Andre Wallace

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The State of contemporary art

Interesting article from Sunday's Observer,  one David Hickey senior American art critic and doyen of gonzo reportage says that has now abandoned contemporary art through thorough disillusion with the entire circus. Always critical of the dumbing down of American culture he has undergone a Damascene conversion and says that detests the culture of celebrity which has destroyed the notion of value in the art world. He is reported to have said; "What can I tell you? It's nasty and it's stupid. I'm an intellectual and I don't care if I'm not invited to the party. I quit."
He also observes that the art world has become like the Paris Salon of the 19th century, where bureaucrats and conservatives combined to stifle the field of work. It took the revolution of Impressionism to break that particular log jam. Real artists and real art have been marginalised by faceless bureaucrats and advisers promoting fake art and faux celebrity because of silly money chasing culturally worthless artifacts. Which brings us to the list published by art news of the 2012 top 200 art collectors. Well worth perusing, as an insight into the above problem, as also is the list of the top ten art collectors.
Today Friday brings news that Sir Nicholas Serota intends to extend his influence abroad. The Tate has bought its own museum of contemporary African art in Benin. The president for life is quoted as saying that the west is no longer the dominant force in contemporary art - for which read state approved conceptual garbage and he will be using 40% of his acquisition budget to buy major work from Africa, Latin America and the middle east. Two problems with this; 1; On past performance who in the Tate organisation is capable of defining and discovering major art work? and 2; this actually can be defined as further dumbing down in pursuit of minority interests. There is also the caveat that he himself is a major part of the problem, one could ask - have not his past decisions now influenced the situation if the west is no longer the dominant force?

Piece of very good news is that the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge has raised the 3.9million needed to keep the Poussin masterpiece Extreme Unction in the UK.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

RWA Autumn exhibition

Monday 22nd October;
Bristol to see the 160th autumn exhibition at the RWA. A disappointment as the RWA seems to have gone the way of its big brother in Piccadilly - turning the open exhibition into an academicians show. Why the academicians cannot have their own select show is questionable, they do it with the SW Academy and it is very successful. The RWA reportedly had over 2000 submissions this year, there are 541 exhibits of which 200 are from academicians. This leaves 341 exhibits by other artists, which gives the individual artist a one in six chance of exhibiting. As if these odds were not long enough, the selection committee this year seems to have been made up of a cabal of abstract expressionists of whom there are far more exhibiting  than seems absolutely necessary. The first gallery is frankly tedious unless you an an enthusiast for heavy daubs. A primary function of an academy is to preserve figurative and representational painting but that seems to be a minority interest here. Missing in the thin number of exhibits are all those realistic cityscapes and landscapes replaced by the dire abstractions of the first and second galleries. This sort of thing dominates, by Tim Garwood, George Sherlock, Louise Balaam Susan Foord or Karen Purple.  All well and good but definitely a minority taste.
A giclee print of a landscape photograph by Dave Morgan Davies carried off the Louise Copping fine art award, which hardly seems fair to the landscape painters who didn't get a look in, particularly as the rubric for artists entry specifically excludes Giclee prints.
Perhaps it is churlish to criticize the defects, the exhibition has much to recommend it there were a number of real highlights which included these artists : Holly Brodie, a superb bronze by Denis Curry, Kurt JacksonP J Crook, Kate Milsom, Annie Fry, Howard PhippsSarah Woolfendon and Anne Desmet

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Threadneedle Prize

This weeks press has been singularly lacking in any comment on contemporary art, apart that is, from the public aggravation surrounding the usual suspect's blatant self promotion on the foreshore at Ilfracombe. Passing over that as out of bounds to consider;
The Threadneedle prize which has become something of an mess and enigma. It was, once upon a time a pillar of good representational painting but has now  been given up to the low aspirations and achievement that are now common in the art world.  The Threadneedle seems to reflect a decline in skills and values only too well, yet figurative painting, despite all the media resources dedicated to the promotion of state art kitsch, continues to thrive and grow.  More and more art students are signing up for part time life drawing to up their skills base.

