Andre Wallace

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An open letter to the Tate Gallery

Dear Sir Nicholas,

I realise that you are often in receipt of open letters. I am posting this one out of a genuine concern for the area of knowledge in which I have spent a career and life, i.e. art.  I note that yesterday the BBC analysed the recent Dept of Culture attendance figures for all major galleries. They have been at pains to point out that recent increases in attendance at these have been largely made up of overseas visitors and that UK visitors have fallen by 20% since 2008/9.

The Tate has specifically lost around a million domestic visitors in the past six years from 4.5 million in 2008 to 3.55 million in 2014. You have suggested no reason for this decline and the fact that now only 50% of your visitors are from the UK, and that this has occurred at a time when other national cultural institutions have seen a steady increase in their domestic visitors. 

It is with this in mind that I am addressing you with an open letter. I spent my life in art and education. This has given me a perspective upon your long term in office and the consequences for the visual culture that we inhabit. From 1964 to 1969 I was indoctrinated in the mores of contemporary art. I was 37 when Charles Saatchi began his political project to create a contemporary art world to suit his needs and those of the world of advertising. This project has continued to this day and you have fostered it in your exhibition policies  and acquisitions. Unfortunately this has had a malign influence upon the contemporary art world where you have helped to create a state academy version of the Paris Salon of the 1890's based upon the values of the market and not those of a humane civilisation. Unhappily the artworks that typically comprise this "Salon" are largely branded post modernist Kitsch. Despite all the media hype it would seem to be probable that people in the UK are now sickening of this diet of thin unsatisfying gruel. 
People will attend fairgrounds but ultimately they will pall. This is evident from the difficulties that you are now having finding anything of interest for the Turner Prize. I say this out of a deep sense of sadness and not as criticism.
In 1998 I remember taking a group of six form students to Tate Modern to see a YBA exhibition. The experience marked the beginning of my disillusion with contemporary state art because I had great difficulties answering my students questions. I could not justify what we were seeing ( Jake and Dinos ) as life enhancing art to myself let alone to my students. These difficulties have increased since to the extent that I now rarely ever darken your doors.

I would ask one thing of you when you sit down with your Trustees ( one of whom ought be an art historian ) to discuss the Dept of Culture figures. That you bear in mind that you act as guardians of the public interest. In doing so I would ask you to abandon accepting artworks as gifts from artists, all notions defining the right kind of artists, concerns promoting poor curation issues and do a complete overhaul of your current exhibition policies putting visual quality and values to the top of your list instead of current fiscal market value. Without this you will soon have a new extension with nothing of value to exhibit. Whilst there are oceans of marketed international contemporary art out there very little of it is of any quality. The poor are actually entitled to resent subsidising the hobbies of the rich who decide that their current art investment opportunity is in fact art when it self evidently is nothing of the sort. This is something that the Tate should not be fostering.

You also have a remit for art education which is now failing in state schools and UK universities and I hope that here you may still do much good.

Yours with a sincere concern for the UK's artistic and visual future


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Marlene Dumas and Christian Marclay

So contemporary art has boxed itself into a corner according to Stuart Jeffries in Guardian2. the only thing this silly piece suggests is that boxes do offer a measure of security to the lost and bewildered.

Alistaire Sooke, Laura Cumming and Waldemar Januszczak hype Christian Marclay at White Cube. The turnover of artists here is dizzying, and this one is no exception.
Cummings enthusiastically writes this :
"Marclay, who was born in California in 1955, loves old US comics and some of these sounds are scissored straight from the pages of cartoons, while others appear to relate very precisely to the medium of painting itself. Plop, Splat, Splish, Glop, the sounds of paint spattering across a canvas invoke Jack the Dripper and the other action painters working the pigment round the surface. Marclay is bridging the gap between abstract expressionism and pop art.
Sure it do as the woman said but it is hardly meaningful high art, more like vague comic book amusement for the idle rich and people with low visual expectations.

Waldemar on the other hand tells us that that the show is exciting but that the fusion of abstract Expressionist colour is Lichtenstein meets Jackson Pollock does not work. "Marclay is many good things but a sensuous abstract Expressionist is not yet one of them - is all a bit stiff but hopefully it will get better. Sound becomes something you can see and touch, it's a show that goes ka tingle boom and you can't have higher praise than that." he argues.

Sooke demonstrates his usual in comprehension with this copy; "The comic-book conceit is elaborated further in a series of paintings that allude to the birth of Pop Art more than half a century ago. Monosyllabic, punchy words such as SPLAT, SPLOOSH and SMAK have been screen-printed over brightly coloured backgrounds laid down with fluid, gestural brushstrokes, evoking the style of Pop’s predecessors, the Abstract-Expressionists." Evoking is all it does.

Marlene Dumas has received a lot a of attention for her show at Tate Modern from among others Waldemar Januszczak Karen Wright and Laura Cumming.
Waldemar is generally enthusiastic but he is also aware of the contradictions inherent in the work. He says it's a puzzle why an artist whose work's content is apartheid, women, war and alienation should be such a hit with the super rich? It's not all good he says the crucifixion is excruciating. (feeble hubris)

Laura Cumming is more acute in so far as she points to the inconsistency of the work. She explains that the best work is the most unfinished as well it might be because what we have here is an exploitation of very specific painterly dribble and smear effects with lots and lots of solvent soaking the paint into the canvas. Kind of Francis Bacon Lite. The artist is so right on, she writes and talks constantly about the crisis of representation, we are told. Cumming says much of it is awfully poor and dominated by the artists personality. This seems a pretty dumb remark, isn't the personality what distinguishes Rubens from Rembrandt from Carravagio from Delacroix?

Karen Wright is out of her depth, full of praise for the technique and platitudinous. She does mention that all the work is based upon photographs as if this is a very good thing but it is not. Dumas does not, it seems, work from first hand experience. This puts the critics remarks in the bin when she has the cheek to conflate the work by comparing it with Goya and Manet and one despairs that these critics have never been taught how to look. If they had they would not make such silly assertions. "Historical painting is digested and processed in these works; the great paintings of Goya and in particular the blackness of Manet are referenced, but Dumas makes the work seem effortless." Which serves only to point up the weaknesses of the drawing and technique.

Artists low incomes are an international problem, perhaps as the means of production they should take things in their own hands and cut out the internet and middlemen completely. Until they do this things will not improve any time soon. It's the dealers and resellers that make the money out of art.

Don't usually reference other bloggers but this is full of good things from Making a mark!

Finally this piece on the ten most expensive paintings in the world. Unreal and bearing no relationship to their individual aesthetic merit whatsoever.