Andre Wallace

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A timeline for YBA's

This week's Independent on Sunday, 25th March contains a timeline on how the YBAs from Goldsmiths became the British visual art establishment - only it doesn't prove that they are now the art establishment, that is. A fairly dim-witted timeline it is too, full of egregious and impotent celebrity information about such things as who committed suicide but no mention of why. Why Rachel Whiteread got included here is incomprehensible, there is nothing in her work that suggests she qualifies for a YBA inclusion. She is an old fashioned, contemporary sculptress with meaning at the front and the means of achieving it (the negative sculpture spaces at the back), nothing remotely suggests a reason for including her work except to lend some academic credence and credibility to at best, a pretty shaky bunch.

Interestingly there are significant omissions on the grounds that they were not part of Goldsmith's originals (sounds more like a biscuit rather than the weakly educated products of the Michael Craig Martin of the glass of water fame.)  Why is it that our culture celebrates the teaching of art teachers who reproduce their students in their own likeness? Is it because they are quite unable to provide them with their own voices, despite professing to do exactly that? Seems that Goldsmith's precious reputation rests more upon the pecuniary value it instilled in its former students than the fact that it taught art, but that's beside the point. The timeline teaches us that Gavin Turk is now involved in art education for children. That Gary Hume is still painting the same old dead empty gestures and that as we already know Michael Landy's stick figures are all over the tube. The unspeakable Matt Collishaw has exhibited with Paula Rego - why, when she is a real artist? Then there is Damien Hirst who tells us that he is to open a gallery dedicated to his produce in 2014.
Missing are Chris Offili, Tacita Dean, Sam Taylor Wood, Marc Quinn and the Chapman bros.

The timeline is part of the build up to the big Hirst exhibition. Why, when his work cannot go the distance on any level. As indeed Julian Spalding has come out to state loudly with a book published on 1st April called "Con Art - Why you should sell your Damien Hirst's while you can."  this has caused something of a media stir with critics siding with one another to support or detract.  He writes this gem; "What separates Michaelangelo from Damien Hirst is that Michaelangelo was an artist and Damien Hirst isn't. Michaelangelo's extremely subtle profoundly moving ideas were manifest in what he made, they weren't pretentious profanities tossed off the top of his head." Quite, the Emperor has no clothes and this is not mere idle talk. Elsewhere on this blog there are arguments to prove that there is no meaning manifest in the work of the YBA's, From Kant to Goodman philosophers have argued that art is meaning embodied in form, to produce that meaning you need an artist whose task is to embody the meaning in the form through a media. Pickled sharks simply do not embody meaning in any sense, neither do spots, butterflies, medical cabinets of other artists  illustrative works.

As Spalding puts it; "the art education world strapped for cash, has clung to the Con-art bandwagon because thinking costs less than making. It doesn't involve learning expensive craft skills in studios. Damien Hirst's ghastly reputation glows in the black hole at the heart of British culture." Quite so!!!!

Of particular interest is that Spalding claims recent research has shown that the original urinal was exhibited by one Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven as an early feminist attack on masculine culture  -  she was literally taking the pxxs. Like his many imitators Duchamp stole the idea, to use much later in order to establish himself as the founding father of Conceptual art or Con art, whichever definition you care to subscribe to.  He did this as a joke, it was never intended as anything but a joke as he is on record as saying. He is on record in the 1960's (Google him)  as saying that he much regretted the actions of those imitators i.e. conceptual artists, by which he meant Kosuth et al.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Curators and Documenta 13

Interesting and sarcastic article from Waldemar Januszczak in this week 18th March Sunday Times. Ostensibly about the Kassel Documenta 13 later in the year he asks the question;
"Why are there no British artists in Documenta 13? "

A good question because there is a heavy American artist presence, but the article says much more in what it suggests than in it's actual text. Simply put there are no British artists acceptable to European Curators for several reasons which he discusses but the piece doesn't ask why or how this situation has come about? 

