Andre Wallace

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year - old problems

Reflections on our visual culture.

Way back in the 1980's attended a course arranged by the art critic Sarah Kent. Was amused by the whole thing because the young manager who ran the course had received his art history training from the Courtauld. He was much discombobulated when he uncovered the fact that the writer had been a student in the same university group as the artist he was extolling his judgements upon. This experience was a perfect object lesson in how received art history wisdom becomes "coloured" or "contingent". Was surprised to come across these Sarah Kent's comments from June 2014 which gives a cogent contemporary insight into her art criticism:

"You could argue that professional critics are irrelevant now that we have bloggers expressing instant opinions on everything from books to films, television, artworks, operas, and albums. The owners and editors of national newspapers seem to agree. Whereas the quality of our mainstream arts coverage was once admired internationally, critics are now being replaced by feature writers who produce copy as bland as a press release, or sycophantic interviews about the subject’s celebrity rather than their work, of which many seem dismally ignorant. Budget-strapped radio programs are replacing reviews for which they have to pay with interviews that come for free. The aims of the artist, curator, or producer get an airing, which can be interesting but listeners are not offered an appraisal of whether or not the show is worthy of attention."

True comment for the most part, but bloggers such as this one, would not have to shout about the dire state of state art if the mainstream press actually produced penetrative and acute art criticism instead of crawling on it's belly to the blatant pecuniary interest of hedge-funders, advertising magnates or oligarchs. Many contemporary artists who command stratospheric prices in Sotheby's and Christies wouldn't be all over the media if it wasn't in the sordid self interest of an individual to have put them there in the first place for the benefit of their rising prices. A critic's job is surely to point out the discrepancy between the artistic and aesthetic value of an artist's work and the real meaning of the art content they have produced. In a recent conversation on social media, the topic of Jeff Koon's balloon dogs came up and it was pointed out that medieval jesters used to hit courtiers with inflated pigs bladders. One artist remarked that Jeff Koons was being attributed with more sophistication than he was actually capable of. That pretty much summarises the art critic's dilemma. Fortunately bloggers do not have to toe the line, they at least can say it as it is, and more of them are doing so.

Ms Kent concludes her article with this remark:

"For readers, intelligent criticism provides an example of how to think analytically and arrive at judgments that don’t parrot received opinion—skills that are important in daily life. We are encouraged to regard ourselves as consumers who absorb rather than agents who think, assess, or do. Good criticism exemplifies active engagement rather than passive consumption, and is an education for us all."

When did you last see any art criticism that enabled you to arrive at a sound judgement? like when was that? Who was it by? By Jonathon Jones? Alistair Sooke? Bryan Appleyard? Laura Cumming? Adrian Searle? Nope, not one of them, except maybe Charles Darwent who is undoubtedly the best art critic out there but the Independent has stupidly dispensed with his services.
Predict that it will not be any time soon that she assumes a dissident or questioning role to state contemporary art. However the good thing is that some art critics are waking up to what they are shovelling, may that happen more and more in the coming new year.

The terrible problem which no-one is interested in mentioning is now that the UK government has removed art from schools where are the UK's future artists and designers going to come from - the public schools? Not anytime soon the income is far too low. Presumably we don't need any because we have enough arty incompetents with no income. This is yet another example of accelerating the countries cultural decline, the UK replaced it's manufacturing economy with a service and creative one. Now the foundations of the creative economy are being removed by ideology. This is what all schools should be!

You cannot say it loudly or often enough: that every child has a basic unalienable human right to an education in art, drama and music as well as English, maths or science. They were given the right to study art as far back as 1840.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cogent issue - Avant Garde Lite.

This map of American artistic taste cropped up this week in that comic the Guardian and what a lot of tasteless gunk it displays. So who is telling us and going on, that the avant garde has never been so popular and many americans now treat contemporary art like a religion and take it very, very seriously? If they do, then who is this mid - west artist, one Terry Redlin, never heard of him, have you? Apparently this is the sort of art he produces and very Christmas seasonal it is too. Much like a mid west version of Thomas Kinkade though not as downright schmaltzy in execution but still very safe kitsch.  What fails to convince that the map has any truth, is the fact that Californians still like Emek, - so who he? He appears to be a graphics industry producing west coast posters. Does this mean that most art in america is now bought by the over 60's?

