly fast historical moment we live in. Her every move is instantly accessible, so why not exploit that? The stoner chick loopiness is too silly to get overly critical about. As she says, she glues shit to shit. It’s one of the shortest and most honest “artist statements” I’ve heard in a long time.

Jessica Wallen, curator and writer

I saw the work. I was skeptical, but honestly I came to it with an open mind. I was surprised to find that it did not offend my sensibilities. Alas, there are several conversations to be had. We could talk about the state of the art market, the trend of celebrity “instant artists”, or the rise of social media as the foundation and fodder for an artist’s career. What I am most concerned about in this instance is substance. Substance versus creativity as an outlet. Can we wholeheartedly write someone off who wants to make art or express something (anything) in this age? If one has the motivation to produce work, what criteria exists that can measure it as art or less than? I heard a gallery attendant say that he was impressed with Ms. Cyrus’s meticulous glue gun skills, and that she was more hands-on than Jeff Koons. In this light, I feel like we can cut [her] some slack, if a balance is met. In the season of charity challenges, I challenge Miley Cyrus to put her money where her mouth is. If she truly wants to distinguish herself as something other than a “pop pop dum dum”, she should continue to make work with good intentions, focus on real, positive impact and send the body off to auction. Donate the proceeds to art programs for underserved youth, I say.

Matthew L. Weiss, filmmaker and editor

Hmm, Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hanna Montana, has an art exhibit? Well, it might turn out that she is a visual art genius but the huge level of PR noise around such a spectacle makes it impossible for me to care enough to investigate. Is this her true calling, or is she more of a sexy press event for whatever gallery has the luck and/or publicity instincts to host her work? The answer is: who cares! I simply cannot be bothered to do much more than click on a few images a friend sent me about this event. The amount of self-aggrandizing culture news that is sprayed from every corner of the internet makes living my own life free of the hypnotic suggestion of any number of trending issues/people/events next to impossible, and to me this girl who’s become famous for being a sexualized teenager (itself a cliche) is just another fake-important event designed to do god-knows-what for god-knows-who, and it just lowers the signal-to-noise ratio to an unbearable level. Unfortunately, it makes me think that if the art world can deem this person’s work valuable enough to show with a straight face (someone please tell me the face isn’t straight) it makes me doubt the value of whatever else is being shown this week. Maybe she’s a sculptural genius – but there’s just so much other art, music, film and culture that I’ve yet to explore that I can’t see her show being worth the time.

Ricardo Rivera, artist


Photo: Chris Cobb

Being an artist is like a sport. As the stupid NIKE advert states, “Just do it.” She is doing it, but she is oblivious to why, and I like this. Except that, like you, I think she is being controlled by others, and would like to just see her make work without being told what to do. I would like to see her use her  objects in her music videos, making them while high as fuck, and responding to how she got these materials.  I would agree with you that she is not real, but a carefully formed simulation of what some minders tell her to do (which makes me think of Edward Bernays and the creation of public relations).

Dewey Crumpler once said in a round table discussion “the more artists there are the better for our world” and then followed by something to the effect of “Why are we arguing about this?”  On the question whether Cyrus’s work is good or bad art. Hmmm.

Tonight, during my conversation with other residence artist, curators, and historians here at the Villa Ruffieux, I did not ask if they liked or were familiar with Miley Cyrus’s work, or even mentioned her. But, a question posed by another participant was, “What were/was the last memorable exhibition(s) you have seen, and why?”

The consensus was that when we are confronted by art work—whether in a gallery, museum, or public space—the question posed to oneself is, “What am I looking at?” Self-imposed inquiry was necessary. I do not get this from Cyrus’s work.

 When I saw her work, I thought visual and formal. If she was a student in my three dimensional design course, she would earn an “A” grade and it might help her get into RISD. It looks like Art, is composed well, and has some intense colors that look inviting inside a white cube. The work is held together formally by repetition, pattern, unity and other principles of design that we can point out objectively. But the question is, why and how does it relate to her profession contextually, or as an individual entity? Subjectively, it just falls into the great landscape of the expected. I think to myself “AHA!, ART.” But, as Sam Tchakalian pounded into my brain, “Fuck ART.”

I don’t think that if “I just sit around and smoke weed” (somewhere this was a quoted and  attributed to her) with no knowledge of formal composition, design, and abstraction that I would create something as orderly as she has. If I was high, I would create scatterbrained “shit.” But her work is not scattered, but orderly. Her work is not shit (formally), but lacks depth. I don’t get a visceral response from it, or wish to inquire further than “ahh… Art”.  She might as well be making paintings of happy sunsets or bricolage with some crafty stuff you buy at Hobby Lobby (shit her fans throw at her while performing in concert), because Hobby Lobby or an art store is where one goes if you make ART. From what I read and the link you posted, my belief is that she seems unhappy, wanting attention  and validation (other than from TMZ). There is a need for approval from others. When one is an artist, you don’t give a fuck what others think. She fits this description when making Pop music. The art however sucks, and relies on tested design methods of organization. The work looks like art so it must be ART.

Mark Warmus, photographer and managing owner of Z-Cioccolato, a North Beach candy store

Such niche market art for the MTV crowd has never been something I put any energy thinking about. Any art is going to be aided by wealth and fame but I doubt it will last longer than post-graffiti. The craft of thought is severely lacking.


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