Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When the Art World kills You: Some thoughts on Dash Snow

When the Art World kills You: Some thoughts on Dash Snow

I had an interesting conversation recently about the idea of artists creating a persona in order to advance themselves as far as public interest is concerned. During the debate it was suggested that gallery owners and curators help to establish-- or focus upon-- specific traits that will warrant press and all the fame that comes with it-- and that perhaps artists get trapped in that persona. The artist Dash Snow-- who died in 2009 at the age of 27-- instantly came to mind. It forced me to wonder if aspects of the gritty side of the mainstream art world played a role in Snow’s death.

It is obvious that the general public is just as much interested in how an artist behaves-- if not more so-- than in the artwork itself. Personality can be a selling point if it sparks interest. In fact, it is not uncommon for stories about artists to become viral hits if the story involves details about the personality-- legitimate or constructed-- of the artist. For example, you may have never viewed the late Dash Snow’s photography-- but chances are you know that he was a drug addict who was apt to act like a hamster when high.

Those who promoted Dash Snow’s exhibits, along with his friends Ryan McGinley and Dan Colen, helped to perpetuate the persona-- the drug infused selling point-- of Dash Snow. By doing so this form of hype-- this fostering of a myth-- no doubt played a role in perpetuating Snow’s drug addiction. After all, when drugs become your identity-- what more do you have?

Dash Snow obviously felt some form of gratification from being in the spotlight of art world buzz or else he would have refused to exhibit at prestigious galleries. Perhaps the attention was positive for his self-esteem. Unfortunately, that gratification relied on addiction-- and those surrounding his career were quick to embrace it. They used it as a selling point for his art and as a means of sparking interest.

By focusing on Dash Snow’s vice powerful individuals in the mainstream art world, such as Jeffrey Deitch and Charles Saatchi, empowered Snow’s addictions rather than helping him to help himself. One could suggest that those behind the market for his work wanted Snow to be a walking mess-- it was profitable. Due to that it is easy to see how Dash Snow could have very well been trapped by the persona associated with his artwork. One could suggest that he was caught up by the hype surrounding him.

I realize that some people may be insulted by my viewpoint-- especially those who were close to Snow. However, if my suggestions are far-fetched is it so far-fetched to suggest that perhaps they should not have shown his work or collaborated with him until he was clean? Would it have been a horrible thing if his work reflected on his past without direct involvement with drug use-- and without promoting him as the drug infused bastard son of wealth? It is hard to say-- perhaps he would have still been creating today had that persona not been perpetuated as it was.

Thinking of Dash Snow makes me wonder how often artists get caught up in their persona-- the image they have fostered for themselves (or had forced upon them) in the media spotlight. The image they try to focus on because that is what the public has come to expect. Even in death Snow was a prisoner of the hype surrounding him. In fact, many thought that Dash Snow’s death was a hoax-- or a well-scripted publicity stunt spurred in advance of an upcoming exhibit-- until his grandmother, philanthropist and art collector Christophe de Menil, confirmed that Snow had indeed succumbed to his addictions by means of a drug overdose.

It leaves one to ask-- did Dash Snow’s addiction to drugs kill him or does the murder of creativity come in the form of the addiction he had to mainstream art world hype and those who herded him around as if he was Andy Warhol’s second coming. Who is to blame? Many point out Snow’s troubled past-- which is a convenient target for those who want an excuse for not displaying the responsibility they should have had while Snow was still alive. Snow needed a strong focus on rehabilitation and firm support-- not exhibit openings and media bombardments that praised his destruction.

While researching Snow’s death I spotted a comment-- which stated, “he was not only a brilliant artist but a drug addict as well. Here we have the Basquiat of our times!”. I don’t think the commenter realized the irony of what he said-- the fact that the hype surrounding Dash Snow has come full circle in that his natural creativity and the outside influence of drug addiction are meshed as one. Meshed as if equal in importance-- that is his legacy. The commenter was right in comparing Snow to Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both artists were victims hype.

I want to stress that I’m in no way speaking ill of the dead-- but I will speak ill of individuals who sit back while an artist destroys himself for their profit or investment. Furthermore, I’m not in the market of praising someone for his or her drug addictions. I say that because many writers were apt to mention Snow‘s drug addiction as if it were some twisted medium used in his artistic process-- something to be strangely admired or praised. Something we normally would not condone-- yet art writers, curators, art collectors, and gallery owners did. Snow was obviously hurting inside-- yet people praised the physical form of his torture as if it were an important aspect of his identity and a necessity for his art.

In my eyes Dash Snow is the prince of the mainstream art worlds under-belly-- the cruel side of the high profile aspects of the global art market, the recklessness of curators and gallery owners in regards to how they sometimes treat artists, and the vice of millionaire art collectors like Charles Saatchi. I have no doubt that some of those individuals now rub their hands together thinking of their investment. They have their martyr now-- their prince sits upon his thrown-- I hope that they can live with it and the Secret he left behind.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. I'm glad someone finally said it! I've had to bite my tongue for over a year reading all the tearful tributes to Dash. Deitch and all those other jerks got exactly what they wanted out of the man!!! They SHOULD be held responsible!!! Everyone knew what his art was taking out of him and when he dropped off the face of the earth into rehab people didn't care. They only cared when he died because they can once again talk about how screwed up he was. Mary Boone, Paddy Johnson, and a horde of others who praised his addictive personality by praising his art have all commented on how he looked healthy leading up to his death. Those vultures never once suggested that Dash should have got healthy while he was still alive!!!!!!!!!!!! Boone pisses me off the most because Dash is not the first time she sat back while an artist destroyed himself.

  2. In response to the hostile comment that I decided not to allow-- if I'm such an "idiot" and don't know "what I'm talking about" why can you only come up with vomit for a response? Your tone suggests that you know that I'm right.

    First Anon, I don't think it is fair to include Paddy Johnson in the list. As for the people that I mentioned-- I do think that people representing artists should take some responsibility if they know there is a problem that could risk an artists life. I'm not suggesting that gallery owners should hold their hands-- but the issue should be dealt with in some manner.

  3. I guess a manager is just a paid enabler.