Meanwhile we have the introduction of a new term by Edward Lucie Smith art critic who now is dissenting from state art and writes for the Jackdaw. His latest piece has coined the term Avant Garde Lite to cover all present manifestations of the cutting edge of art. Very appropriate it is too, considering how far the plot has developed. Avant Garde now means precisely and exactly the opposite of it's accepted meaning in art historical usage. It now means State Art as approved by all the major institutions from MOMA to Tate Modern or the exact equivalent of the 19th century Paris Salon which the Impressionists rejected. It is a fake avant garde, a posture, a simulacrum or an assumed style no more no less.

Lucie Smith writes this:
""Shock tactics no longer shock. Avant Garde art has been gobbled up by the fashion world, and by todays celebrity culture. What's it for? It's for posing in front of wearing a nice new frock. It quotes daintily from Avant Garde styles, that entertained us in the past, but as for trying to change the world - "Have another canape, Darling" - all that stuff seems sooo boring now.""

So with more critics are joining the tide of dissent, something has got to change. Wonder which direction change will come from?  There are plenty artists out there who cannot get a look in, waiting for the opportunity to show their work, in truth far too many of them. Also picked up the news that their wages are well below the poverty line.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Top art exhibitions of 2014

Top Ten 2014 shows by various enthusiasts; as usual these choices reflect nothing apart from the visual taste of the critics concerned - which to say the least, is a victim of their priorities. Taste is infinitely malleable, and some people have it, some people do not. The Guardian is especially fond of making these lists, the best of etc:

Laura Cumming

Adrian Searle

Jonathon Jones

Christopher Knight

Rowan Moore

Time Out

Aesthetica Blog


Art Republic

Making a mark blog list

Travelmag list

The list list

Huffington Post

Hyperallergenic List USA

Also this accusation of plagiarism against Jeff Koons by a French graphics artist has cropped up. He is suing Koons for copying his 1985 advertisment for clothing company Naf Naf.
"While those averse to Koons might feel a little schadenfreude over his latest misfortune (or may simply feel he’s getting his due), it’s worth remembering that other artists have also faced legal distress over similar appropriations. Andy Warhol was sued by photographer Patricia Caulfield after he plastered silkscreen reproductions of a flower photograph she took on the walls of the Leo Castelli in 1964. More recently, Damien Hirst, Shepherd Fairey, and Richard Prince have faced copyright suits."  The truth is that some contemporary artists don't believe that the copyright of other but seen as lesser artists is worth considering or worrying about. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

When did the art world become so conservative?

First off a medieval Christmas card for you all!

Interesting article by Gerry Saltz entitled "when did the art world get so conservative?" raises some interesting questions about the censorship now being practised in western art. He finishes it with a questioning remark:

" One of art's great weapons is its bad taste — how something can seem ugly, wrong, or off but still help extend art. Art is for anyone; it just isn't for everyone. And we have to stop acting as if it is something to be domesticated, proper, good. ?"

- Quite! Well yes! and we all have our own answers to that one have we not?

The meaning of art according to the Chinese Premier - it is interesting what pure socialism this is: One wonders how long it will all be tolerated?
"In his October speech, Mr. Xi implored artists not to be “slaves” of the market or to “lose themselves in the tide of market economy or go astray while answering the question of whom to serve.” Since then, many in China’s creative industries have been waiting to see how Mr. Xi’s ideas would be implemented."

Meanwhile we have the erstwhile Mr Januszczak ranting on about his admiration for the american doyen of conceptual artists Joseph Kosuth at Spruth Magers In the Sunday times of 14/12/14. Kosuth, he asserts, was chosen as the conceptual successor by no less than Marcel Duchamp in 1968. If he was then no-one, told anyone else! The current show exhibits neon signs from 1968 to the present - all arcane, precious and pretentious. This is re-writing art history for the gullible. Kosuth was never anything other than a footnote artist in the 1960's. So Waldemar declares " art is not science, not skill but "it's a poetic force that slips the leash of reason to have it's say!" Conceptual hype all of it! Kosuth liked neon, we hear because of it's low life associations. Strip joint and burger bar. His use of it is, according to Waldemar, impish and brilliant about gaps as well as solids. Yah Dah, yah dah, yah dah. The neon work hasn't aged well, it looks positively quaint now.

