24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
23 February 2012 § Leave a comment
With todays unveiling of the Elmgreen & Dragset sculpture for the fourth plinth – Powerless Structures; fig 101 – the online digital ‘art’ collecting company s[edition] is offering 5000 free ‘editions’ of the sculpture.
For those of you who haven’t heard s[edition] “is a revolutionary new way to collect art by the world’s leading contemporary artists in digital format. Experience a whole new world of art and collecting.” Supposedly this is the way that you can suddenly ‘own’ you own masterworks of contemporary art. They boast that works “that can normally command astronomical prices can be had here [sic] for as little as 4 Euros.” They do not mention that it is up to 500 euros – -hardly good value in my book. And who are these artists that have licenced their work? Surprise, surprise – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Matt Collishaw for starters, you can guess many of the rest.
Hmm – 4 Euros – spotted the catch yet? Uniquely it can only be used on digital devices accessible from your online vault. Infact all you are doing is paying to use an image. Forgive me for being cynical but wouldn’t most people just find an image somewhere on the web and use it as a screensaver? OK, officially you have to have permission to use some images but still many people will not be too concerned about using any image they find on the web for personal use (and there are plenty of royalty free images around too).
S[edition] cleverly throw around words like ‘own’, ‘collection’, ‘certificate of authenticity’. Art collecting is “instant, affordable, social and enjoyable“. And what happens if you want to sell some of these valuable ‘editions’ that you ‘own’ in your ‘art collection’. You can forget it for now – you cannot sell (or give) them to anyone else. They promise an online marketplace in the future, but don’t expect a queue of takers for those Hirst spots that you thought might look nice on the ipad.
Don’t get seduced in to thinking you are ‘owning’ contemporary art and this is somehow an art ‘collection’. This is throwaway temporary decoration. When I was younger we used to have access to instant, affordable, good value artworks – they were called Athena posters. They are of course now all valueless and discarded. If you want ‘arty’ screen-savers do yourself a favour and save some money – just browse the web!
- S[edition] Art: Collect Boldface Artists, Digitally (apartmenttherapy.com)
- elmgreen & dragset unveiled on 4th plinth trafalgar square (akickupthearts.wordpress.com)
26 December 2011 § Leave a comment
It seems appropriate that three of the most notorious names of recent years have been in the news recently and have appeared there for widely different reasons. Tracey Emin has just been appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, Damien Hirst has announced new exhibitions of his entire spot paintings and Banksy has just donated a ‘controversial’ work to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Only one should be meaningful to the art world.
Here are three very different artists that have taken key roles within the mass media as representatives of the contemporary art world. Their ‘notoriety’ has been neatly pigeonholed by the press. Tracey Emin for her raw and sexual autobiographical work, the unmade bed, the ‘how can this be art’ tabloid diatribe. She is the bad girl made good. Damien Hirst for his blatant money-making approach and mass-produced work – symbol of the commercialisation of art. The bad boy made rich. Banksy for his anonymous (despite the fact that everyone knows who he is – it’s just that nobody wants to spoil the game) gallery ‘interventions’ and graffiti. The naughty boy turned film producer.
The board of the Royal Academy has just appointed Emin as Professor of Drawing. Although she has been quite cosy with the RA for some years her appointment is a surprise to me. After all she is famously inclusive with her attitude to method – she paints, draws, embroiders, sculpts, etches, assembles, works in neon and much more. She told us for her Hayward solo show that her work ‘is about words’. Her drawing is OK – if you like repeated drawings of Emin masturbating. Actually I am being overly critical – her drawing is quite good but hardly the stuff of RA professorship. This is an appointment that smacks of some combination of internal/external politics, inclusivity (she is the first female professor in RA history) and media attention.
Hirst meanwhile, as commercial as ever, will next month be showing his entire output of spot paintings at 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide when over 300 variations of the painting series that he first produced in 1988 will be shown. He announced them finished in 2008 but (his ‘factory’) continues production, currently working on a painting that contains two million spots. I hope you can contain your excitement – just one of these appalling ‘paintings’ is enough for me. Yawn.
Up in Liverpool, just in time for Christmas, the Walker has announced the permanent loan of a piece by Banksy. Entitled Cardinal Sin an 18th Century replica stone bust has had its face sawn off and glued on is a selection of bathroom tiles. The resulting ‘pixellated’ portrait is a very neat comment on the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and its on-going cover-up.
The one significant piece of news? Whilst Emin has become part of the establishment and Hirst regurgitates his poorest work (easiest to make?) only Banksy – who I have had mixed feelings about to date – produces something of worth. Further this is his best work to date by far – away from quaint political slogans and clever graffiti he has made a Museum quality work. As he says “The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. “At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” Brilliant. Re-spect.
[ps – apologies for a prolonged absence in December – moving house!]
- Hirst connects dots across New York, Paris, London and more (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- Tracey Emin appointed as RA’s Professor of Drawing (telegraph.co.uk)
11 July 2011 § 2 Comments
Amazingly I have now been blogging my way through the London art scene for a whole year now. I thank all those of you – some 20,000 – who have bothered to read my assorted ramblings.
Meanwhile, thanks to the nice people at WordPress, there are all sorts of reports and analyses to discover what the great British public (clearly in this case a notch above the average!) really are interested in. Which blogs were most read, the search terms you used to find the site and what you had for breakfast? I shall reveal all….
