Whispers

Whispers
Andre Wallace

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The power of the image - "50,000 feet is the best".

Some serious stuff this week from Charles Darwent in the Independent on Sunday from the Imperial War Museum no less. A particularly apt exhibition when the west is considering getting entangled in the Syrian civil war.

We forget that we are animals, indeed our whole culture is designed to disguise those aspects of our humanity that are animal. So with the issue of sex, which in the past was surrounded with taboos and restrictions because it so often posed a threat to society's function, it has now become entertainment in our culture in the form of pornography. The discussion now centers upon the argument that this is harming children. In short the screen and the internet make taboo images easily available where they are inappropriate, we all know this. The argument is not whether pornography corrupts, but whether it corrupts children and anyone can see that it  can corrupt anyone. Religious restrictions on sex existed for good rational and sane reasons to do with respect for the humanity of the whole person.

The problem here is the desensitising nature of the screen image, what pertains to sex also pertains to death, they are in truth opposite ends of the animal pole only we are terrified of death. The cultural fetishisation of death is smaller, for little boys obsessed with Lord of the rings, 007, Bruce Willis or Jason Statham, etc, etc. The film show at the War museum "50,000 feet is best" asks the question - is killing by drone easier than face to face? The answer is obviously yes, it is and the IT world has been de-sensitising children for some time using computer war games and graphics. The technology has been around for some time - in arcade games.
Darwent quotes a drone pilot as saying “It’s like playing a single game every day but always sticking on the same level,”. He argues that the film by Omer Fast is an attempt to make us  morally puzzled by films of people being morally puzzled by films  - which is to make us  complicit in our own alienation. This is a really serious issue, we have all been unwitting victims of experimentation with our mindset and we need more art and films like Fast's to hammer the point home. It may be way too late to repair all the damage, as we stand on the brink of a repeat fiasco with huge potential danger in store in Syria.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Threadneedle Prize time

This has been a quiet week for art apart from the pre-publicity for the Threadneedle Prize. Some change is going on here, there is a distinct shift towards the quirky end and psychotic imagery, i.e. "issues" which, whilst having the pretensions of art are very difficult to live with on the wall. Artists that stand out are Hannah BrownJan Mikulka, Harriet White, Alan Stewart, and Sarah Ball for their often excellent bare faced realism. The depressing and very commercial UK landscape and weather daub section is well represented here by Gill Rocca, Martin Layton Jameson, Sax Impey, Caroline Kha, Carlo Groppi, Ernesto Canovas,  Jacqueline Abel,  Jonny Green, Donna MacleanLisa Kronenburg and  Mi-Young Choi. As a group this kind of landscape painting seems to be an artistic cul de sac with little seen and observed content to develop.

Some of the artists in the show do aspire to the condition of art, notable here for quality are Clare Macormack, Lisa Wright, Catherine Barron, Mandy Payne and Raoof Haghighi whose quietly assured works suggest that art is not yet a totally lost cause.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Edinburgh Art Festival

A comment from Laura Gascoigne ; "Nine years ago, John Keane wrote a letter to the Guardian in which he distinguished between three categories of contemporary art: 1) Searle approved (and so reviewed); 2) non-Searle approved but bearing the imprimatur of the art establishment of Charles Saatchi (and so reviewed); 3) the rest (ignored). His conclusion was that, for all the critical attention they got, category three artists might as well be on the planet Tharg. He signed off: “What’s the collective noun for art critics? Herd, I think.” 

The herd have focussed attention on the 10th year of the Edinburgh Art festival - Hugh Pearman in the Sunday Times offers the thought that the exhibitions offer light relief. Mentioning Modern one From Death to Death at the Scottish national Gallery of Modern art we learn that the classics include a Hans Arp beside that dreadful relic of decadence to prove that what's on show isn't proof that it's all of no consequence - Duchamp's Urinal, which here seems superfluous! This accompanies a work by Ernesto Neto "It happens when the body is an anatomy of time".  Truly the one legitimates all the others - as if we didn't know that guff.
At Modern Two you have to pay to get into "Witches and wicked bodies.". So from Harry Potter to the Scottish National Gallery we have promotion of medieval primitivism, after we have taken two millennia to climb out of the slime, utterly depressing. Charles Darwent at the Independent says that the visit involves seeing things that he doesn't like, stuff that is over conceptualised, if that's possible. He raves about Peter Liversidge's appropriation of Max Klinger's "The Glove." Another non-art curation event bringing Max Klinger's incomparable etchings to the people through other media which is quite beside the point.  If you have seen the original etchings you will know that the sheer fantastic quality of Klinger's Glove suite has rarely been equaled in the entire history of etching, enlarging it with photography rather defeats the purpose and makes no sense apart from ruining the ontological value of the real life etchings.