If you know the history of the art condition by which anyone can declare it's a work art because they are artists and say so, then it's hard not to deeply resent Kosuth for his cod philosophy. Kosuth it was, who legitimised the oceans of neo-duchampian kitsch we are drowning in. He wrote this in art after philosophy:" It is in modern art’s possession of a “language” with the shortest history that the plausibility of the abandonment of that “language” becomes most possible. It is understandable then that the art that came out of Western painting and sculpture is the most energetic, questioning (of its nature), and the least assuming of all the general “art” concerns. In the final analysis, however, all of the arts have but (in Wittgenstein’s terms) a “family” resemblance. " This is simply untrue, art has absolutely no features that correspond with the features of a language, no syntax, no sentences, no letters, no grammar - it has nothing that corresponds with these things! The world is made of facts not ideas.
Just because the man said it was so, don't make it so, empirically or otherwise!

Meanwhile at the Observer, Laura Cumming is promoting two other conceptualists, Rainer Ruthenbeck and Julio Le Parc. Never heard of them, despite her telling us they have been around since 1968.
She says;"Ruthenbeck was a student of Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf, contemporary with Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer. Compared to these German luminaries, both represented in huge surveys this autumn, he is a much more modest figure. His gestures are smaller, more concentrated and unassuming. They don’t always add up."

Neither does Beuy's work but that as they say, is another story.

Reiner Ruthenbeck is at the Serpentine Gallery, London W2, Julio Le Parc at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, both until 15 February 2015. Limousines only please>

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 2014 the year British art lost the plot?

This week that middle class comic the Guardian has announced that 2014 was the year that British art lost the plot. It's all over for art and artists in GB according to our erstwhile combative Cambridge educated art critic Jonathon Jones! Jones has been upsetting many people recently since he penned the the poppies at the Tower article.
He writes this without any capacity for self reflection as if being an art critic was a proper job with a responsibility for the state of the cultural zeitgeist ; 
"For a country that isn’t shocked by art is a terrible place to be an artist. Please someone, do something dangerous. There must be a way to offend this know-all nation. This smothering atmosphere of sophisticated tolerance has to be soured somehow."

So it's the duty of art to sour the cultural atmosphere? What complete and utter gunk. If art's only function is to shock, his Cambridge education did him a disservice, as it puts 99% of all artists in history outside the pale.  Perhaps he should carefully consider that we have all grown up somewhat and find that shock and challenge are just empty specs of nihilism for spoilt brats.
This isn't the worst stuff he has penned recently. Michael Sandle a famous sculptures sculptor, wrote this in which has lead to a spat between the Jones and artwatch uk:

" I read Monsieur Jones’s review of Tracey’s show – I thought I’d better go to the Bermondsey White Cube and see if there was something I wasn’t getting.
There is indeed a “bat-squeak” of emotion to be felt in her work – which I suppose is positive compared to the sterility of much Contemporary “art”. But the sketches – not really drawings as I understand it – are very definitely formulaic. They are not based on “looking” and she could do them in her sleep. To compare her with Michelangelo is worse than stupid it because it shows a profound ignorance. The poor man doesn’t understand that there is something known as “High Art”. Her little bronzes are like doodles in clay – they have, I suppose, an “innocence” which, considering the effort (including anatomical dissection) that Michelangelo undertook to master his craft, means it is extraordinarily difficult to see any connection whatsoever. Her problem is, that like that of a lot of people who can’t really draw, she can’t see “shape” – if you can’t see “shape” you can’t draw, it’s as simple as that. If Jones’ comments had any truth it would mean that we are “dumbed-down” beyond hope i.e. “f*****” – which I actually think we are."

This refers to the post of 10th Oct concerning Tracey's show at white cube. Now that as we say is the verifiable real life and experienced artistic truth from an artist who commands huge respect from other artists but in our stupid dumbed down state of ignorance the truth has no real place!