Only that there are three British curators on the selection panel including Christoph Menke, they are Iwona Blaswick, Hans Ulrich Olbrist and Griselda Pollock. Why are there no British artists at Kassel's Documenta 13? Waldemar concludes it is because there is no room for them once the International middle persons (curators) have been counted in!

His analyses is substantially correct, British contemporary art is far too financially successful and popular with the public to be taken seriously by in the narrow academic circles that curators move in. Particularly as the link between art and money has been so fractured by the British auction houses and the kinds of people (i.e. Bankers and hedge fund managers) who now invest heavily in art. However Waldemar's complaint at the slighting of YBA's doesn't really wash. Commercial success is one thing, aesthetic and artistic content is another  and this is lacking from YBA art that is shallow, jokey, and ultimately empty kitsch. For this reason alone, the fact that so many British contemporary artists churn out kitsch, means it can be excluded on aesthetic grounds. This is not to say that there are no serious contemporary British artists, they do exist, but they are marginalised by the market and the curators.

As Waldemar states the real problem is curators, who would'nt exist as a career choice without artists to provide them with a function. Unfortunately they have become far too powerful throughout European visual culture, and again and again they make decisions about artists careers that have nothing to do with art and everything to do with their own academic prejudices and pre-occupations. This even applies in poor old art education and training. Too many of these technical hangers on, are living off art and do not know what it is unless it fits their current narrow cultural theory. Their activities are largely diversionary guff, because any definition of art is contingent, and art isn't supposed to confirm beliefs unless it is examined in a purely art historical context where such links may be (but are not always) valid. Artists are not seers, shamen or witchdoctors despite the arcane claims of Joseph Beuys. They exist to satisfy the taste of the patron, no more, no less.

That said, one cannot but reflect upon the real visual differences between Germaine Richter and Damien Hirst, as Waldemar suggests; One reflective, intellectual, analytical, cool, visual and detached, the other crude, brash, simplistic, blatant and slick. As Waldemar puts it "British art isn't clever enough, it doesn't espouse enough theory," and in the last analyses it falls short as art . Largely a question of taste, European curators don't seem to be as easily persuaded as hedge fund managers or oligarchs .

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gilbert and George 1

Independent of 12th March - an article on Gilbert and George . Adrian Hamilton the former comment editor takes the two artists to task over their latest work at the White Cube galleries, an interesting article that analyses the copious work, i.e. 3,712 newspaper placards arranged to form 292 large paintings. Entitled the London pictures these works are all text, newspaper posters, with the text fonts cleaned up and carefully organised by common words such as attack, teens, shock etc. Photo-shopped behind these placards are images of the usual suspects, themselves. The intention as explained by the duo is to speak of the spirits that haunt place and occasion? The duo are quoted as drawing comparison with Air Chief Marshall Dowding, who had a habit of addressing dead airmen as a gateway of communing with the dead.  What on earth Dowding has to do with their art-work is literally beyond comprehension and belief, and as Hamilton states, it simply doesn't work, Air Chief Marshall Dowding or not. Truly, if you have to explain away the image's meaning then it isn't working in either aesthetic or artistic terms. Hamilton writes that what the work amounts to, is two ageing men puzzled and appalled at the world that they inhabit: "Its a feeling that many of us share but not one that will be changed by these pictures."

