Is There Anything Mr and Mrs Doodle Can’t Do? Is the Guy Who Stole $84K as Art a Hero? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News
Plus, remember that time the Met turned away Brian De Palma?
Curiosities is a column where I comment on the art news of the week, sometimes about stories that were too small or strange to make the cut, sometimes just giving my thoughts on the highs and lows.
Below, some questions posed by the events of the last week…
1) Is This The Great Art Romance of Our Time?
England has a new It art couple: Mr and Mrs Doodle.
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You’ll likely already know the name Mr Doodle (no period, please) if you’ve been paying attention. In what may or may not be a backhanded compliment to the millennial generation, he’s been described as the voice of the millennial generation.
If you haven’t been paying attention, let me explain Mr Doodle like this: The 27-year-old British illustration artist is something like a perfect synthesis of 1980s street art star Keith Haring and ’90s prop comedian Carrot Top. (He himself says that his art is like Keith Haring without any of the buzz-killing social engagement).
Born Sam Cox in 1994, Doodle made a name for himself drawing dense patterns of black-and-white “graffiti spaghetti” over everything he could reach. Sometimes he is said to doodle on things for 15 hours a day. He’s amassed 2.7 million Instagram followers, which he has parlayed into doodling work for Fendi, Puma, and Samsung.
And then, last year, Mr Doodle entered a near vertical liftoff into art-market stardom, the likes of which has never been seen in “graffiti spaghetti” history.
As of April, Doodle is represented by Pearl Lam Galleries, which sees his cartoon style as appealing to the Asian market’s “figurine culture and obsession with cuteness.” He was last year’s fifth-biggest millennial artist at auction, selling millions of dollars’ worth of artworks like Guernidoodle, his doodle-based tribute to Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece.
As he told my colleague Tim Schneider of his success last year, “I think it’s good not just for me, but for all doodle artists around the globe, the fact that doodles can gather such high amounts at auction.”
Lest you think that his doodles are just meaningless… doodles, Cox has an elaborate mythology which involves such characters as the loyal Doodle Dog, the evil Anti-Doodle Squad with its Eraser Laser, and Mr Doodle’s diabolical twin, Dr Scribble.
The Doodle legendarium has also long featured a love interest for Mr Doodle as well, Mrs Doodle. And, as in the tale of Pygmalion, the character of Mrs. Doodle has become real. In August, Sam Cox married Alana Kutsenko, announcing their love to the world, as one tends to do, with a limited edition line of prints with steamy titles such as “Robot Kiss,” “Puppy Love,” and “Flower Warmth.” As he wrote on Instagram:
6 years ago when I created Mr Doodle, I also created @mrsdoodle. Back then she was just a figment of my imagination, an imaginary girlfriend who lived in DoodleWorld. Now I’ve finally met the real Mrs Doodle and today we got married. She brings colour into my black and white world, literally by colouring in all of my characters. I am excited to spend the rest of my life doodling and colouring with my wife.
After their fairytale wedding, the new minted Alana Cox fully assumed the Mrs Doodle identity. While Mr Doodle wears jumpsuits covered in his all-over black-and-white doodling, Mrs Doodle wears colorful doodle-patterned dresses and tights, and she works with him by treating his doodles like a coloring book.
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The newlyweds have been doodling nonstop since the wedding. They have been doodling so much, in fact, that they need more space to doodle in.
And so, the latest chapter in the Doodle fantasy came last week, when the architecture firm Hollaway Studio announced that it had won the contract to build out Sam’s Neo-Georgian abode in his native Tenterden, Kent, into a fantastical new Doodle workshop.
It will feature details like a “physical veil of doodles” that will be laser-cut into the metal siding of the studio. The grounds around the studio will even feature the “coming together of two rivers,” to symbolize their union.
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Perhaps my favorite detail of the planned Atelier Doodle is the hedge maze, which when viewed from the roof of the studio will resemble—you guessed it—a giant doodle. You will literally be able to get lost in Mr and Mrs Doodle’s universe.
The maze is a delightful touch, which could only possibly turn sinister if Mr Doodle’s evil twin Dr Scribble were ever to follow Mrs Doodle through the Vortex from DoodleWorld and into our own.
2) Can We Just Let the Artist Take the Money and Run, Please?
Look, if an AI designed the formula for the perfect art news story to catch the public’s eye, it would be “[ARTIST] makes [OUTRAGEOUS AMOUNT OF MONEY] for [VARIATION ON NOTHING].”
