When you are famous—not well-known, not popular, not beloved or respected, but famous—nothing you do matters more than who you are. Famousness, that state of being in which fame subsumes all the reasons you first attained it, is why certain movie stars remain movie stars long after they stop acting. It’s how certain rock stars remain rock stars with no hits. It’s why Courtney Love… exists.
Love is a battlefield. She permits no indifference. When she—with the rest of Hole—made great albums, the people who hated her still hated her; when she made not-great albums, the people who loved her (like me) still loved her. Now she is making art. Well, sort of. The works she has scrawled and dribbled and bled onto paper make no attempt to transcend her personhood, and you so will feel about them exactly as you do about her. This weekend, people who want to see art will go to Frieze. People who want to see Courtney Love will go to Fred Torres Gallery on West 29th St. under the High Line.
In 45 pieces done over the past year, Love gives, as Love does, the impression of baring it all. She has drawn many of the (white, blonde, beautiful) women of her acquaintance in various states of undress and disrepair. One is apparently Gwyneth Paltrow. Another is Dasha Zhukova, the Russian art and fashion magnate. Another is titled Amy. Sacco, maybe? It doesn’t matter. With their butchered-doll hair and lipsticked mouths and tar-lashed, baleful eyes, they are all Courtney.
The drawings owe a massive debt to Tracey Emin, which won’t surprise anyone who listened to “Samantha.” In the style made infamous by Emin, Love scratches confessions, like stick-and-poke tattoos, over her portraits: “what have I become, my sweetest friend, everyone I love, goes away in the end.” If that’s not nuanced enough for you, try, “then she jumped into the Hudson River even though she knew it was pointless.” The leitmotif is heavy shit. There is constant loss, and worse, at least for the famous, rejection. But these themes are treated with a hand both heavy and trembling, in a way that suggests Love is teenaged of heart: keenly sensitive to how everybody hurts her, oblivious to how she hurts others. “The Glamorous World of Courtney,” reads one presumable self-portrait. She’s holding a hand to her face, and her forearm has been slashed with—I am making a great interpretative leap—the knife she holds in her other hand. The tragic irony is meretricious to the point of comedy, and like, who cuts herself on the outside of her arm? But those eyes, drawn huge and horrified, stop you from laughing.
Then there are two pieces involving what might have been somebody’s wedding dress, now embroidered and spray-painted, respectively, with scarlet letters spelling curses. These things are technically so amateur they make the drawings look like Twomblys, and when I look at them I can hear a thousand art students thinking with me: “if these didn’t have Courtney Love’s name on them, they wouldn’t be in a gallery.” That’s probably true. It’s also super-reductive. Whether or not you think it should, Courtney Love’s name on something does make it art, insomuch as an artist’s practice is inextricable from the performance of his or her life. I don’t want to see some third-year SVA student collaging about her heartbreaks. I want to see Courtney Love doing it, because when I read the words—“not my cunt on my dime mister”—I can hear them in her gorgeous bloody yowl. And I believe them, I do. Love still looks like a poor little rich girl, but she’s not exploiting mere vicissitudes; her pain’s a realer pain than I’d wish on my worst ex.
If the works are not about fucking and being fucked over, they are about fame and its price. “I’m going to Hollywood I’m gonna make it big” reads the red text below some sleeping beauty with a devil inside. (I know he is a devil because he is also red and has a pitchfork symbol. It’s possible she has nightmares about Pitchfork.com, but I’m going to go with devil.) “She had 42 Birkin bags,” says another. The appearance of the girl in it suggests that 42 Birkin bags do not make anyone happy. “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” says yet another, and then, below the portrait, “Don’t you know who I am.”
There is no question mark.
And She’s Not Even Pretty opens today and runs through June 15.