Andre Wallace

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mike Kelley RIP - abject art

The normal reaction to Paul Mcarthy's artwork is downright disgust at the scatological content and the crude animal absence of humanity in the art he has produced. Art for the unfeeling, the unsympathetic, the drugged up, the dead head and the severely culturally challenged. A similar problem exists with the work of his much vaunted and deceased colleague Mike Kelley for whom advance publicity has popped up in the Independent of the 28th August. There is however, much more subtlety in Kelley's ideas and significantly less pure viciousness.
The powers that be at the Tate feel that he now needs to be bought to UK attention as "the most important American artist you have never heard of."  In a recent post I argued that there are indications that State contemporary art is beginning to run on an empty tank, this further confirms the suspicion. Stuart Comer - film curator at the Tate, -  tells us that he is attempting to fill the gap in "our cultural knowledge" with a show to mark the anniversary of Kelley's suicide! Unhappily Kelley killed himself in January 2012 at the age of 57years.

The show will be held in the Tate Tanks, consisting of film and "abject art" as Kelley termed his art products. We learn that among other artists in the US he was hugely influential, a dominant presence in Los Angeles in the 1990's and that London is the only major city where he doesn't have a major status. Comer adds; " for whatever reason he has had a different status over here.." Paul Schimmel former chief curator at the LA, Museum of Contemporary Art tells us that LA would not have become a great international capital of contemporary art without Mike Kelley. Comer adds " His death took everyone by surprise, and it affected people heavily. .. I haven't experienced that level of grief in the art world for some time." He will be sadly missed!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sunday 26th August Watercolour and Weya

More exceptional artists to consider;
Myrtle Pizzey
Michael Kidd
Andrew Macara
Jaume Plensa
Martin Mooney
Mary Gillett
Clive Head

The Sunday Times water-colour exhibition attracts entries from all kinds of artists, amateur and professional.
The winner's painting of Stoke on Trent is interesting in it's complete lack of visual sophistication. There appears to have been no editing or composition  in Mark Elsmore's close depiction: the Potteries National Park. This extends across the entire image which is curiously flat as a result despite the carefully executed perspective.. Chris Myers painting of the Olympic park by contrast is severely edited, re-scaled and rearranged, photographically. The water-colour does very little in either image. Why did the selectors choose images that are so obviously derived from a very close re-working of photograph sections? seems a puzzle? Perhaps it's because representational painting is taught in a very, very few places.
Over at the Independent on Sunday there is an article on the World event young artists, a ten day festival in Nottingham from 7-16th September. The work illustrated is depressingly lowbrow and entirely photography. Such visual arts artists as Liz West who photographs shopping trolleys laden with objects of the same colour, which is nice. There is also the documentary photographer Richard Fish and  a Roshana Rubin Mayhew, the former photographs anyone doing anything mundane and the latter fuzzes black and white portrait photography. Tom Archer snaps suburban dreams, again mundane non-images. the complete lack of inspiration, aspiration and intelligence here is a great tribute to the art education system. The suburban concerns displayed are intensely boring, anyone with a pocket camera and sight can function at this level.  Altogether a very depressing piece of hyped non-event.

In all the confusion that attends the many artifacts that are not art, many fakes have sneaked in under the radar. From graffitti (which is technically a crime) to therapy, objects of all levels of quality have been claimed by the market, and many people aspire to owning a Banksy. Many of these have been the subject of past blogs, and the subject of art therapy gained increasing academic legitimacy since Dubuffet and the art brut school of the nineteen fifties/sixties. Outsider art needs nailing for what it is, art therapy. If art is about informed sensibility and taste then the function of therapeutic art puts it outside the pale. Whist it may function as art, sell as art and appear to be art it isn't necessarily actually art. This may seem narrow minded but the fact is, it's raison d'etre is to heal the soul of the distressed. Why doesn't that make it art you may argue? Even if it sells well, its artistic and aesthetic qualities are marginal and not the central concerns. One can argue that Van Gogh produced art that was therapeutic. You have only to read his letters to see the depth of his artistic concerns. Van Gogh spent most of his time considering aesthetic questions before putting them to paint, for him the content and image was definitively art. Why cannot therapy be art you ask?  Who decides whether a work is art or not? Is it the artist? Is it the gallery or the curator? Is it society in general? Is it a process of ongoing cultural negotiation?

