Andre Wallace

Monday, May 28, 2012

More Tracey Emin and the weekend press

A turning point - pondering why this blog is so unremittingly disappointed with the UK's state contemporary art, and find that it is not at all unsurprising that things have not changed much since nineteenth century Russia. To quote Turgenev in A Sportsman’s Sketches; “Their devotion to art and artists produces in these people an inexpressible mawkishness: it is distressing to have to do with them and to talk to them; they are perfect logs smeared with honey. They never call for instance Raphael, Raphael or Correggio, Correggio; the divine Sanzio, the incomparable di Allegri they murmur with the broadest vowels. Every pretentious, conceited, home bred mediocrity they hail as a genius……………………There you have it, my god! they say at last in voices broken with emotion; there’s soul, soul! Ah, what feeling! Ah, what soul he has put into it, what a mass of soul! and how he has thought it out! Thought it out like a master! The struggle of unappreciated talent against the whole world, depicted a thousand times over, still moves them profoundly.”
  Over at the Sunday Times 27th May we have Waldemar Januszczak in the Sunday Times with this: "The show I had just exited was the most conservative display of old fashioned mark making I have seen by Emin. Bits of it reminded me of Egon Sheile. Other bits reminded me of Picasso. There was a touch of Matisse there. It was as if every single art movement of the post war period had never happened and we were back in the classic years of modern art."  praising Tracey Emin at Margate contemporary to the skies but suggesting she is rather eclectic as does Charles Darwent in the Independent on Sunday. ( It seems that Hirst can be critically thrashed because he can take it as he's rich enough not to care,) but Tracey Emin is now a national treasure and besides she is an ARCA and the RA professor of drawing. In the Independent on Sunday Darwent makes a bleak assessment of Hirst's paintings at White cube then onto Margate where he says something wonderful has happened.  In all the hype he writes this; " If Hirst can't paint, Emin can certainly draw. The series that includes the blue on blue Reading my thoughts has the assurance of Matisse." Wrong, dead wrong, assurance yes, mark making yes, Matisse? well er no, no, no, no and more no! - not even vaguely close. The man who wrote "L'exactitude - n'est pas la verity" knew the fine intellectual distinction between mark making and drawing. This isn't simply a matter of taste, Emin's drawings are much as Hirst's paintings, mawkish pastiches, but she is a celebrity and national treasure. A Matisse drawing on the other hand is a syntactically dense, accurate and resplendent with feeling, meaning and knowledge of the female form. Tracey doesn't even get close in her knowledge or depiction.  Take a very good look at the way she draws hands! Picasso said this was the way to judge any artists skill, - Quite - she doesn't !

What empty words this publicity amounts to, much like this celebratory article by Mark Brown in the Saturday Guardian which echoes Turgenev; "Now there is the new Emin." to quote " "People don't talk about it, but the menopause, for me, makes you feel slightly dead, so you start using the other things - using your mind more, read more, you have to be more enlightened, you have to take on new things, think of new ideas, discover new things, start looking at the stars, understand astronomy .......... just wake yourself up, otherwise it's a gentle decline. "  Quite so, was it ever thus! No mention of the art of any critical consequence just her issues again. So to deal with the last honey smeared log in Monday's Independent we have this pure drivel from Michael Glover describing Hirst's painting efforts; "The birds are suffering from entrapment, pinioning -  by lines, grids, dots, makeshift cages. This kind of entrapment puts you in mind of Francis Bacon, who used similar methods of containment to ratchet up the tension. In fact this is a much more interesting exercise than it seems at first glance:still life under the microscope." Again not even close, expert opinion has it that Bacon never drew at all but he did at least know how to use and manipulate oil paint. Why do these critics consistently confuse basic art skills with tired and emotional expression? Why? The answer is that there is nothing else of real meaningful content to discuss. Which is a real disgrace because the tyranny of state contemporary art is trapped in a self leveling kitsch backwater.

Well! this actually marks a turning point, there is little or no point of in analyzing such criticism, from now on this blog will ignore both of these two artists and such criticism of their work. It will move on to find and discover more artists of real worth, contemporary or otherwise.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hirst at White Cube - Two weeks one summer!

