Compared to other artists of a similar age, Charles Ray has made very few pieces—only a single sculpture every two years or so. It used to be that no one talked about him. Now everybody does. He’s the guy you mention to your hipster friends. Jeff Koons? Pfft. I’m over it. Charles Ray is much cooler.
Don’t know him? He’s the one who started all that controversy with his statue of Huckleberry Finn and Nigger Jim. MoMA didn’t want it standing in their courtyard because they felt it might frighten parents and families. Both Jim and Huck are naked. The older man reaches out, seemingly to caress the boy’s shoulder. It’s a psychologically charged moment. Ray is plunging headfirst into a sweaty world of race and homoeroticism.
Charles Ray began making a name for himself during the nineties. Neo-Geo was a phrase that got thrown around a lot back then. Not a genre, so to speak, but a catch-all for the kind of postmodern art that was le dernier cri in the big apple. In the halcyon days of MTV and Artforum, being a contemporary artist was a lot like being a rock star. In fact, painters and sculptors chummed around with rock stars all the time. Sometimes the artists even behaved like rock stars and the rock stars commonly mistook themselves for artists (take Tracey Emin and David Bowie, for example). The unspoken rules of postmodernism were as follows: whatever sticks, works. No pussyfooting around the last fifty years of modern art theory, gingerly kissing eggshells. As long as it felt fresh, and surprising, it was valid. […]