Showing at the Edinburgh Festival is Phillip Guston a singular talent whose early abstract expressionist work  went over the edge into caricature and cartoon later in his career as an outsider. He produced very knowing comic painting. The problem with this work is that you never know whether it is meant to be taken seriously, or whether if he was literally scoffing at the art world.  Is it merely comic book artwork? Judge for yourself here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Edinburgh Festival - panem et circenses

Attention having been drawn to an article in Saturday's Guardian on visual arts at the Edinburgh Festival entitled Magical Playground by Karen Wright the term panem et circenses sprung to mind.

She writes that this year's festival is "coming out of the galleries and onto the streets" - oh where have we heard this before? She writes; "this magical playground will feature commissions allowing artists to create works that interrogate their spaces." - If only they did! To quote artist, just try reading this artist's statement link, go on try- Anthony Schrag "art is the thing that allows us to ask interesting questions about your life." So he will be asking the questions and you will give him the answers. Really? We would never have known, unless we had had this excuse to enlighten us. Loosing the will to live here, but there's much, much more, we learn that the curator, for it is a she (Sorcha Carey - Irish surely), first commissioned the redoubtable Martin Creed in 2011 to produce a legacy installation of 104 different marble coloured steps - Oh, why are we not surprised? This year she has £250.000 to play with and play she indeed does, choosing to commission a daring set of new interactive works, showcasing Scottish artists. So we won't be able to see where the money went then. Ms Wright tells us that she first met Ms Carey at Documenta 13 in Kassel, where she, Carey introduced her to Phillipsz Study for strings - a sound piece. Not a sound piece but a sound piece, i.e. loudspeaker noise but not visual art - really have lost the will to live now.  Phillipssszzz is based in Berlin having been brought up in Glasgow. Phillipssszzz festival work is a mile long string of loudspeakers which replaces the long removed cable, in Homage to one John Robinson who invented the siren, and to the sirens from Homers Odyssey who lured sailors onto rocks. The sound emitted will sound like a train and last about a minute. It's magic we learn will be its fleetness. You really cannot believe this junk, but there's more. In the gardens beneath the castle Emily Speed will stage a one off performance of  "Human Castle." The one off work will be 10 acro-balancers? - in cardboard costumes counterbalancing to form a castle like shape before dismounting. Oh dear, thought that an acro was a builders prop! Speed says "I know people will ask if it is acrobatics or a piece of art" Nope, just hope it doesn't rain. Moving on, amazing what a quarter of a million will buy you - we come to Kevin Harman's work 24/7 a "facilitation of dialogue." We learn that Harman stole 210 of his neighbour's doormats from three enormous tenement buildings, leaving notes that they could be re-claimed from his degree show, where they were arranged as a gigantic work of art. This work, sought to bring the community together in an unexpected way! Sure it did, where were the police? He refuses to talk about his Festival project because if he does; "it will become too contrived." As if this tripe is within the bounds of probability? Having difficulty dealing with this verbiage, we move onto Anthony Schrag who is providing punters pub crawl tours, "which is bound to be popular." He will take small groups around Edinburgh, on unusual outings, "and the viewer will take equal part in the creation of the work." Andrew Miller also gets a look in, with the waiting place, a temporary shelter to provide some shelter from the elements which we learn had a generous budget. Not bad for a shelter which provides the starting point for Shrag's pub crawl tours...........Miller informs us; "It will keep you dry, but it is well ventilated deliberately, as it is about looking out. People animate it."!! Amazing yeh, and they pay for it too.
What has happened to the curation of contemporary art that this busload of complete chancers, none of whom can be safely called a visual artist, none of whom engages aesthetically or artistically can pass their stunts off as meaningful, serious visual art. Having trawled our erstwhile curators picks, our Karen then mentions in the footnote some actual visual artists ; Callum Innes who is now working with light, changing the night colours of the Regent bridge for which we learn, he has donated his fee. Then we are also informed that if inter-active art is not your thing there are shows by Dieter Roth, Philip Guston, John Bellany and the Picasso and Modern British Art. (An exhibition that proves conclusively that a single Picasso often formed the basis for several British artists plagiarizing careers.) All of these are visual art and should actually have formed the basis for the article and not the curators transient, effete and minor trendy twittering, tweeting, social media concerns. Small wonder there were no UK visual artists at Documenta 13 if this is all that we are now able to offer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Robert Hughes RIP

Sad to hear of the death of Australian art critic Robert Hughes. He was genuinely a good critic, never fooled for one second by the ocean of financial led Kitsch contemporary art has now become and never short of a truthful observation. Above all he had a cast iron sense of what was art and what was not. He also loved art and words for their own sake. His work stands as a standard by which most art criticism ought be measured, he was always concerned to help people perceive what he saw and to educate their taste and sensibility. Would it be that many of today's excuses for an art critic had such high standards.

