Piers Morgan is surely the most provocative artist of our time. Marina Abramović can turn sitting in a chair into a MoMA installation; Banksy can shred up his own art at an auction, but Morgan is in a league of his own, constantly interrogating the nature of fame, desperation and hubris in his mixed media of tweets and Daily Mail columns. His latest work, unveiled on Tuesday and entitled "You’ve Hired Me Before, Mr President, So Hire Me Again. I’m the One Person Whose Reputation Can’t Be Tarnished By Becoming Your Chief of Staff and I’m Perfectly Qualified for the Job!" may be his most daring yet.
Like Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Ed Ruscha, Morgan uses text in his work, combining it with performance for a memorably bold commentary on modern culture. Earlier this year, it seemed he'd reached the apex of his craft in his tweeted work, "Good Afternoon Holy Father @Pontifex - I'm Very Disappointed the Vatican Approved Last Night's Catholic-mocking Met Gala. Please Read My Column to Understand Why." Playing the role of a man so enamored of his imagined spiritual and intellectual advancement that he'd confidently school the Pope himself about a Vatican-approved endeavor, the tweet was an instant, outrageous masterpiece for the 53-year-old. It called to mind Jeff Koons' seminal 1989 "Made in Heaven," in which Koons teamed up with Italian adult actress La Cicciolina to create a baroque collection of pornography as a provocative meditation on the performative nature of longing and desire. In his accompanying Daily Mail feature on the Meta Gala, Morgan, armed with phrases like "PC-crazed Liberals Across America" and "Blasphemous Old Crone," was similarly at the top of his game.
But now, just a few months later, Morgan has has returned with a major piece. How better to follow up the showmanship of lecturing the pontiff about Catholicism than with a shameless hustle for a White House job, directed at none other than shameless hustler Donald Trump? Critics will be dissecting the layers of satire in this new piece for decades to come.
"I wish to formally apply to be your new Chief of Staff," it begins, already inviting the reader to reflect upon the sly joke of an open letter in the Daily Mail as a job application. Morgan then goes on to list for Trump his qualifications to work for the position — he's a former winner on "Celebrity Apprentice," and someone who "understands you, has known you a long time, likes you and commands your respect." It's a magnificent turn of phrase, one that succinctly encapsulates the current conundrum of American politics. Craven lickspittling would more than qualify any man to work under Donald Trump, but not for the commander-in-chief of the United States of America, the viewer thinks, before embracing the horror that those two men are one and the same. Yet Morgan is just getting warmed up.
After pondering why so few other candidates are willing to drink from the supposedly "poisoned chalice" of the job, Morgan gives a long list of reasons why he should be granted the job, including that "I’m still one of only 35 human beings you follow me on Twitter!" (sic) and he "gets on with Ivanka and Jared." Spectacular.
While Morgan, in his trademark style, embellishes this newest work with florid turns of phrase like "ghastly, untrustworthy reptiles" and "treacherous weasels," he also distinguishes this piece with clever winks to the audience. "Bounce your tweets off me first," he tells history's most impulsive tweeter, "and I’ll tell you which ones are likely to end up being a net negative or a net positive. And which ones I thoroughly approve of for the appropriate mischief they will cause." Ah, mischief! What is modern art if not disruptive?
"Things are about to get ferociously nasty as Robert Mueller prepares his report into all things Russia," he says. "You don’t want a CoS who’s not up for a scrap. As I think my Twitter feed suggests, I love a scrap." It's a biting commentary here, with Morgan's ironic use of the ideology that "scrapping" on Twitter would qualify an individual — a foreigner, no less — to navigate the complex waters of a fair investigation into outside interference in an American election.
But perhaps the most brilliant bit is the commentary, near the end, when Morgan says, "You can actually save money for the country by hiring me. I don’t need the salary and in fact, I’d literally pay to work for you." It's a brazen dare, but the artist's critics and fans alike know that Piers Morgan would follow through on any challenge he created for himself, however repulsive. Just as Karen Finley was groundbreaking for her exploration of shame and taboo when she crammed yams somewhere other than her mouth, and Vito Acconci shocked gallery visitors with his masturbatory "Seedbed," Morgan constantly pushes new boundaries, re-examining the ever escalating nature of contemporary rapacity. And like Ai Weiwei, he is utterly fearless in his determination to use his art to expose the corruption, nepotism and greed all around him.
It's impossible to examine Morgan's oeuvre without noting how adroitly it pulls in so many influences. There are the obvious nods to the Dada movement and its confrontational mockery of the bourgeois. But then there is his determination to maintain the character of "Piers Morgan" in performance. He's reminiscent of Andy Kaufman's alter ego Tony Clifton, always willing to create discomfort around his deliberately unfunny, obnoxious persona.
It takes a truly brave artist to allow himself to be regularly laughed at as a caricature of English pomposity and bombast; to play, for decades, the role of Basil Fawlty without the charm. Yet Morgan not only does it flawlessly, he evolves in it. In his current incarnation, he's the aging man on the melting iceberg of tabloid journalism, eternally thirsty, begging for validation while courting contempt. And while his latest stunt is unlikely to land him a post in the current administration, it should absolutely seal his qualifications for a retrospective at the Tate Modern.