Andre Wallace

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Frieze Masters 23/9/2012

Today's artists salute the bad boys of the past by Vanessa Thorp. This is pre-publicity for the Frieze Masters in Regents Park 11-14 October. This is a new art fair that draws links between artists of the past and the usual suspects. As such it's a marketing wheeze for work made before 2000. "When we started to cover contemporary art in Frieze magazine in 1991" enthuses Matthew Slotover - organiser of Frieze, "it was considered an insider joke, now we have got to the point where historical work can almost be over shadowed by it."  Which just proves how much money is chasing contemporary art. Ranting about how all contemporary artists were the bad boys of their day, only they weren't anything of the sort, many like Rubens were very very good boys, we learn that : "A few contemporary artists working today will be in the history books in 100 or 500 years time."  -  This displays a naive and very touching faith in the future, almost, one might almost say with tongue stuck in cheek, a modernist faith in progress. But then contemporary art is all illusion is it not?
Talks at the fair will develop this increasingly common curators theme, conflating the new, the useless, the transient and the temporary by association with the tried and tested values of the old:  We learn that Chris Ofili will lecture on Titian, Lynette Yaidomboakye on Degas, Cecily Brown will discuss traditional imagery with Nicholas Penny of the National Gallery, Luc Tuymans will talk about historical moments with a senior curator of the Louvre and Glen Brown with discuss works with a Zurich Kunsthaus Curator. This is in order to have a fresh perspective on the older work and discuss how it informs contemporary art, and yeh it's not marketing is it?  Then the punchline; "Artists have always wrestled with the art that has gone before them, but the media and public tend to focus on the new."  The word "wrestle" here smacks of hubris and of course millions of people visit traditional gallery's every year, looking at older art. This is another example of unintentional dumbing down, comparing past artifacts with those of the present when they have absolutely nothing whatsoever in common, except marketing.
In the same paper there is an informative article from the New York Times on contemporary Art's ability to shock. The critic Maggie Nelson raises the question "Once the original 'urge' is gone you have got to look at what the next emotion is." Strange isn't it, that the emotion is hardly ever what it ought to be if the work under discussion is art, namely a considered and measured aesthetic response? 

In the Independent on Sunday Claudia Pritchard comments on "Sculptors drawings" at Pangolin London and the Queens place gallery. These are not just drawings for making sculpture but also drawings by sculptors. There is a real and subtle difference. One piece of horror among the rest of the drawings is Dead Andy by photographer David Bailey and there are some poor efforts by the usual suspects. They are in the company of some serious sculptors such as George Fullard, William Turnbull, Lynn Chadwick, John Maine, Sarah Lucas, Richard Serra and Ben Nicholson - they do not stand up to comparison even in the online catalogue. Some very serious drawing here notably by Ralph Brown, Reg Butler, Don Brown, Ann Christopher, Eric Gill, Giacometti, Gabo, Nigel Hall and Carl Plackman
Moving on, Laura Cummings tackles the Bronze show at the RA. The article is accompanied by a photograph of a head of King Seuthes 111 which is a real revelation. The power of this object is undeniable and proof if proof were needed that we do indeed live in degenerate times. This is an exhibition that allows the objects to speak with their own authority away from the foibles and fashions of curators wayward interests.
Waldemar Janusczcak in the Sunday Times takes on the Liverpool Biennial in the Times and claims it is a revelation, but then he would do? The Tate's contribution to the Biennial is the usual suspects Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger they are hardly a revelation. Mona Hatoum comes out of it well.
He also reports that this year the John Moore's is fresh and exciting whilst the New Contemporaries is tedious beyond words; This is certainly true of the New Contemporaries; Nicola Frimpong has an MA from Wimbledon and her drawing skills are actually this incompetent. The John Moore's also has little to recommend it certainly not Cullinan Richards "horse" Matt Welch's pretentious Ikea riff or "the good terrorists" by Emma Talbot.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Revisionist Pre- Raphaelites - 16/9/2012