Astonishing criticism at the Guardian, yesterday 23rd May, by Jonathon Jones on Damien Hirst's latest paintings at the  White Cube. A quite astonishing critical thrashing, considering all the media hype Hirst is receiving at present. It would seem that Jones has had something of a Damascene conversion about the weakness and inadequacy of Hirst's painting. Coming from a key critical supporter of contemporary art this is news. Something is changing in the zeitgeist; it seems that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, despite abundant publicity, money and power. Jones finishes his outraged article with this telling remark; "But in his 40's Hirst apparently wishes he was an artist that, who knows, he might have been, had he spent his youth drawing day after day after day. He has left it too late. Instead he looks like a tyrant lost in a world of mirrors, like the worlds most overpraised child, like a disgrace to his, my, generation. Are we this bankrupt?"  -  Well yes, your generation, are exactly this artistically challenged and aesthetically bankrupt.  Hirst is not the only artist who has this problem although he is now getting all the flack most other YBA's are just as superficial. It's down to the fine art education at the Royal Academy, RCA or Goldsmiths' that was designed to please and serve Maurice Saatchi.  This was always a political decision. The French and German academies do not have this problem with their fine artists training, they have enough sense to keep their art education institutions well away from market influences. After all fine artists have to create their own patrons, not the other way around.

Monday, May 21, 2012

About Drawing 19th and 20th May

In the run-up to the Olympics! Waldemar of the Sunday Times 18th May berates the Olympic organisers for trying to promote sport through art by arguing that there is no art that is about sport. Amen to that! He weakens his own argument by listing these sporty artists; Stubbs, George Bellows, Degas, Manet, Ford Madox Brown, Boccionni, Warhol, Picasso's bullfights etc. you can find others.

Reading John Berger recently on life drawing came across a description of life drawing: ”Another way of putting it would be to say that each mark you make on the paper is a stepping stone from which you proceed to the next, until you have crossed the subject as you would a river, have put it behind you.” ……This is what drawing is, rediscovering the real nature of the object observed and understood in the flat 2D plane of the paper, a form of worship, of adulation and an re-affirmation of it’s actual existence. Musing upon the meaning of Berger’s words and their description of the sheer syntactic density of a beautifully drawn image bought up the piece in the 19th May Independent on Tracey Emin’s draughtsmanship by Janet Winterson (the novelist). She argues that we are not very good at looking as our observational powers are limited. That may be true for many but it certainly isn’t true of artists who were taught art school draughtsmanship prior to 1970. She argues that Schoolkids and OAP’s all have access to Tracey’s drawing as much as fancy guys buying for collectors or art academics arguing over whether she can draw. A glance at any discussion thread on the net on the subject would disprove this instantly, most of the UK population agree to differ, that she cannot draw, not just arty academics. But Winterson affirms loudly that she can draw and she goes on to conflate the superficiality of the images in the exhibition echoing Berger’s words with this stuff; “Here is the female gaze, and a gaze that models from inside to outside, from the outside to the inside. This is the body as truth. This is not the body as artifice/artefact/artificial.”

Sorry but this is not on, words despite their evident sincerity are not enough to deny the visual reality of the drawings that accompany the copy. The drawing's one single observable attribute is that they are exactly short hand post modern artifice/artefact/artificial. To the trained eye they betray no understanding of human form, no depiction of anatomy, no appreciation of scale and no expressive power, they are vague memories and not observations, gestures and not truths, and unobserved but not seen. In short they are pastiches of drawing, pastiches of emotion, pastiches with no empirical information, devoid of real sensory experience and accurate visual facts. Drawing can do so much more than this, and we all deserve so much better from publicly funded galleries. This is why anybody who was properly trained to create accurate images can never have any respect for the pastiche contemporary art promoted by the Tate, the Hayward, the RA and as here the Turner Contemporary Margate. Try this contemporary artist's work for a contrast, this is what drawing actually does.

The subject of post modern pretence brings us to a forthcoming non-sense at the Hayward Gallery from the 12th June.  Entitled “Invisible art of the unseen” it is a homage to self deception. Mark Brown in the Guardian of 19th May pens this quote by the Hayward’s director as “the best exhibition you will never see.” Quite so, fifty works exploring invisibility and emptiness – yes really – with such delights as invisible ink drawings, a piece of paper that an artist stared at for 10,000 hours, and evidence of the movie shot without film in the camera. In all this seriously challenged mental health issues one piece stands well above the rest. Teresa Margolles we are informed, puts water from the washing of Mexican drug barons murder victims in a humidifier so that you can feel it on your skin. Health and safety need to be notified of that one and quickly at that. If ever the contemporary art stable gets cleaned out it ought to start here at the Hayward, whose hanging committee thought that this could make an engaging meaningful  visual art exhibition to coincide with the Olympics. Why? What is the point of this wasted, boastful and nonsensical effort ?  Again we deserve so much better from curators and cultural spendthrifts of public money.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turner Prize No 2

Today 10th May sees the opening of the  Kapoor tower for the Olympic Park. Please note that to go to the top will cost £60.0 for a family with two children after £10.0 each for entry to the Olympic Park.  A public art vanity project if ever there was one, no meaning whatsoever, just a huge scale basic effort based upon a triangulation structure derived from the Bauhaus and geodesic domes.