 Why is it that so many contemporary artists become so self obsessed, endlessly producing artwork containing their own self-image like a narcissistic film star? Perhaps White Cube and fame is not enough to satisfy, somehow?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sean Hagan - On Damien Hirst again

Sean O'Hagan penned three pages of drivel in Sunday the 11th  March Observer on Damien Hirst's forthcoming mid term retrospective  -  Who else could write such guff without loosing the will to live? This is in the run up to his totally mind-blowing exhibition at Tate Modern ( two floors no less) starting in April, so Hagan is getting his publicity out early. Expect that we will all be sick to the stomach of Hirst this and Hirst that by the time April comes round. The only art criticism in the entire piece, (which is a listed biography of the over exposed work a very slick operator) are the words of the Tate Modern's curator Ann Gallagher;  "Like no other artist of his generation, Damien Hirst has permeated the cultural consciousness of our times." She continues; "Hirst's work is characterised by its directness as well as its ambition; it is both deadpan and affecting, and it provokes awe and outrage in equal measure." Really, if only it did either!  He certainly has the ambition as the guff at the end of the piece proves when he tells O'Hagan; "I  want to make great art, create objects that will have a meaning for ever. It's a big ambition universal truth, but somebodies got to do it"!  Two aspects to this; One, it's not for him to pass the final judgement on the status of his work because that is the task of posterity and two it is a crying shame that the much vaunted staff at Goldsmiths didn't see fit to teach him the crucial philosophical distinction between bourgeois kitsch and art. Indeed the text tells us that Hirst the entrepreneur arrived before Hirst the artist. He realised as the article tells us, that as a student that you couldn't use the tools of yesterday to communicate the here and now. So asking the obvious question; How do pickled cows, sheep, fish, spot and spinning wheel paintings, anatomical figures and butterflies communicate anything about the here and now? No really, How? Where is the significant meaning in the content that engages us with the now?  Surely his work is all about preserving the past in what he terms, high maintenance art contracts.

What times we live in, when a producer of museum natural history specimens can try to force us to believe that preserved specimens are art, (but then the Natural History museum no longer exhibits many of its specimens in formalin, Victorian empire appropriation of animals bodies is no longer politically correct and a real and not imagined source of guilt ). When the dominant visual culture's dilution of Duchamp's joke is characterised by the total lack of sensibility, connoisseurship, excellence, taste and intellect and kitsch rules all. 

In one paragraph O'Hagan goes on about Hirst's numerous detractors in the world of critics and commentators. Some of Hirst's many critics and detractors are linked below. You can Google the rest and make up your own mind:

Charles Thompson
Brian Sewell
Tom Lubbock
Donald Kuspit
Robert Hughes
Con-Temporary Art

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The real price of artworks?

Some more under appreciated artists to consider?

Tai shan Schierenberg
Eric Rimmington
Frederick Cuming RA
David Tindle RA
Bernard Dunston RA

Another former tutor of the Royal College of Art painting school:  Leonard Rosoman has died aged 98years. Born in 1913, he taught David Hockney, Peter Blake, Ron Kitaj and many others. Interestingly he was himself taught at the Central School of Art by Bernard Meninsky whose life drawing classes Lucian Freud refused to attend. Odd that Freud's work became so concentrated upon life studies at the end of his career and he could have saved a lot of time had he not been so obtuse. I doubt that Rosoman would have had much patience with the fashionable cop-out that you cannot teach art, his generation actually could and they did so very successfully. Of course they were sufficiently mature, adult, informed and wise to leave the artist's issues to the artist themselves to resolve, not to explore in the student studio.

There has been a huge internet row about the National Galleries purchase of Titian's Diana and Callisto from the Duke of Sutherland for £45 million. Catherine Bennet in the Observer has been much bothered by the problem of saving great art for the nation. She argues that Sophie Dahl, i.e. Roald's grand daughter is still smarting from the drubbing she received trying to raise £500,000 to rescue her grandfathers writing shed.
Bennett notes that the National galleries of England and Scotland did not make a public case for raising £45,000,000, they merely raided their coffers which are now bare. £3,000,000 came from the Heritage lottery fund. One would think from the Internet chat outcry that the money had been robbed directly from orphans. Bennett says that the money came from those classes least likely to visit an art gallery. Bennett says "It is not as if these are the people who go to see oversubscribed Hockney and Leonardo blockbusters." I don't know where she's been lately, but have you tried getting tickets for these exhibitions? Indeed she states the latest attack on free admission for galleries and museums came from Charles Saatchi  - quite risible she states! She then goes on to argue that people are prepared to pay £725 for an Olympic seat and should be able to afford to pay £1.0 for admission to a gallery in order to fund purchases such as the Titian.

