A Review of "Death of Art" by Chris Campanioni

by Catherine Chambers

From the cover: “Death of Art dissects post-capitalist, post-Internet, post-death culture; our ability and affinity to be both disembodied and tethered to technology, allowing us to be in several places at once and nowhere at all.”

Cuban-American writer Chris Campanioni’s forthcoming book, Death of Art, is billed as non-fiction, but serves as much more. A dancey mashup of poetry and hybrid prose reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Death of Art is a genre-bending glimpse into what feels like Campanioni’s private diary. We open on Campanioni cutting his face out of every fashion editorial bearing his likeness with the help of a stranger, and “stranger” is also the word I would use for the way the book progresses.

“The greatest characters I’ve invented are the ones I know by heart.”

Identity, Tinder, family, celebrity, Brooklyn: nothing is off-limits in Campanioni’s essays as he talks about growing up with hurricanes (“Storm Season”), being told not to get too tan lest he look too Latino to get cast in something (“Self-Interested Glimpses”), and looking at modern life through the lens of someone who identifies as an “artist.” As Campanioni continually questions his own journey, so the reader questions their own.

Campanioni is a meandering, unreliable narrator who facilitates the reader’s journey down the rabbit hole of his prose at breakneck, forgetting-to-breathe speed: you can’t wait to feel the ground under your feet again. He lets go of your hand before an unlit set of steps and lets you stumble as you feel inexplicably guilty about the Instagram notification that draws your attention away from the page. As Campanioni questions himself, it’s everything you don’t really want to hear. He takes the cliché of “Who am I?” and massages it into “Who am I pretending to be? Who am I as an artist in a world that seems to be waging a war on art? What even is art anymore? What is identity anymore?”

“Who hasn’t ever asked themselves: Am I a monster?
Who hasn’t ever asked themselves: Or is this what it feels like for everyone?”

The collection is marked by Campanioni’s signature mastery of the line, shameless sensuality, and abiding love of 90210. By the end of Death of Art, you feel like you have read something terribly important. You can’t seem to pin down why it’s sitting so heavy in your belly, or even the specific words that so moved you, but you know you can’t continue to move through the world the way you have been; you know something has to change.

Death of Art by Chris Campanioni
C&R Press 2016
$19.00 Paperback, 218 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-936196-60-9

Check out Chris’ piece in Duende Issue 3, "Love Stories From The Twentieth Century Caught On Film."  

Pre-order Death of Art.