To quote some of the best criticism in tribute:

On Jeff Koons:
“He has done for narcissism what Michael Milken did for the junk bond.”
"At 81, Freud is so much younger than any of the Britart dreck installed on the other side of the Thames: younger than Damien Hirst's slowly rotting shark in its tank of murky formalin; weirder than David Falconer's Vermin Death Star, which is composed of thousands of cast-metal rats; and about a hundred times sexier than Tracey Emin's stale icon of sluttish housekeeping."
"If he did not already have such a world wide reputation, one could say here is a young artist worth watching. As things are, one can only hope that the work eventually catches up with the fuss made over it."
"He never made an impression on the history of art, and never will. But on the history of mass communication - and on the popular self image of America - his mark was deep and will remain indelible."
"To what extent did Rothko's suicide confer a profundity, on the paintings, that, had he lived they might not have quite had? But how one can dare to thinks such things, in the presence of blue-chip masterpieces?"
On Goya:
"We can claim affinity between Goya and Rousseau only if we are prepared, at the same time, to admit that there is also one between Goya and Rousseau's anti-type, the Marquis de Sade - and that Goyas' unflagging modernity lies somewhere between the two."
""Oh David", wrote his best friend Robert Motherwell, in one of the most moving validictions offered to a dead artist by a liveone, "you were as delicate as Vivaldi and as strong as a Mack truck." And so he was.""
On Jean-Michel Basquait:
" In a saner culture than this, the twenty year old Basquait might have gone off to boot camp in art school, learned some real drawing abilities ( as opposed to the pseudo-convulsive notation that was his trademark) and in general, acquired some of the disciplines and skills without which good art cannot be made. But these were the eighties; instead he became an art star."

Never dumbing down, but always seeking to enlighten and inform, Hughes will be much missed and our visual culture will be all the poorer.  His most important film is the Mona Lisa Curse which is no longer available at Channel 4.  Available here the most important art criticism video made in the last twenty years and it should be compulsive viewing for all art students.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Sunday 5th August - Art Education

This Sunday's posting concerns the ideology of the left and right that has created the dumb visual culture we inhabit. In an article hyping the coming Bourne Legacy film the following remarks by the actor, Edward Norton struck a chord; "There is a perception that class warfare is starting to be staged. What interests me is that the corporate world has been waging a cultural war upon us for the last 40years and now they're screaming at us; Don't villainise the rich! They're crying foul and I just don't think they should. The rich aren't over burdened."
This links to goings on at the Dept for Education, where they have published the revision of the national curriculum now put out to the tender hands of these following experts. The suggestion is to drop some of the unnecessary subjects listed below, considering whether or not they should be part of the National Curriculum, with statutory Programmes of Study, at each key stage:
art and design
design and technology
information and communication technology (ICT)
modern foreign languages (MFL)
The future of these subjects is in doubt, at the behest of those IT corporations that truly loathe teachers and teaching and intend all future education is to be done by sad dumb computer. Some however, have begun to realise their dumb corporate strategies are causing them problems and we now have Michael Powell begging for drawing to be reintroduced into the National Curriculum because the Video games industry desperately needs it! The sad, sick irony of this - it's not as though, the entire visual culture has a desperate need for it? It's not as though art is the one subject that teaches creativity and independent learning. Who can teach it when many artists/teachers are incompetent draughtspersons? Even the feted  professors of drawing and painting at our most august institutions display poor technical skills.  Drawing was first introduced by enlightened philanthropists in UK grammar schools in the 1820's and abandoning art education in schools will take truly us back to the 17th century. This is progress, education that never has to engage with the real world except through a screen! - we cannot afford pencils and paper? 
The public school educated, corporate, utilitarian, Gradgrinds at the back of this curriculum revision intend that state schools need have no mandatory duty to teach culture to the lower orders, so music and art could be marginal. Perhaps there are not enough public school educated successful artists out there unlike Olympians? If only - There is plenty of hard educational research evidence that the arts are in fact the only subjects that matter in the 21st century precisely because they teach real values, thinking skills, creativity and self-directed learning. Michael Aspin once gave this example of why we desperately need arts in schools. If an alien species arrived on earth and declared it was going to eliminate the human race then what possible justification could the human race offer for it's continued existence?  The answer would be Shakespeare, Turgenev, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Beethoven or Bach. It would not be the Olympics, Design and technology, MFL, citizenship, Maths, English  any science or least of all ICT. The arts are what makes us truly human, they are what we value the most in life - they embody our entire significance and meaning as human beings. Again and again in education over the past 50 years art teachers/lecturers have had to defend their work against political philistines who manage the profession. Any art teacher/lecturer reading this needs to defend the teaching of art in their institution to the utmost, because no-one else will do it. An education in the arts (practice, not just appreciation) is a very, very, basic human right for everyone without exception and whatever their ability. Whether or not the subject is on an individual school's option list should not be down to the discretion of a prejudiced headmaster. Art is not just a luxury educational soft option for under-burdened rich kids.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sarah Lucas and Tate Unilever series. Sunday 29th July