These artists consistently produce beautiful realistic images and sculpture and their work is worth a look;

Deanna Petherbridge
Mark Cross
Dana Levin
Sarah Woolfenden
George Shaw
Kihinde Wiley
Darren Baker
Andrew Parker
Thomas Doran
Peter Kelley
David Piddock
Phillip Jackson
Jeanette Barnes
Nicholas Granger Taylor
Saied Dai

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Richard Hamilton, National Gallery - 14/10/2012

Laura Cumming is much moved by the late Richard Hamilton's exhibition at the National Gallery.  Her emotional response isn't equaled by her descriptions of the visual phenomena. Speaking of the picture "Lobby"  she writes; "Some images are made using computers to conjure the exact geometry of long corridors, white galleries with checkerboard tiles, pristine bathrooms, where gleaming surfaces set up competing reflections." They were all probably photo-shopped but Hamilton had trained and worked as a draughtsman and he was one of the last of the generation who knew renaissance perspective intimately. He was always a master of illusion, the manipulation of visual illusions is ultimately the content of his work but surfaces and illusions tend to lack empathy and humanity. Looking hard at the photos of  "Le chef D'ouevre inconnu" accompanying the article one can see it's an uneasy Hamilton, immediately. The nude doesn't quite fit, psychologically or visually despite all the photo-shopped wizardry: coquette or glam model, she is a curious smiling digital nude surrounded by extracts from masterpieces. The image shows the limitations of digital image manipulation and none of the visual certainties of traditionally observed and well composed painting. One of the most inconsistent artists of his generation, he was in total thrall to the great fake, Duchamp. He redid "nude descending a staircase" in this exhibition using photographic images - Presumably in homage, as with his re-creation of the large glass?
Adrian Hamilton in Monday's Independent is similarly effusive. We learn here that the three photo-shopped images "Le chef D'ouevre inconnu" are loosely based upon a variation of the Pygmalion legend by Balzac. One wonders whether the images are as Richard Hamilton wanted them, as he intended to complete the painting as an oil painting, but we will never know? The paintings display all that was problematic with Richard Hamilton's work - that unfashionable difficult question of meaning and artist's intention. The meaning is never exactly what it seems and is often gauche, inappropriate and well disguised. Hence the two nudes in the re-created Fra Angelico "Annunciation", the vacuuming nude in "Hotel du Rhone". Adrian Hamilton explains that this is a concern with beauty as portrayed throughout the classical nude in the history of western art. He would probably have argued the same about Hamilton's execrable defecating ladies paintings of the 1980's but you won't find any of them on Google. This is cognitive dissonance, the "passage of the angel" takes a central tenet from the new testament and peoples it with nudes. This is a measure of how debased our visual culture has become. The actual meaning of this image goes completely unremarked upon by our erstwhile critics but then it usually does.
Waldemar Janusczcak at the the Sunday Times also enthuses wildly over the Richard Hamilton show. He says it is a fabulous event, as Hamilton was the most important British artist of the 20th century - really - was he more important than Henry Moore or Francis Bacon? "He was our Warhol" he croons "and he came first........." , but he was a technical draughtsman to the very end and Waldemar ignores the problem of the meaning of the images ; He just gawps: "The nudes pose like painted Venuses but the cellulite on their bottoms comes from our world. Perhaps the main subject here is that magnificent final subject - truth."  What truth does a photographed nude descending a staircase reveal? Which goes to prove that art critics do not ever discuss the actual visual content of the imagery for fear of  - what? (straying into that minefield the artists intention?) As he says; "Kate Moss has sent a spear into Fra Angelico's monastery." Again why? what was the point of writing that totally meaningless smart -ass remark?