Of course, we are all in it together, (as we are told repeatedly but we are not and this is a case) and one cannot imagine any rational person rich or otherwise paying £725.0 for an Olympic ticket unless it comes straight out of the corporate entertainment expenses. 

The real issue is not charging admission for galleries, as she argues, it is the actual cost of the Titian that is truly obscene. The richest section of society who have done very well recently when everyone else is suffering and propping them up, are precisely those who have inflated the prices of artworks to levels that beautifully express their greed, selfishness and sheer callousness. The public purse should not have to compete in an area where paintings have extortionate price labels far above their cultural value. There are other ways of doing these things, in the USA donating and loaning art to the state in return for tax breaks is common and very successful, but here where the auction houses rule the roost, solid cash has to exchange hands.  Indeed we are all in it together, and the Picasso that came up yesterday is out of bounds, admission fees or not..

Gillian Wearing, Boetti and Co

Gillian Wearing merits a three page spread in this weeks Observer, publicity for a show at the Whitechapel.
In this in-depth interview we learn that on her first day at Goldsmith's College her tutor told the group that none of them would become active working artists so they had better manage their expectations accordingly. Really, guess how many thousand times this old sore has been repeated over the years, for some inadequates it passes as motivating or maybe it's encouragement to vote with your feet. Wonder if it was Craig-Martin who said it, truly there cannot be any art-student who hasn't heard it repeated to them at some time?
Wearing OBE however, was lucky enough to be in the Guardian angel generation and not only became a YBA but had Saatchi to live up to. As a Turner prize winner she never looked back.The photos accompanying the piece are informative if only for the fact that she is primarily a photographer and performance artist. The "Self portrait as my grandfather" has pretensions above it's merit, it simply doesn't work on any formal level, unlike her self portrait as a seventeen year old. Aside from doing Cindy Sherman over again,we have to ask what it all adds up to visually which isn't to say much, ultimately it's as narcissistic as Tracy Emin's work. Issues rarely sustain long  thoughtfully reverie, aesthetic appreciation or visual engagement and the question of meaning asks; is it ultimately therapy? This is what it communicates despite the denials, as she says; "Understanding me - I don't think so - I don't think its about me.!" - In the end it isn't really about anything else.

Waldemar Januszczak in the Sunday Times actually has a pop at the execrable level of art criticism in the introduction to the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at the Tate. He quotes " As a burden of orthodoxies, categorizations and generations fixed in time and sanctioned by art criticism, institutional discourse and art criticism during the 20th century calls upon a renewed approach to art criticism. " Truly memorable guff, he takes the authors of this fluff to task, which is great, after all this is the purpose of this blog, to expose pretensions and obfuscation in contemporary state approved art. If more critics had the wit to take curators and other content writers to task, they might actually write something meaningful. The truth about this exhibition is clear, time hasn't dealt well with Arte Povera, and it wasn't particularly popular way back in the 70s, -definitely a marginal taste in fact. One suspects that this exhibition is being put on to lend spurious art history legitimacy and credence to the state art kitsch that came much later and which is now under general attack. I leave the reader to suggest which artists that involves? Waldemar is right when he writes  "Boetti emerges as a thin talent hiding behind a huge oriental bedspread". The exhibition is expedient on several levels, which have nothing whatsoever to do with it's lack of real visual content.
Charles Darwent also deals with this exhibition in the Independent on Sunday, he writes "Whilst Boetti stopped making work in his trade mark Arte Povera materials he remained fascinated by the smallness of man or rather his tragi-comical refusal to admit his smallness. Guess Gillian Wearing could learn something from this.  There are other Arte Povera artists who are far more interesting.