Top 10 Most Overrated Avant-Garde Artists

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From literature to architecture, experimental music to painting, these ten creatives can be summed up in the words of Sir Paul McCartney:

"Avant garde a clue."


Just because an artist’s identity is unverifiable doesn’t make him “underground” or “good.” But somehow, the English street artist and his cloaked persona have become a fawning machine – Time named Banksy one of the world’s 100 most influential folks in 2010 – and scorn from Banksy fanatics if an ill word is said about his art that so many consider left of the left of field.

Thing is, the stuff isn’t that edgy. And his curated pop-up shows, such as the short-lived Dismaland, are just meh.

Miranda July

Depending on where you were living in 2005, there was weird, hard-to-pinpoint hype about Miranda July in the form of abstract flyers at record shops and bookstores. What was Me and You and Everyone We Know? And who was Miranda July? Was this some sort of performance art bit or what?

Turns out, Me and You was an oddball indie film – directed and written by and starring July – featuring unforgettable scenes and brilliant performances by children. The weakest part of the film? Miranda July.

Her lack of command as an actress nearly spoils the movie. But that didn’t stop the hipster bandwagon from caravanning down the road. Soon, July – a weak-sauced version of Lisa Suckdog Carver, in our opinion – seemed to be everywhere, including a published book of short stories and an appearance in the debut issue of the DVD magazine Wholphin.

She ended up making a follow-up feature-length movie, a crazy hyped offering called The Future. We made it through 15 minutes of the film. It was some of the most painful 15 minutes of “art” we’ve ever sighed through.

C Spencer Yeh

The Brooklyn-based sound artist, who performs under the name Burning Star Core, is a sound artist who loops and manipulates (often with the most overused and clichéd avant-garde noise pedal, the green boxed Line 6 DL4) spit sounds and tongue slurps and then plays repetitive and strained violin on top of the so-called musique concrète.

These extended techniques aren’t extraordinary, original or even that interesting in experimental music. Yeh’s non-narrative execution of said techniques is often a jumbled mess pile.

Somehow, the dude, who’s also a visual artist, lands prestigious gigs (such as a solo performance at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in March 2014 and numerous gigs at MoMA PS1) and has collaborated with people who can actually play (and, thus, make C Spencer Yeh tolerable), such as Evan Parker, Thurston Moore and John Wiese.

Andy Warhol (for his films)

Nearly everyone knows Andy Warhol’s pop art renditions of soup cans. The more underground Warhol fare is contained in his film works. Or at least that’s what some people try to claim when trying to sound cool and “art hip.”

John and Dominique de Menil once commissioned Warhol to shoot a series of religious films for the 1968 San Antonio HemisFair. The artist largely ditched the project after realizing that the films were, well, just not that good.

One of Warhol’s ditched ideas, Sunset, is currently showing at The Menil Collection. It’s not to say that the artwork is sophomoric or unworthy of gallery recognition – it's worthy – but for this film and many of Warhol’s motion pictures, the interest is only for the hardcore fans who are dying to see everything in his back catalog.

Julio Cortázar

If you claim to have read Hopscotch from beginning to end, make that same declaration while taking a polygraph test.

Published in Spanish in 1963 and in English in 1966, the Argentine writer’s crowning achievement is a non-linear mishmash of a vague “table of instructions” and “expendable” characters who basically only sit around and drink wine. The stream-of-consciousness novel has since been lauded as tops.

So again, have you even made it through more than three chapters of the 155-chapter novel?

Diamanda Galás

The soprano, composer, performance artist and painter is known for her primal howls and a machine-gun barrage of unleashed screams in her songs.

It sounds familiar. Too familiar.

For the real deal (read: the artists Galás seemed to try to directly copycat), instead check out Patty Waters’s cover of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” as well as the album College Tour; Linda Sharrock on Sonny Sharrock’s records Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo; and Abbey Lincoln’s delivery on the song “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace” on We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.

Joel-Peter Witkin

We’ve tagged the macabre photographer as overrated before. And we’re going to do it again.

The appeal of Witkin’s grim imagery is the shock value — pre-determined scenes of dismembered corpses and physically deformed people in religious-like constructions.

It was neat-o, we guess, in 1985, but now it’s whatever. We get it. We’ve gotten it. For a very, very long time.

Frank Gehry

The Los Angeles-based architect blue/fingerprints all over the world, ranging from the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (Spain) to the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, which critics say is a carbon copy of the aforementioned Guggenheim.

The esteemed architect, often referred derisively as a starchitect, is often blasted for wasting resources on largely function-less designs that are more about his “brand” than the designed space.

Agnes Martin

The minimalist painter and her oversized canvasses of abstract shapes, often painted in eggshell colors, blew up when minimalism was all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.

Martin is kind of like the Giuseppi Logan (a free jazz reedist who can't really play at all) of minimalism, a heralded artist who didn’t really have the chops compared to her contemporaries but managed to get lumped in with the bona fides.

Mike Patton

When’s the last time you listened to a Mr. Bungle album? If it has been two, five, ten years, put on the self-titled debut, Disco Volante or California.

Didn’t age well, right?

Patton, most known as the lead singer of Faith No More, for his brief membership in The Dillinger Escape Plan and as the lead spazoid of Fantômas, is lauded as a genre-defying vocalist. But, to us, the Tasmanian Devil noises that seemed cute at the time weren’t really adorable at all.

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