Monday, October 08, 2012

2012 Turner prize 2

Sunday Press 08/10/2012
Spectrum - Sunday Times Magazine

Masterclass images from the National Gallery's first major exhibition of photography. The photos in the article have been twinned with the masterpieces as evidence that these paintings have influenced a whole genre of photography, only they have not. The connections are visually meaningless to say the least, not what one would expect from the National Gallery. The curators could have easily found other photographers or artists whose posed photographic work directly lifts ideas from specific masterpieces, not just vague correspondances  The idea of a entire genre is specious and the evidence simply isn't here:
Delacroix Death of Sardanapalus                      Tom Hunter Death of Coltelli
Ingre Small bather                                            Richrad Learoyd Tatooed Male
Eugene Emmanuel Amaury-Doval Venus          Rineke Dijkstra Girl on a beach
Fantin Latour Rosy wealth of June                    Ori Gersht Blow up
Ingres Madame Moitessier                               Richard Learoyd Jasmine
Carravaggio Supper at Emmaus                        Luc Delahaye Opic Conference

Conceptually meaningless and poorly researched journalism instead of the expected National Gallery level curation. The supper at Emmaus, one of the finest images of Christ in existence has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Opic Conference photo, you would have to be blind to assume any connection. T'is all pish and tosh.

On page 10 of the Sunday Times Culture magazine we have yet another hype for Frieze Masters. Luc Tuymans we are informed yet again is showing at David Zirner, and the RA launches a fundraising exhibition to coincide with the festivities. The usual suspects are auctioning their work ! Reminds one of the fact that ten years from now half the art gallerys now exhibiting at Frieze will no longer exist and half the artists being offered will no longer be represented.
Over the page Waldemar is criticising the Turner Prize, he writes; "The Turner is true to it's times because the decision makers who shape it are the inhabitants of a trout pond congregating where the food is dropped." Trout pellets presumably, made from Horse meat and offal, an amusing comparison and accurate, trout are also voracious cannibals. He calls Spartacus Chetwyn ridiculous - performance art which lacks a sense of purpose. Luke Fowler's 93 minute film on RD Laing he says is an insult to the word art whilst Elizabeth Prices Chorus film is flawed but serious. It is art reflecting a generation of artists determined to make their own films but lacking the skills. Art Schools do not teach skills of any kind, nor can they now staffed as they are by suspects with no skills to impart. Waldemar also criticises Paul Noble, a traditional artist and once again the sordid phrase "the turd in the plaza" crops up. Seems to be the standard lazy google insult referring to Henry Moore which is tasteless and unwarranted, much like our erstwhile critics because Charles Darwent uses exactly the same phrase in describing Noble's work in the Independent. (the second time he has done so this year) The noticeable thing about Waldemar's effort is that it is largely critical. One can only surmise that the Turner prize is really trawling the muddy bottom for Waldemar to suggest that the trout prefer midges to horse flesh pellets. Charles Darwent is enthusiastic in judging all the Turner prize artists. Luke Fowlers tedious film is described as extraordinary, Elizabeth Price a poor also ran. Spartacus Chetwynd he fails to address on the grounds he has an aversion to performance art. Alastaire Smart (unlike Richard Dorment whose excuse for criticism is almost always risible ) and who is also in the Telegraph says Spartacus has the production values of an infant school play. He argues that the prize merely reflects the personal prejudices of the five judges in the trout pond. He cannot understand Elizabeth Prices film Chorus and thinks Luke Fowler belongs in a cinema not an art gallery. Arty film not film art. Of Paul Noble he writes that he may be too soulless for some tastes although he likes his Bosch like vision and that as he works in traditional media he won't win. The Tate will whip up a media stir on the judges failings - which brings us right back to the limited and inverted world frame of the trout pond where the entire pond surface outside the trouts window reflects back to the fish what is beneath the water. This trout thing could run and run!