Thus, the big news of the past week has been about Danish provocateur Jens Haaning’s commission for “Work it Out” at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, an exhibition purportedly about the role of artists in the labor market. Basically, the museum lent Haaning $84,000 as raw material to recreate two conceptual artworks (originally done in 2007 and 2010) that were supposed to represent the annual incomes of a Dane and an Austrian in the form of a display of paper money.
Instead, Haaning gave the museum two blank canvases and kept the cash, calling this gesture Take the Money and Run.
The museum is playing along, sort of, but also insisting that Haaning will, in fact, have to give back the cash when the show closes in January, threatening legal action if he doesn’t.
But here’s the thing: The public is actually talking about an art show about labor in Aalborg, Denmark! This story was picked up around the world, not just by the Guardian and Artnet News, but by local TV stations everywhere.
I don’t know what the marketing budget of the Kunsten Museum is, but they might just think of the $84K as money well spent.
I understand that the museum may actually need its pile of cash back. But Haaning, luckily, has given them a perfect solution: two empty canvases and tons of viral publicity.
May I then suggest that the Kunsten Museum embrace the outside-the-box opportunity the artist has gifted them and just do what everyone else inevitably does in today’s work-for-exposure cultural economy: just sell the blank space for ads. Now we are really having a conversation about contemporary artists and labor!
3) Are We Beyond The Bonfire of the Vanities?
I’ve been listening to The Devil’s Candy podcast, based on Julie Salamon’s famous book about the making of Brian De Palma’s notorious Tom Hanks/Melanie Griffith/Bruce Willis bomb, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).
The film, of course, is based on the best-selling Tom Wolfe satire of the same name, which supposedly lampoons the venality and excess of New York society. However, once filming was under way, the city’s socialites became suddenly desperate to be cast in bit parts satirizing themselves. Their star turn would be a gala scene filmed in the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur, where they would be overheard saying such dialogue as, “I wonder if she’d like to chair the museum benefit next year” and “I always thought they were such a dull couple.”
Salamon relays how, after the Times covered the socialite auditions, none other than Joan Tisch sent a personal note to the producer asking to be cast. She ticked off the advantages of casting her, including that “You won’t need to get me a hotel, because I own one,” and the indelible “You wouldn’t even have to provide space at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as I have my own wing.”
Ironically, the bemused press accounts ended up scotching the scene. “The board of trustees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—they didn’t think it was so funny,” Salamon recounts in the podcast. “They got cold feet. They said, ‘You can’t film here.’”
Pretty much everything is relatable about the anecdote today—except for the Met overlords’ standoffishness about celebrity coverage. Whatever Bonfire was needling about money and media and art in the ’80s, we are way, way beyond it now.
4) Who Is the ‘Banks Violette of Credit Card Debt?’
Philly’s Fabric Workshop & Museum has just opened “Blood Moon,” a show by Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley.
The title video involves a pumpkin-headed character who fantasizes to life another pumpkin-headed companion (shades of Doodle!), who then eats her. Hard to explain; ghoulish to describe; fun to watch. Go to see it for a heady good time!
What I want to talk about, though, is the second video, called I’m Jackson Pollock. It is essentially a long soliloquy by a character clad as a businessman, bragging in rhyming, art-themed couplets about their evil doings. (He also periodically sprouts huge, pumpkin-shaped growths on his body, which accumulate as the video goes on.)
This litany of metaphorical boasts (“rhyming supernymics,” Mary Reid calls them) melds the news of the day with references to an extremely specific list of contemporary artists. But, well, I am the audience for that melding, and I enjoyed it. So I leave you with my 20 favorite villainous boasts from Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley’s I’m Jackson Pollock:
I’m the Banks Violette of credit card debt
I’m the Andrea Bowers of supertall towers
I’m the Shirin Neshat of megayachts
I’m the Bill T. Jones of free-trade zones
I’m the Nam June Paik of breaking a strike
I’m the Paul Thek of garnishing your check
I’m the Nan Goldin of buyin’ and holdin’
I’m the Thornton Dial of the Donziger trial
I’m the Steve McQueen of patenting this vaccine
I’m the Erwin Wurm of this VC firm
I’m the Damien Hirst of America First
I’m the Carrie Mae Weems of ponzi schemes
I’m the Joan Jonas of the year end bonus
I’m the Jesper Just of the housing bust
I’m the Donald Judd of young people’s blood
I’m the Michael Heizer of calling your supervisor
I’m the Marilyn Minter of nuclear winter
I’m the Genesis P-Orridge of freeport storage
I’m the Jasper Johns of looting this bronze
I’m the Keith Haring of not caring
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