Bob of Bob and Roberta Smith has decided to run against Michael Gove in the general election. That should be an interesting one?  Patrick Brill's manifesto says this:
"I will argue that:

  • No school should be allowed to offer a curriculum without art, music, drama, dance and design at GCSE and A-level.
  • Ofsted must include arts subjects as part of its assessment of schools. No school can possibly be considered “outstanding” unless it offers art, music, drama, dance and design.
  • All children must study at least one arts subject at GCSE.
  • Postgraduate training for art teachers should be enriched, not eroded.
  • All primary-level teachers must be trained in art, craft and music.
  • “Artist educators” should be supported – that is, professional artists who teach while also developing their own art practice."
This is very basic arts education provision commonplace only 25 years ago. There are enormous amounts of research on the gains that engagement with arts gives to pupil's performance in the other areas of the curriculum. Removing arts provision as has been done recently is economically blinkered and downright stupid. It is promoting ignorance at the expense of an all round sound education. Creativity is probably the most precious educational skill for the survival of an individual in the 21st century. This applies also to the sad remains of the UK economy - but then they do know all that.  Are they also removing art from the public school curriculum in the interests of economy?
Of course it is only part of the story, the arts council are warning of the cuts in the arts that are to come. Never mind - the usual suspects and the auction houses are rich enough to stump up the cash - as if?
Lastly at a time when China is building arts colleges hand over fist they are worrying about their failure to innovate. Having acquired by various means the wests skills and ideas they now find they cannot generate any of their own. This is deeply rooted educational problem that has significant political implications for their future but here is not the place to discuss that. It does have a bearing upon our leaders politically short sighted decisions though, it is one thing we do supremely well but we will not be doing so for much longer, it seems if the arts are abandoned in state education.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bloomberg young contemporaries - A rant

First off discontent with the status quo is gathering pace as it needs to do, so Julian Spalding gives a lecture on the pitiable state of contemporary art in the west and argues that public money should not be spent on junk which is just plain common sense. Koons and Hirst are factory managers for the art world, they do not fit any shade of criteria for great art..
In the state art counter-blast a Tate spokesman is reported to have said this:  “Tate’s programme is a balance of historic, modern and contemporary art and includes well-known names such as Turner and Matisse, alongside less well-known historic and contemporary artists. Tate acquires work by artists who are critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally.” 
This is complete dissemblance  and nothing whatsoever to do with the argument. The hyped up promotions of the twenty or so insiders  through the Gagosian have little or nothing to do with critical acclaim nationally or internationally. Their critically acclaimed choices are fixes for groups of insiders, (such as the likes of Christopher Wool who's word pics no-one had heard of 3 years ago) and are hyped to the prices of a Boeing 747 by exchange through a closed group of billionaires. The Tate has no duty or obligation to spend any of our sorely derived public funds on this concep[tual art Letraset. Which brings us to the size of this problem, "By 2015, the Arts Council will have “invested” £2.4bn of funds from the government and the National Lottery over a four-year period." And what does it have to show for it? Think what good that could have done, instead of supporting and enhancing a rotten system for the benefit of those that already have.

As David Lee has commented recently, looking at any contemporary art you can't guess to within three noughts what it cost. He says he auction world is a game played by six of the worlds biggest dealers, two sale rooms, 40 artists, 30 billionaires and cliques of museum directors and curators. No-one else matters. Most art criticism is blatant advertising. In 2012 - 11 of the top artists were with the Gagosian gallery. The cowardice of state art before this closed system is a squalid betrayal of their remit and duty, in this system the quality of the art comes last.

Which is why we have a tribute to the current state of university education in art in the Bloomerg young contemporaries which is puerile effete useless junk of nil interest. Not worth mentioning along with the Turner prize 2014 which has the distinction of being the worst effort ever.  Turner is just the name to add credence to a  video lecture, it's supposed to be an art prize? Both are indicators of how far things have declined in the past thirty years the Turner has been around, books will get written about this

When are the managers who arrange these misbegotten errors of judgement going to wake up and see what has happened to the state of art? They should have the decency to clean out the stygian stable that contemporary art has become, instead of ranting on continuously about the relevance of the art condition. A condition it surely is, much like a medical condition.  It literally does not have to be this way!