To return to the Turner prize once more. Note that Waldemar Januszczak has a small piece of comment in last weeks Sunday Times. This accompanies a major promo by Louise Wise also on the Turner Prize. Waldemar's piece is entitled "Why the Turner Prize still matters" and he argues that the Turner Prize never fails in it's task, to put contemporary art on the front page of all the press. If you would have suggested 25 years ago that the most popular exhibitions would be those at the Tate you would have been greeted with hoots of  laughter he says. This change in perception, he says, is clearly due to the Turner prize. Only it isn't, it's due to cheap air fares and mass tourism and the Tate Modern. Waldemar points out that all the significant artists ( he lists YBA's etc ) have all won the prize and so now the exhibitors have to be found from the second rank. This he claims is a good thing because the more unknown the artist the the more useful the event in giving them much needed exposure.

This is of course downright misleading. The real truth is as usual, much more complex, there isn't any interesting talent emerging from the UK art education system any longer because it is major league broke. Having lost it's way completely it isn't producing or educating artists of any note. Despite all the hype very few real talents have emerged since the days of YBA's. What has emerged is a huge army of arts managers and curators feasting off the defunct corpse. It seems that society and the education system have forgotten that artists have to be educated in spite of all the specious arguement out there that art cannot be taught. There has been an abandonment of the visual in favour of words and concepts because visual thinking and imagining is too demanding and way too specialised for urban educated minds visually restricted by street architecture. Consequently the Tate prize now has to trawl the legions of  lesser talent that inhabit the middle regions of the contemporary art trough. All the empty press spouting in the world isn't going to improve the plight of uk art education one tiny jot. When the baby got thrown out with the bathwater, the patient died.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Poor old art students and poor art education

Poor old art students and poor old art education.

Little good can be written about contemporary art education. It's ills have been largely generated by its own success. It has become an industry with all the attendant evils that, that entails. Students are no longer looking to escape from their backgrounds by going to art school, the notion is pointless in the present state of the economy. Academically, no subject has suffered as rapid a decline in values and significance as art education. What was once a minority concern was hugely expanded to become a form of social work, massaging employment figures and aiding those students with issues but often little visual skills or ability under New Labour. In short art education completely lost its way.

The press has been very adept at promoting the success of the few, mainly Goldsmiths, RA or RCA students who now languish as RA's or YBA'S or what ever tag is convenient. Nothing is ever said about those legions of failures, who barely survive as artists or dropouts. Numbers of students taking art are dropping which is both a real concern for the creative industries and probably a very good thing. Traditionally art education was a let out form of higher education for the eccentric, the trendy and the challenged. Students however continue to study fine art despite all the common sense evidence, often against the wishes of their parents or their peers, aiming for a career that will be totally non-existent as an artist unless as was always the case daddy funds. Creativity and the production of art are there own rewards, yet year after year cynical marketing predators in the art world tour the MA and BA courses looking for the latest talent to promote and exploit.

The real scandal is what university colleges are offering as an art education. No-one least of all government seems to bother about the actual content of these publicly funded degree courses and the hoax they perpetuate. There exists a Faustian pact, between the art schools, the teachers and lecturers, the public and private galleries and the art world that ensures that students are taught the canon of approved contemporary art derived from Duchamp's little joke. This hoax is an aberration. No-one in the entire system ever asks the real hard questions about the content of any course in art and art history for fear of exposing it all as the conceptual con-trick that it is. If you are reading this and you are an art student and your lecturer is now lecturing you on anyone such as Carl Andrea, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley, Mark Wallinger or Marc Quinn ask them what is the content of their art is and why they consider this content to be so important. Ask them why it is given the accolade art. Risk it, see what happens and what sort of reaction you will get and ask why, always ask why. Then think it through for yourself. The entire art education edifice relies of the whims of the art market, with whom lecturers willingly collude and the main players such as the mega rich and the hedge fund managers. Everyone keeps their mouth firmly shut for fear of exposing a brutal truth? Art is not necessarily that which is found to be approved by the curators of the art establishment, it can be anywhere and be in any form. Universities perpetuate the myth that what they teach in the name of the approved galleries is the only art of any consequence. At the heart of degree level art education there is an intellectual and illiterate self-delusion exemplified by lecturers and teachers whose practice is often downright malevolent. Interview at random any group of artists who attended a university and you will find several who have tales to tell about lecturers who were abusive. These people occupy significant posts actively perpetuating the hoax. A scandalous recent example of this reported by the Jackdaw is the way that  the Axis database (A creation of artists) has been high jacked by the Arts Council and a third of artists have been removed from the database by newly appointed curators (state art apparatchiks) such as Simon Lewandowski because their work doesn't conform to current conceptual art tyranny. The extent of this person's education is exemplified by his listed research interests; " For me teaching forms a seamless whole with my own practice in that the latter is increasingly concerned with exchange, collaboration and distribution. I am working with colleagues to refine and develop the way in which practice is taught so that it reflects as its starting point the idea that art is fundamentally a social and collective activity......................"   That he cannot see that this is a tacit demonstration of poor thinking, says it all. Other place-men standing in judgement of their often elders and betters are Emma Geliot ex Arts Council of Wales, Katayoun Dowlatshani, Phd University Gloucestershire ( really? ), and Gill Hedley contemporary art society. Seems to suggest that the criteria for functioning as an arts council official is a blinkered lack of perception.

