Andre Wallace

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ebacc to the 1800's

The UK government is set to remove the vestiges of public arts education by ensuring that the arts are no longer a part of the state secondary school curriculum. This will be done by imposing the EBacc on all schools so that art, design, dance, drama and music will soon be squeezed out of the average school pupil's curriculum. The shortsightedness of this imposition is beyond belief, but in this culture the lead that the public schools have in all arts education provision (which has been discussed in the press) has to be secured and the market peopled only by their products.

As a child, one remembers very precious time spent on enriching one's knowledge of the real world, not the virtual substitute of the IPad, in museums (now for entertainment) and local art schools, now alas they are all vanishing or as in the case of art schools gone from the UK. It seems that not only was the past another country, but that it was an infinitely better country, in the real life learning experiences it offered.

It needs to be argued again and again that all students should have at least one arts subject in order to acquire the flexibility they need to deal with a life in the 21st century and in the interests of a civilised and humane balanced curriculum. The Grad-grind imposition of basic skills that will all soon be performed by dumb computer technology, (which will make no mistake, eventually include all research, teaching, law, medicine, management and practically everything else) will in time be completely counter productive. It is time that politicians seriously considered the nature of the society they are creating. In particular how the majority of young men are going be employed during their lifetime, - a question that is already answered by many young men in the third world with 10-15$ kalashnikovs.

Be that as it may, if you are reading this and are concerned about the loss of the arts in UK secondary education - you can write to your MP - here is the link.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Laura Cumming

Laura Cumming is fast becoming the only UK art critic with any gravitas. Here is a selection of her recent writing to consider.

Occasionally, the gallery lighting catches the glint of the Humbrol paint and the picture suddenly looks like an object as much as an image. Shaw has often been asked why he works with this intractable stuff that runs like new blood and has no lusciousness, traction or thickness, that is so difficult to move or manipulate. His answer is that enamel has no historic associations, can keep its distance from the grand tradition. But though he has remained faithful to this tough and lowly medium, despite the lure of the oil paint all around him, he takes it in new directions, achieving the blue of a Titian sky or a Madonna’s cloak, turning a Tile Hill tarpaulin into something like silk."

Of Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain she says:

"It is good to be reminded of the inherent theatricality of these pillared spaces, and the architectural mishmash that is Tate Britain. But this spectacle is deliberately self-limiting. It has the stylised aestheticism of a Peter Greenaway film, and the pleasures are similarly slim." 

It gets worse in the Hirshhorn Museum’s immense Triptych, where the bodies appear thrashed to a pulp and contained in some kind of glass case raised up on a platform. An observer, hanging on the phone, peers at them through the glass. And in an anonymous hotel room with a deep blue view some terrible bloodbath has apparently occurred: or are these simply bloodstained clothes tumbling out of a case? It is hard to know what is going on in this sequence – as hard as Bacon wanted it to be."

Looking and seeing, that is what is going on here and one doesn't have to be reminded that she is discussing visual art unlike so many contemporary critics.

Lastly there was an odd article by Catherine Shoard in the Guardian of 28th April. She writes:

" Last summer, researchers in Germany designed a deep learning computer algorithm that uses image recognition to distil and comprehend the essence of how a great work of art is painted – style, colours, technique, brush strokes. This year will see the publication of a book that claims it’s possible to know with 97% certainty whether a manuscript will hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

The system at work in The Bestseller Code crunches themes, plot, character, pace, punctuation and word frequency to predict success. Its findings range from the obvious – a smattering of sex scenes helps, likewise a dog and a 28-year-old heroine – to the less easy to predict (such as, devote 30% of the novel to two specific topics).

Granted, neither the German researchers nor the boffins behind the code are creating original content. But the programs they are devising are either mimicking it perfectly or computing it fully. And once you understand a formula back to front, it becomes possible to pinpoint its genius, then do it yourself. Over and over and over again. Writers’s block is not a problem."

There is a dispiriting emptiness in this very facile assessment of what art actually does that is quite depressing. Claims for technology always avoid confronting the human element. What makes Toy Story amusing is not the animation, great achievement though it is - but the jokes. Even Wittgenstein was aware of the complex humanity in the mechanism of a simple joke. Besides when everything is done by slave computers from surgery to the law, what will any humans do - apart from make art that is? Before that can happen the knotty problem of finance and work will have to be addressed, and don't see any evidence of utopia on the horizon yet. The problem is the combination of power with payment for work which William Morris's - News from Nowhere attempted to address.

Usual suspects yet again

Damien Hirst is crawling all over the media promoting the latest show at his gallery in Vauxhall where his collection of artworks by his good friend Jeff Koons is being showed. There isn't much to say about Koons which hasn't already been said, so won't add to the hubris. However it seems that Jonathon Jones is beginning to defer, he writes this accurate piece of criticism in the Guardian;
"A giant ice-cream sculpture has no joy in it, only a cold contempt. Toys and inflatables, elephants and ducks – Jeff Koons has it in for the kids, to judge from his art. He sees their innocent playthings through the eyes of an evil Walt Disney. He is, you have to grant him, very clever. There’s a ruthless intelligence behind this inhuman stuff. He looks almost diabolic hunched over Ilona. A genius made in hell."