Back at the Sunday Times Bran Appleyard has interviewed Anish Kapoor. We learn that he went into
engineering when he left school at his fathers insistence but it did not last. "I couldn't draw!" he bleats, "so I decided to become an artist". What does that say? Now worth over £80million he is known, we are informed as "a hard as nails negotiator." Bet he is. He worries that art has been commodified  whilst he himself is a well-branded artist  and he is worried about producing luxury goods. Kapoor argues that he does not do this: "There is something about sculpture in general to do with the body .........that is very old, proto-religion. One of the things about abstract art is that it allows you to go back to the beginning to ask daft questions 'what is consciousness?' 'Who are we?' 'Where are we?'." This says more about Kapoor than anything that Appleyard pens.
If the sculpture asks these daft questions, then why pray is it so devoid of any humanity, so vacuous and so empty, why so lacking in any sense of the numinous, the ineffable and unknowable? Cannot see it because it is just not there, just visual illusions, reflections, smoke and mirrors.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Frieze Masters 2 30/9/2012

More Frieze Masters 
This post was provoked by publicity for Luc Tuymans portrait of Queen Beatrix. Tuymans has been all over the press recently as he is here in association with the Frieze masters - several articles have mentioned the fact that he says that the Arnolfini portrait in the UK National Gallery is the greatest work of western art in existence? Greater than the Sistine Chapel? Greater than "The School of Athens"  Greater than any Velasquez? Hence the Frieze masters, old is the new, new - promoting old art as the prices of new contemporary art are now quite astronomically stupid. Sothebys and Christies evening sales have been recently reported as reaching the giddy heights of 2008. The very unfashionable subject of artistic value appeared in an article on the re-run of Robert Hughes "Shock of the New" in Saturday 29th September Independent by Tom Sutcliffe. He asks the question why we can no longer accept that most contemporary art is rubbish? Even when the art trade itself accepts that 85% of it is garbage. He asks "when did we become so nervous as to be unable to distinguish good art from bad." The answer is when we allowed the market to assume all precedence over connoisseurship. Some things such as genetics, Heidegger or Plato are not available to everyone, so it is with the more arcane shores of contemporary art to time-poor individuals. Sutcliffe argues that questioning whether art is good or bad risks bringing down the entire house of cards; "........it wasn't Robert Hughes enthusiasm alone that made him such a riveting broadcaster, but the reassuring knowledge that not everything automatically received it." How true is that!
There are many very successful contemporary artists whose depiction of reality in paint, is, it has to be said, downright questionable, but have the temerity to conflate their skills as having some great inherent post modernist quality aided by confusing groundbreaking modernist images such as Cezanne, Van Gogh or Picasso with their own efforts. Some examples to consider;
Nancy Spero
Elizabeth Peyton
Liu Xiaodong
Tomma Abts
Andre Butzer
George Condo
Richard Prince
Alex Katz

The Independent has Charles Darwent's analyses of the Freize Masters marketing fuss in Sundays sheet. Singing from the same hymn sheet as the previous post he dishes up the previous publicity plus this real food for thought from Jasper Sharp "I asked him (Jeff Koons) whether he thought it crazy that one of his works could fetch 10 times as much as a Poussin" Koons replied slowly; "Jasper everything turns to dust." Darwent writes "So is the old really the new (what)?" thereby covering the cold fact that so much money is chasing meaningless efforts it needs to find a more secure haven. As Iwan Wirth of Hauser and Wirth is reported by Darwent to have said with an ocean of hubris; " People are collecting now in the way that Kings and barons did in medieval times. " I.e. The wealthy fiddle whilst Europe burns .............."

The Sunday Times has Waldemar Janusczcak confusing "Bronze" at the RA with oddly enough one Poussin (Extreme Unction) now at the National Gallery, and which is subject to a campaign to save it for the Nation - specifically the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge. Not even a rational comparison, just one where his attitudes towards the chief curators shows through the copy.  The bronze exhibition for once allows the objects to speak for themselves - they are not mediated through the eye of a curator. The Observer has Laura Cummings tackling Thomas Shutte. For once, a sane piece of criticism about a significant heavyweight.  We have also had Edward Lucy Smith raving about the possible re-valuation  of the usual suspects, and how you can buy a usual suspect from Sainsburys for £1.86 if you wish for spots, in the same issue. He is also promoting an exhibition of the infamous Stuckists!