Which brings us by a very tortuous route to an article in 6th May Sunday Times magazine by Christina Ruiz concerning those mega rich patrons who are busy building super museums to house their art collections all over the world. An example to quote is this; "Anish Kapoor, visited Belo Horizonte in Brazil in january to choose a site for his shooting into a corner, which consists of a cannon firing 11kg balls of wax. "  Where is the art content in this drivel? She lists a number of galleries from Tasmania to Brazil. Won't bore you with the all the details but the question to ask is why do these non-public galleries need to be built? Have we not enough public spaces to exhibit the kind of work that could easily be thrown in a skip with absolutely no significant cultural loss throughout the world? The answer has to be an anxiety that they as art collectors, who have literally spent billions on objects, need another kind of re-assurance that the public gallery system can no longer give to them. This is of course to have all their purchases accepted as part of the accepted Canon of Art History. There are now so many of them they cannot bend or create the market to their will as other players were fortunate enough to do in the recent past. This acceptance requires the active collusion of academics and curators, the so called guardians of cultural value (much like those above who have high-jacked Axis) and not just the market purveyors of objects. Alice Walton, a Walmart heiress we are told, is building a museum at Crystal Bridges in Arkansas. She professes to be creating an encyclopedic collection of American art starting in the 17th century to the present day. Truly an historical ambition.

Ruiz however informs us that there is considerable snobbery about these upstart institutions in cities rich with culture and it will take some time for them to be accepted by their art establishments - how so? Which brings us back to the start of this very sad diatribe, poor old art students and poor old art education!  Students of a fake discipline? art education for whom? Visual art for whom?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tate Britain and the Turner Prize

Two items of interest cropped up yesterday 2nd May 2012.
Firstly the fact that the prestigious Burlington magazine has taken the Tate Britain to task over its failure to maintain it's current remit and secondly the artists in line for the Turner prize have been published. The Burlington magazine is often rightly assumed to be the premier art history magazine. It accuses Tate Britain management of having lost their way and of ignoring the needs of the entire population. There are four points that the editorial makes;

  • The unprecedented exodus of the most of senior curators and the loss of their expertise.
  • The current re-furbishment in which only one of the fifteen rooms devoted to the historical collection is hung and very badly at that.
  • The diminished public reputation of the Tate with its total devotion to a particular narrow kind of approved challenging contemporary art of dubious value in a false competition with Tate Modern.
  • Lastly it is the Tate's duty to be the guardian of the British school of art and this is what the public demands and deserves.

It's also that time again when the Turner prize an annual  embarrassment comes around. This years selection are quite visibly found wanting. Maybe that's because everyone else is on the cultural Olympics gravy-train but we will get back to that, bye and bye.
One draughtsman (Nobson world) , one Spartacus Chetwynd (performance artist), one Luke Fowler (films of R D Laing etc) and one video artist Elizabeth Price. The draughtsman Paul Noble is the most interesting visually, with his huge pencil drawings that have been around now for some time. In essence they are obsessive, (what contemporary work isn't) but they are at least a vaguely surrealist take on traditional architectural drawing. Ms Spartacus Chetwyn (confrontational and challenging name, Yah!) who lives in a nudist colony, we are told, loves audience confrontation  and performs tableaux concerning Jabba the Hut etc. i.e. imaginary entities. Her practice we are informed, grew out of her party-going. The other two, well, artists and film hardly ever mix, the sad truth is that however well meant their efforts, video and film are sophisticated serial media. Few artists ever seem to grasp this and they nearly always fail to engage with meaning in time. Time was when art actually meant something and it wasn't so embarrassing. They are here;

Spartacus Chetwynd?
Luke Fowler?
Paul Noble (Nobson )
Elizabeth Price?