This is an interesting post about the future of publically owned art an issue that may be coming soon to you in the near future when cash strapped UK district councils start auctioning off more of their art collections.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Dame Laura Knight and Peter Doig

Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, will step down from his job, the institution’s board of trustees said on july 24th. Interesting how wrong he got it, upsetting the artists and ultimately succeeding in reducing the museums income - not a happy story?

Ah, Ha! The harsh vagaries of fashion and of membership of the RA!  Dame Laura Knight was a very good figurative painter who vanished from the art world shortly after her death in 1970. Unfortunately she was a faded anachronism, completely out of sympathy with modernism during the 20th century. This didn't affect her real life popularity though? Now the National Portrait Gallery wish to have her rehabilitated to accompany the film Summer in February about the Newlyn School with which she was associated.  She was an illustrator as well as a fine artist, her people are beautifully drawn and boy could she do the hands and feet. Her work knocks Tracey's drawing  skills into a cocked hat. That said, our erstwhile critics have got tied into knots over the contradictions inherent in the National Portrait Gallery show. One in particular, Waldemar Januszczak says that women cannot do war art and having seen the room at the National Gallery full of her war art, do have to agree with this assessment, it looks for all the world like a room full of over large Picture Post front posters, which it isn't. The cockpit of a Lancaster bomber is an illustration, she spent more time on the texture of the aircrews leather jackets than empathising with their facial expression or real life situation. What does work are her beautiful paintings of Gypsies, and noted that the show was over-crowded.
Rachel Cooke in the Observer 14.07.2013 waxes lyrically about Dame Laura's work at the Nuremberg Trials and says that at least one painting in each room convinces you that she is under-rated. This is, she argues entirely due to her hostility to modernism, and not due to the illustrative nature of the imagery. Her work is about ordinariness even down to the Nuremberg trials. Charles Darwent says her style was midway between socialist realism and the Saturday Evening Post. Truth to tell there is more of the evening post in the exhibition than socialist realism, one gets the impression that she thought the very english trait of good manners was more significant than telling the truth.
Waldemar Januszczak at the Sunday Times describes her as a Miss Marple with a brush, both a progressive and regressive painter. She was, he argues, totally inconsistent, brilliant and appalling by turns. She had, he says, no cutting edge style or technique, unlike David Bomberg, John Nash or Henry Moore. He also says the Nuremberg trials painting is the worst war painting ever made, it simply doesn't work - have to agree that it is a formal disaster of a painting. She was, he assesses, a talented gadfly with an annoying lack of endurance.

At the opposite end of the figurative pole we have Peter Doig at the Scottish National gallery. He is an art world enigma, a contradictory but contemporary figurative painter, there seems no logical explanation of his huge pecuniary success. He has a very painterly imagination and he seems to produce art whose style is derived from early 1960's pop with very thin runny paint. It isn't visual, it is druggy and hallucinatory. He uses postcards and photographs to resource his imagery and he doesn't bother about the extra drawn and seen precision that comes from using an actual object or scene. What one has to respect is his ability to thrive in adversity, he has gone on ignoring the vagaries of conceptual art fashion and made something original in spite of much criticism, an object lesson in how art often needs adversity to become worthwhile.
The paintings are unfashionable to the extent that Laura Cumming's review in  the Observer 4.08.2013 betrays all the hallmarks of a conceptual art critic at sea with a representational painting. 
"This is a picture, that of a mirage that has the characteristics of a mirage itself: you have to squint to see the image (such as it is) in the hazy surface of the canvas and the more you look the more it disappears." she writes; but "at least he is original." Others go on in a similar vein, Sean O'Hagan, Charles Darwent and Adrian Hamilton all produce their peons of praise which focus on the other-worldly aspects of his paintings. None of them get to the heart of why the vague and loose imagery is so popular? Alastair Sooke is downright rude about the exhibition and he says he actually loathes some of the paintings which is rich - from most of what he has written he just doesn't like painting.