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Winter 2004
Off the Wall
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Baseman may have chutzpah but he doesn’t always get his way. For his first New York Times Book Review assignment, he drew a cartoony interpretation of a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s "The Garden of Earthly Delights," one of his favorite paintings. The detail was a flower protruding from a man’s rear end.

"What’s that?" Heller barked. "That’s from a Bosch painting," Baseman responded. "That’s fine art." Heller was not impressed: "When Bosch does it, it’s fine art. When you do it, it’s a flower sticking out of a guy’s butt. Take it out."

Typically, critics and journalists name art movements. Monet didn’t identify himself as an Impressionist; the name has its origins in a derisive comment from a French journalist. It is testament to Baseman’s marketing savvy and the tight rein he keeps over his own work that he acted preemptively to name the pervasive-art movement himself. The movement, which also embraces the work of the Los Angeles artists Mark Ryden, Tim Biskup, Rob and Christian Clayton, and Camille Rose Garcia, is beginning to get talked about in the press, but Baseman concedes it has yet to gain wide attention.

He defines pervasive art as art that has a cohesive style and message but which crosses traditional boundaries between the worlds of fine art and commerce. In Baseman’s view, art doesn’t need to hang in a gallery to be Art with a capital "a." Baseman is as comfortable creating an oil painting for a gallery show as he is producing a TV cartoon or designing a toy that will sit on a store shelf — though he prefers that the store be Barney’s rather than Wal-Mart. "I like the idea of commerce, as long as you keep the quality high," he says.

Not everyone in the art world agrees with Baseman’s genre-bending notion of art. A lot of what Baseman creates, says the arts writer Susan Freudenheim, a former Los Angeles Times arts editor, "is about using the art form to tell stories or to create a game or have fun, and that’s completely legitimate. It’s just not what I think of as fine art."


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