Critics and Curators
The 16/9/2012 press brings us news of the Tate opening of a Pre-Raphaelite re-hang. The last big Pre-Raphaelite exhibition was apparently in 1984. Waldemar Janusczcak at the Sunday Times and Laura Cummings at the Observer both tackle this show. We learn that behind the Pre-Raphaelite show is an eminence Gris, Andrew LLoyd Webber, the collector who has kindly loaned many of his paintings to the Tate in an attempt to convince us of their true value. Waldemar says the show disappoints, it promises a re-evaluation but doesn't deliver one. He argues that the revision seems half-hearted and the best way to enjoy the show is to enjoy the individual paintings, amen to that! He says no revaluation is possible, the works are as bad as he remembers them to be. "This is an avoidance of reality on such a cosmic scale that for long stretches of the display I found myself suppressing the need to laugh" he writes. Simply put, the imaginative escape from vicious London Victorian life depicted by Sir Hubert Herkomer and others is easily condemned by a revolutionary modernist for being divorced from reality. Yet this man is a critic who continually colludes with current state art as being challenging, innovative and popular when in reality it is none of these things, it is as devoid of protest and engagement with reality as any Pre-Raphaelites painting.
In a 1988 copy of Modern Painters Janusczcak was interviewed by John Bull, having just become the literary editor of the Guardian. In an arguement over a Jeff Koons Hoover in a glass case he said this to Bull (who had stated that Koons had done nothing to the hoover apart from present it in a glass case); "Surely the real fool here is you because you cannot see what the rich fool saw. All you see is a hoover. And that does not explain why rich fools queue up to buy it. You lack the critical imagination to put yourself in the mind of the rich fool. And you are therefore in no position to comment meaningfully on the artistic transaction that has been engineered." This is guff and a totally untenable position thirty years later. At the end of the interview he also said this, having been asked why he had resigned from being the art critic of the Guardian; "The idea of being seen to be in the same profession as Brian Sewell suddenly became too absurd to countenance. And because I did not want to be around as the Tate was gradually transformed into the Millbank Super Loo" My, how words said in anger can come back to bite one!

Laura Cummings is convinced that the avant garde arguement is pure bunk. She says this is a specious arguement because the painting is the most passionate denial of 20th century modernism possible. Millais is the "method painter par excellence" she says. Modernist right on critic credentials to the fore she pens this:  "The characteristics (of the paintings) are always the same, glistening excess, lurid colour, that all-over emphasis and oppressive density of detail that leaves the eye with nowhere to go, that demands your obedient attention. This is an art that wants to turn you into a passive Burne Jones zombie"  This says nothing whatsoever about the art and everything about the attention span and visual abilities of the critic.

The Tate curators try to argue that the PRB were Victorian Avant Garde only the definition cutting edge,  can have no meaning twinned with art that looked back to the Renaissance. Why cannot the art speak for itself, why does it have to be filtered through some other godforsaken sensibility and regurgitated as something else? Rossetti et al were foggy revisionist escapists and nothing good ever came from eclectic or plagiarised ideas. Still, they do have their stunning visual moments, Millais will always be valued for transcending the other artists. He was a singular talent  but was also capable of true silliness, be that as it may, the show is well worth a visit.

Charles Darwent in the Independent takes on the RA Bronze exhibition. problem. Again why do curators think it is right and fashionable to place objects with no relationship or relevance to one another side by side? Compare and contrast! Here the link is the material - bronze, as if this has any intrinsic aesthetic or artistic meaning or significance? Why can't we have similar shows entitled plaster of Paris, paper or felt? Truly a lazy way of curating art history, relevance and significance thrown out with the bathwater. Darwent cannot resist the reference to Jeff Koons bronze Basketball made in 1985 when we are informed the artist was 30. "Although brazenly just what it says it is, Basketball has all the platonic beauty of Boulee's cenotaph for Isaac Newton." Only it doesn't do to compare proposed architecture with small inadequate bronzes and it is not even an original post-modernist idea merely a 1980's re-hash of Jasper John's cans of 1960. We are also informed that Anish Kapoor has  been given a place here among the Renaissance bronzes only he doesn't earn it, his polished copper (not bronze) relates to nothing else in the show. Darwent complains that as 90% of the objects are sculpture you cannot walk around them, which is essential and rather defeats the purpose. "What we are presented with in the end is a great many bronze objects." Complaining about a show in which the art is left to speak for itself!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Realist painting - moments in time