Charles Darwent at the Independent on Sunday 29th July is quite effusive about  Sarah Lucas.  His piece explains the reason why her work has more artistic and aesthetic credence than that of the usual suspects  - In short, it is, he writes all down to mimesis. Sarah is a sculptress who hasn't abandoned her roots, she represents nature. As her work describes natural forms and presents us with visual phenomena to discuss, she is, he argues, as classical an artist as Cezanne or Michelangelo. This is rather over the top, scatological and blatantly crude yes, classical no, not ever - not even close to classicism or to the intellect of Cezanne or Michelangelo. In this stupid dumbing culture it is easy to forget that such people were towering intellects. There is all the difference between the idealised sculptural form of Michelangelo or Cezanne and a crude courgette or bucket which stands in for a piece of human anatomy. The human being as reduced to it's crudest bits. There is no classical form or aesthetics in a bucket. The same goes for that eternal easy solution of the contemporary art student, the kapok filled nylon stocking form, every female art student has made one at some point. Just as every sculpture student experimenting with form has filled balloons with plaster of Paris. Instant abstraction without the toil and thought, and instant interpretation of well, anything crude and obvious that you want it to be!......... Still the girl is on the right road.

Over at the Observer Laura Cummings is raving about the truly boneheaded excuse at the Tate's Turbine Hall.  "These associations"  has nothing whatsoever to do with visual art, much like the invisible exhibition at the Hayward it simply isn't visual or visual art. It is a sound performance on the level of the Archers. Suspect that the BBC wouldn't give Tino Sehgal house room. So why does the Tate persist in proudly putting on this sort of dumbed down, new age, pretentious, pseudo-art? Is it because the Turbine Hall is such an irrelevant and vast magnitude of visual art space most of the usual suspects brain's drown at the mere thought of tackling it? At a time when thousands of visual artists are ignored and marginalised, the Tate's continues to put on this art student verbal not visual garbage. Dumbing down the culture is one thing, but that this happening in the Turbine Hall space is inexcusable. August is usually a quiet month for art. The whole thing should drift downriver to the vicinity of the Globe where it would be much more entirely appropriate and engaging.  Suspect that these sound performances suggests that state art is now beginning to run on an empty tank, - it is finding it difficult to find any viable artists of any stature. Cummings effusively pens this;" This is a profound work and at the same time riveting, a new form of art somewhere between theatre, performance art, dance and memoir. Live art I suppose.".............  "One learns about other people, and one learns about oneself.  I shall never forget it!"   Well, yes of course one does, but it isn't visual and it certainly isn't art. It is twittering and tweeting inside and outside the gallery space, exchanging more empty words and more empty feelings! It is also safe enough for Unilever to sponsor, but that is another side issue. The effects of commercial sponsorship upon what is definable as non-threatening, yet challenging and cutting edge visual art, another pretentious potential PhD thesis.