George Kuchar: Jersey Devil
George Kuchar: Jersey Devil

George Kuchar

If you haven't heard of George (and Mike) Kuchar, which is a possibility even for the intelligent and well-informed, indeed, even for the fairly hip, you might first want to take a look at the collection of URLs below, especially the Wikipedia article and the obituary.

The Kuchars are yet another interesting case of people who had tremendous importance at the beginning of a movement or artistic school and then seemed to disappear while others, not very different in their early accomplishments, went on the great fame. People who were influenced and inspired by Kuchar's early work included Andy Warhol and John Waters. The Kuchars never achieved much fame outside the small realm of New York City avant-garde movies, and wound up moving to California when George was laid off from a modest commercial art job. Fortunately he was able to get employment at the San Francisco Art Institute where, from the 1970s on, he could not only make movies but had a large number of enthusiastic students to draw on as actors, extras and technicians.

George was not only a prodigiously productive maker of movies, he also painted (see above) and drew comics in a style reminiscent of (and on a par with) such luminaries of the Underground as Robert Crumb. MoMA PS1 has hung a number of these works, too, so you can examine them in the flesh.

Generally, I think the Kuchar brothers' work has been taken as camp, that is, satirical parody, perhaps unconsciously such, of pop culture taken ironically. This attitude is, of course, often doubly ironic: the artist actually loves the artifacts and styles of popular culture, but feels a need to get a license to pay attention to them by a pretended, that is, ironic irony. I have my doubts whether the Kuchars fell into this category. Rather, I think their love of popular culture was direct and fairly uncomplicated, although they certainly saw the humor of its many excesses and grotesqueries.

Also, I think the interpretation of the work as camp, or indeed as any sort of conceptual work, can miss something important about the Kuchars' work, and that is that the videos show a profound formalistic sensibility about moving images that cause these otherwise silly little movies to be alive, to 'sing', so to speak. In this they resemble a lot of Andy Warhol's painting, which was at once campy as to subject matter and superficial style, and yet formally beautiful or at least interesting outside of its references to popcult.

So go take advantage of this rare opportunity.... (Wikipedia article) (obit) (several film) (article about Kuchars) (picture) (bio)