Popular representational painters
One of the most significant groups of realist paintings of the late 20th century is the Helga series by Andrew Wyeth. Much hot air has been wasted in the discussion as to whether Wyeth was an illustrator, and not an artist. The Helga series seems to prove otherwise, although he could be very inconsistent with the content of much of his work. The public have always rated his work and he has become the quintessential painter of small town America, he created "Christina's world" the most popular iconic image of the USA. Leonard B Andrews bought the entire "Helga series" of 67 framed paintings from Wyeth in 1971 for $6million. Then the collection was broken up for a reported profit of 600%. The money raised went to help form the National Arts Program across the USA. Robert Rosenblum described Wyeth as "the most over-rated and the most under rated artist of the 20th century." This doesn't however explain the iconic status that the Helga collection has assumed. For the artist was reported to be dissembling to his wife about the creation of the Helga series which he painted over 15 years at his neighbour's, the Keurners farm from 1971 - 1986. The paintings were hidden in their loft before their sale to Andrews. Wyeth admitted that he was obsessed with Helga but his wife is reported to have known nothing about the relationship. Speculation about the artist's relationship with the Helga surrounds the creation of the series, but the pictures demonstrate a property now never seen in contemporary art - timelessness. Sheepskin, Refuge, the Cape coat and the Prussian are all perfectly timeless images, packed to the brim with poetry, love and beauty. Perhaps the greatest portrait of Helga Testorp is "Braids." As Wyeth himself observed; "If my paintings are worth anything - if they have quality - that quality will find a way to preserve itself." These paintings prove the truth of that assertion.

David Inshaw is another very popular UK figurative painter. He also continues working through his obsessions with Wiltshire landscape, figures and animals. He combines the elemental and brooding landscape with sensual content to create still points in time. The (mainly female) figures, cliffs, down-land,  leaping cat or bird are juxtaposed in surrealist combinations, symbolic of elements taken from the artist’s life. It is painted with the intensity of dreams and revelations. His most popular painting is probably this ; "Ours days were a joy."

Kit Williams, is a popular artist and an enigma, he functions outside the art world selling directly to those who love his work. He was briefly in the public eye in the 1980's for burying a jeweled gold hare near Ampthill in Bedfordshire and providing clues to its whereabouts in a book entitled "Masquerade".  The resolution of the affair left a bad taste in the public's memory because the finders used a metal detector instead of solving the puzzle. He continues to paint enigmatic images and is completely self taught. In his paintings, time is frozen deliberately, everything and everyone are part of an elaborate tableau, almost a contrived stage set that plays with different interpretations and meanings. They are both everyday and surrealist in intent, but often leave one with an odd feeling, prompting the question - Why?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Idle art works?

It seems that no-one in the UK art world wants Charles Saatchi's art collection? Why would this be so? It is an interesting source of speculation. The usual press suspects are ranting that it's wrong to reject his great gift to the nation worth over £30million. Some, (the arts council) are reported to have sought to pick and choose bits of it. Perhaps this fact is a tiny bit of comfort to artists who cannot forgive him for the damage he inflicted upon contemporary British art and on art education. It seems that he may now have to set up a private foundation to ensure it's future existence as a collection.

All the Sunday Press seems to have covered the Chinese art exhibition opening at the Hayward. The Observer's Laura Cummings, Independent's Charles Darwent and the Time's Waldemar Januszczak all tackle the review.  Waldemar says he is banned from China because of this film about Al Wei Wei. This means he has to rely on others when commenting on Chinese art. He is also not enamoured of the most popular and expensive art by Yue Minjun or Zhang Xiaogang. There are other artists covertly challenging the Chinese state, he argues, such as our Al. The Hayward show is as challenging as one would expect from this source, softly if at all, much like the level of protest in British conceptual art i.e. non-existent. We Have Chen Zhen presenting a room with everything coated in brown clay. Sun Yuang and Peng Yu  present a tableau film on cruelty to dogs which would fall fowl of the law in the UK. Sun Peng's tall column is made of human fat (shades of Beuys). This Waldemar says, is the dark side the rest is Buddhist vagaries as in Yingmei Duan,   and Liang Shoaji's silkworms munching, Chen Zhens nursery project and reams of archival protest material available on a bank of computers.

Regardless of this he remains enthusiastic as does Laura Cummings who is effusive: "Yingmei Duan courts speech without speaking." On and on in a similar vein, finishing with a flourish :"These are unfamiliar feelings for an art gallery (feeling protective) but this is a most uncommon show of art." 

Charles Darwent is more critical, commenting on Yangmei Duan's Happy Yingmei as horrible as well as beautiful. Having run away from it he argues it's about archetypes, caves and wise women. "It is also Chinese but only also." "There is a maturity and meticulousness to the art that is missing from the British equivalent."  Perhaps this show does have something to teach art students about the possibilities of opposition in contemporary art. When the word challenging is used in a UK contemporary art context it means precisely and exactly the opposite. Challenge is never tolerated in UK state art. Given the enormous range, history and variety of Chinese art it is depressing that their version of an avant garde should be so eclectic and imitative of western art. What happened to their art history that they cannot learn from it?  But then we only get to see what they and the Hayward want us to see, the really challenging stuff is probably somewhere else and showing it might give artists ideas.