But to support Jeff Koon's work with reference to a satirical stance is to self-delude, there simply isn't a stance. Needless to say, the show is getting lots and lots of media coverage for it's huge entertainment value. A new book promoting the YBA story was published in late April. Called "Artrage the story of Britart" it charts the rise and fall of the last gasp of post-modernism and it has to be asked why there has been nothing of note since from the dead avant garde. Post modernism is deceased but there are still many artists quietly working away in their studios making no great fuss and going about changing things. They rarely if ever, get any sponsored BBC state art coverage though.

Turner Prize 2016.

Sat through BBC 2 Artsnight on Friday, and t'was Sir Nicholas himself arguing about the importance of contemporary art to the health of any society. It was an interesting programme for the range of claims Sir Nicholas made for contemporary art's wonderful ability to renew run down inner city environments, particularly Middlesborough. Have no argument with the aspirations but am suspicious of the claims made for it's relevance in ordinary people's lives as a substitute for religion. 

Meanwhile back at the Tate we have the unveiling of this years Turner prize contenders and it really ought to be given a five year break. Why? because it has entirely lost it's relevance and it's purpose. The guardian reports:  " The judging panel this year is Cotton, director of Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn; Tamsin Dillon, curator; Beatrix Ruf, director, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Simon Wallis, director, the Hepworth Wakefield. It is chaired by Farquharson." All so very predictable and  it says it all, particularly when you read the chat lines at the bottom which give a good idea of what the public think of the chief state art prize in the UK - mainly that they are sick to death of having their sensibilities insulted by the last gasps on post-modernism. Then we have the pure hype penned by Jonathon Jones whose writing has become weird. He writes: 
"Nguyen and Khayatan are much better artists than (Jasper) Johns. Where he laboriously “made” a pair of glasses, like some obsessive medieval craftsman, they have made the true Duchampian leap into instant simplicity. These glasses are just glasses, no different from any other pair. What turns them into art, then? Being put on the floor? No, it cannot be that, for many works of art exist that are not on the floor. The Sistine Chapel ceiling, for instance – although compared with this utterly unpretentious gesture Michelangelo’s years of being spattered with paint up on his scaffolding do seem somewhat wasted."

Which is the writing of one whose aesthetic and artistic value system has quite literally gone down Duchamp's pan.

What makes one so sad is the fact that none of what is on offer here is either new or interesting - Carl Plackman did it all in the seventies with a far far superior, sensitivity and intelligence.

A past winner is George Shaw who is now artist in residence at the National gallery. I recommended his work on this blog some time ago and he appears to be maturing into a rather special visual artist - note 'visual'. According to Waldemar Januszczak; " The past is being yanked up to date. But - and this is what impresses most about the show. The new versions continue to sparkle with elusive meanings and magical pictorial possibilities. As all the best art does." Quite!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Keeping the faith?

Recently came across this bronze cast in an exhibition of land art! It begged the question as to how this much very expensive bronze got cast in such a meaningless sand form. 

Be that as it may it brings up the question as to why some artists go on keeping their faith in avant garde lite despite all the neglect and rejection they encounter over the years. One such has been Phyllida Barlow who is now enjoying a huge resurgence in interest in her enormous sculptures at the tender age of seventy two! She will be representing GB at the forthcoming 2017 Venice Biennale and one has to admire the sheer persistence of her career. She has gone on playing with basic materials and ideas despite everything. One could say she is getting somewhere after years in the wilderness.

Then there is this YBA Nicholas Fudge who destroyed everything and gave up art but who now years later wishes to be taken seriously as an artist. Throwing ones toys out of the pram invites a late risible response. Especially when the original gesture was aimed at deriding success.
At that moment, pressure was high to produce work (or make a name/brand from one’s work) for the heady 1980s art market. In a gesture of critical defiance, the artist destroyed his work two days prior to the much-hyped Goldsmith’s graduate show."

Then there is the much vaunted Mona Hatoum show at Tate modern. This according to the erstwhile Torygraph is one of the shows of the year! Mark Hudson says ; "Far from being cornily horrific, the impact of these objects is completely deadpan, and everything is beautifully, indeed at times almost too tastefully made and presented."
Well that argument relies upon the tolerance of horror movies by the viewer. seems like keeping the faith in small concepts and achievement.  The Guardian informs us that in the kitchen display of the exhibition all the objects hum with live electricity and are behind a safety barrier. Perhaps the artist wishes to electrocute all her fans?
"For example, one of the largest pieces, HomeBound 2000, is of various kitchen utensils and furniture all hooked up to a live electric wire. There is an audible buzz in the room and visitors are kept back by what looks like an electric fence." Not really visual art is that?

Much as one would expect it is the visual exhibition of the artists innards that attracts the most attention. Having seen this medical study way back in 2007 the response was that it was quite interesting as an abstract study - but we have seen many copies of digital projected images on the floor since. Tis become almost a "genre" as the man said.