Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kitsch, kitsch: Adventures in Heidi-reality III

Heidi Montag, Heidi Montag (2010)
Like Luke Skywalker feeling homesick for the twin suns of Tatooine, I have remained drawn to Heidi Montag's augmented breasts.

I have written about them before, in earlier installments that discussed them in relation to hyper-reality.  That is a name, coined by Umberto Eco, for the result of the modern desire to have art and technology improve on reality.  The effort to make representations as realistic as possible quickly led to the desire to make them more than real.  Ironically, the way to do out-real the real is to produce the fake.  The hyper-real.

Heidi Montag's efforts to make herself an example of the perfect female body led her to multiple plastic surgeries on various parts of her body, including that part that is perhaps most iconic of femininity: the breast.  If G-cups can't put the hyper in hyper-reality, I don't know what can.

But I am fascinated with the entire array of alterations she experienced, not just the Gs.  I think of her experiment with these surgeries (she has since had her breasts reduced) as performance art.  She was like a living, breathing Jeff Koons statue.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Jeff Koons (1988)
If Koons can earn fame and fortune with  gleaming porcelain replicas of a celebrity, why can't Montag be a glittering porcelain celebrity? 

As I investigated some of the things written about Koons's work, I found some descriptions of his items that could refer to Montag.

His Michael Jackson statue was part of a series of pieces called Banality in 1988.  The porcelain pieces ranged in size from small to life-sized, and they seemed to celebrate (but also ridicule) kitsch -- like Hummel figurines with an ironic sense of humor and a great deal of worth in the art market. 

Heidi Odalisque (2010)
Arthur Coleman Danto, in his book titled Unnatural Wonders, described them as "commonplace kinds of objects re-imagined as surrealistic presences."

Isn't that what Montag had transformed herself into?  A surrealistic presence?  At least for awhile, didn't she turn her breasts into unnatural wonders?

Many art critics were not fans of Koons's work.  They dismissed the pieces as shallow contrivances more clever than expressive, more glib than insightful.  But Danto said they didn't see the works in the right light.  He said the Koons show needed to be understood not only in light of kitschy culture objects, such as Hummel figurines, but also in the tradition of the porcelain statues of Jesus found in European churches.

"People would pray to it and leave little notes expressing gratitude when their prayers were answered," Danto wrote.  "Celebrities are the products of contemporary adoration, fans form entire companies of worshipers."

In this sense, we can think of Montag's self-sculpting as a tribute to her own celebrity-hood.  But since she had earned more notoriety than "contemporary adoration," we can think of her self-sculpting as a tribute to her pursuit of that adoration rather than a sign of it.  Her efforts were part of her pursuit to make permanent the fleeting fame produced by her appearances in The Hills.

And in that way she was, however briefly, a fitting representation of the desperate hunt for attention made possible and then put on display through reality television.

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