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ajardini's picture

Sr. Editor

Robert Arneson is one chill dude. You can tell by this 1982 self-portrait. 

Sweet denim jacket? Check. Killer shades?  Check. This guy is ready to party! The laidback attitude of this groovy piece is all in his crossed arms and “I don’t care” smirk.  Not to mention the cracked pedestal covered in weed plants, empty beer bottles and cigarette butts.  You can easily imagine Arneson beachside, knocking back a few in the bright California sun.

While all this may seem like a fun, kitschy portrayal of the West coast vibe, the sculpture is actually a good ol’ fashioned comeback to some institutional criticism.  Famous art critic Hilton Kramer gave a scathing review of one of Arneson’s shows, saying that he thought it proved California art is “provincial.”  In fact, he said this piece represents the "impoverished sensibility of the provincial cultural life of California." Ouch! We take offense!

Obviously, Kramer’s comments were no sweat off the artist’s Levi’s-clad back. As a witty response to these assumptions, Arneson pokes fun at the hippy-dippy stereotype.  He even goes so far as to make his glasses hollow portals into an empty head, playing up the character of the airhead idealist who apparently runs rampant on reefer in the Golden State.  How’s that for sassy?     

It’s clear that the rascal artist is unworried by the musings of a conservative old crank like Kramer. And why would he be, when he’s having so much fun?