More reviews banging on about Gompert's new tome on modern art.  This Guardian hype by Gomperts himself  is merely annoying. He states that: "The reverence with which Fountain is now treated would have amused Duchamp, who chose it specifically for its lack of aesthetic appeal (something he called anti-retinal). "  It would have done nothing of the sort, Duchamp actually said in an interview in 1964 that he despised the adoration of art as a religion and that he regretted the fact that it had been taken seriously and that it effectively legitimized any artifact as art. There are plenty of Utube interviews of the prankster himself. He liked talking did Duchamp. As mentioned before in this blog, research has now shown that the idea wasn't even his. The urinal was submitted by the madcap Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. She didn't claim the urinal was a work of art. She was literally taking the p***.  Such a great empty nihilist gesture became the quick-sand foundation upon which the whole and entire edifice of conceptual art was built.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Adam Dant and Patrick Proctor

Adam Dant is an artist one cannot help but admire. Totally unfashionable but very British, he goes his own sweet unfashionable way, making drawings that mock the world using different strategies of visual metaphor. He has been described as a contemporary maker of "mockuments," drawings based upon the floor plans of museums and galleries. His work is rich in meaning, complex allusion and wit and as such is demanding, the opposite of the most fashionable contemporary art kitsch. He has a show at the Hales gallery from the 7th September. It is well worth a visit. Another artist who is little unknown outside academic circles is Professor Deanna Petherbridge an artist whose draughtswoman-ship is also superb. Other artists with similar drawing status are: Robert Hurdle, Norman Ackroyd,and Michael Porter.

Charles Darwent pens about the retro Patrick Prockter exhibition at the Huddersfield art gallery in the Independent on Sunday. The piece is full of unsupported assertions such as:"Wisdom has it that there was only room for one painter of the Hockney kind (?) and Hockney got the job." No mention of the ways in which Proctor undermined his own art by living the tabloid life, as it were. Then this: "This tight clever show makes clear that Proctor was a very much better painter than Hockney, at least in the sense of being endlessly proficient." " He could paint like anyone and he did."
This was of course the problem with his work, he had no real authentic voice or style of his own, he could do anyone and he did, Caulfield, De Kooning, Bacon, Sutherland to mention a few. He could also do Hockney."His work is Haute Cuisine all the way. In the days when people wanted Wimpy bars this told against him." says Darwent. He finishes the article with this; "Patrick Proctor was too good a painter to be a good artist." Neither one thing or another, being a painter is one thing, being an artist is another? To be an artist, is, presumably to live to old age and not to die of drink as Procktor did. It wasn't the people who wanted Wimpy bar art - they were of course as ever, never consulted !

 Bryan Appleyard, writes a visual critique of Will Gompert's art book "What are you looking at?" in the Sunday Times supplement. State art apologist Will Gomperts the BBC visual art correspondent, has penned an official history of Modern Art that leaves much to be desired. Gomperts, (formerly of the Tate) believes that if he keeps repeating it long enough then everyone will eventually believe that the boring original poodle faker and occultist, Duchamp is the original master of contemporary art. Bryan Appleyard accuses him of selective vision, and the book is the same old same old tired old clap trap we would expect from this source. "We are living through a contemporary art boom," Gomperts thunders without mentioning who it is being fueled by. He has also made several important artistic omissions because of self-imposed conceptual art blindness. Bryan Appleyard takes him to task in the review for his deliberate omission of Lucian Freud, Hockney, Kiefer and Richter to name but a few. One now has the suspicion that the Tate is now nothing but a business, and as consumers it should be treated as such, it is no longer interested in the preservation of our visual culture. He concludes the Times copy with the assertion that "there are no revolutionaries now. The market place has normalised everything," the Avant Garde is dead and fossilized, all of which suggests that the book is reading for students.

The worst piece of art copy to appear on Sunday in the Observer is from one Rachel Cooke who is standing in for Laura Cummings whilst she is on holiday. "Nowhere, less Now" is particularly dire verbage describing an event at the Tabernacle NW6. The article contains this copy: " Seers works in film, constructing complex narratives that are mostly fiction but which have their roots in autobiography. When she started talking to the people at Artangle they took her on a blind date, I'm guessing that she fell in love etc ...... etc...... In the strange quiet of the Tabernacle I was lost at sea, overwhelmed by a brief wave of doubt and confusion. " Straight out of the Anish Kapoor book of crap art script it's a pity the Observer sent along a reporter who seems to know nothing about contemporary art.