OK, not your breakfasts, but you get my drift – there is an awful lot of analysis available and there are all sorts of statistical traps to tumble in to, the chief one being that any ‘visitor’ analysis reflects what I have actually written about eg: Marc Quinn would not be on the list because I did not write about him. Another problem is that even if I wrote about ‘Picasso’ daily who who click my blog amongst the zillions of Picasso search results? Treat the ‘charts’ below with caution but you never know they may actually reveal something?
1. Most visited and searched of the year, by a mile, was Pordenone Montenari, an unfortunate recluse who was rocketed in to the news by an Indian fund manager who thought that he could make a quick buck by promoting him as a newly discovered genius – he isn’t (image above).
2. I spent a couple of spare hours compiling a brief list of art-related humorous quotes and jokes. Sadly it trounced many deeply considered blogs of serious critical analysis and was second most searched. Oh well…
3. Amazingly Wolf Vostell came in third. I wrote just one feature about him and commented that he was sadly ignored in the annals of post-war art. Obviously not by many hundreds of you! Exhibition curators take note…
4. Ah, then comes the first contemporary artist – clearly it will be Emin, Hirst or Banksy perhaps? No, it is Eugenie Scrase, the oft- ridiculed winner of TV’s School of Saatchi. Ignore the power of TV at your peril. Worth a flutter if she ever gets a solo gallery show.
5 & 6. Perhaps we shall now get on to some serious art? Nope. Next is Ben Wilson the ‘chewing gum artist’. Well, he is quite interesting. Picasso slips meaninglessly in at 6th before the next half-dozen places. These are taken by contemporary artists of which I have featured literally hundreds, many of them mentioned numerous times. I have covered all the emerging artists championed for example by Saatchi and the top commercial galleries. Are these the ‘cream’ of those featured? Is too little being written about them? Should we take more notice of them in the future?
9. Alison Jackson. Hilarious and sometimes disturbing photos that ‘depict our suspicions’. Wry comments on our relationship with celebrity.
10. Wangechi Mutu. Striking paintings and collages referencing cultural identity.
11. Michael Fullerton. A brilliant show at Chisenhale and with work in British Art Now 7, his star is rising fast.
12. Following closely behind was Ida Ekblad, young and inventive Danish multi-media artist.
13. Clare Woods paints the strange, dark world of urban undergrowth.
Following close behind are Littlewhitehead and Toby Ziegler. A little farther back is Damien Hirst – perhaps surprising he’s not higher, but then again he does get rather a lot of column inches written about him.
Biggest surprise? Perhaps the fact that Tracey Emin is not on the list – or in fact even in the top 50 artists – despite the fact that my Love is What You Want Hayward review appears on the first couple of pages on a Google search and that I have featured her regularly when in contrast eg: Olivier and Ekblad I featured just once. Emin perhaps is not what you want?
So there we have it. After a year of careful and deep intellectual musing on the complexities of the contemporary art scene what you really were most interested in were an Italian recluse and a few jokes. Now where did I hear about that one legged, reclusive, dwarf, artist?
29 June 2011 § 1 Comment
I was not a big fan of Emin – or even a small fan for that matter. To me she seems to represent the art worlds version of Big Brother. Here is Emin determined to reveal every personal trait, good, bad and ugly to the public who are determined to lap it all up – the more lascivious or embarrassing the better. Life laid bare as entertainment. Reality TV as art.
Nevertheless I was determined to go to this exhibition with an open mind. She has an army of fans in the art and media and they surely must see something compelling in her work. However the omens were not good. I arrived at the usual ‘opening day’ – the day immediately following the private view – but the exhibition, strangely, was ‘closed for a private event’. I eventually got in the following day.
In the catalogue Emin explains that her art is all about words and as we enter we get an awful lot of them, the first galleries occupied by her blankets and neons. The appliqued blankets are very impressive. Large, colourful and eye-catching they are more powerful as a group than individually with words and phrases used cleverly to illustrate a ‘patchwork of memories’ or concerns in the wider world.
Extending across the room is ‘Knowing the Enemy’ – a partially collapsed pier inspired by a letter written by her father. It is clever and interesting – the broken planking isolating a lonely cabin at the pier’s end. Evocative of longing and loss.
From this point the exhibition sadly goes rapidly downhill. The neons look pretty but putting trite statements like ‘love is all you want’ in neon does not unfortunately make particularly interesting art. A lame film of Emin on horseback wandering around Margate sand is one of several films to avoid. There is a ‘scrap book’ of a room entitled ‘Family and Friends’ with lots of trivial bits and pieces scattered over the wall and reverentially placed in cabinets – I started to try to read and make sense of these sundry fragments but lost the will to live.
In ‘Drawings’ there are various scrawled versions of Tracey masturbating and little else whilst searching desperately for more ‘Room’ topics the Hayward scrape the barrel with ‘Trauma’, ‘Menphis’, ‘Early Work’ (almost non-existent), ‘Sculpture’ (ditto) and ‘Terraces’ (a couple of teddies under benches).
A couple of works were sadly missing – ‘Everyone I ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the Momart fire and ‘Bed’ which Saatchi has kept aside for a 2012 show in Chelsea. Both would have added much to what was ultimately an exhibition rather devoid of strong individual pieces
It is undoubtedly true that many of the works would be lost individually but brought together in to a – sort of – coherent whole they have much more impact. Emin’s art, and life, makes much more sense and the gallery has done a good job of curation. I quite enjoyed the exhibition as an overview of a cultural icon but as for the art I ended up siding with Jake and Dinos Chapman who recently laid in to Emin during an Independent interview (18 June 2011) ‘I cant stand it. It’s art therapy – it doesn’t belong outside her head.’ ‘Tracey draws very badly .. and everybody claps their flippers together.’ The Chapmans incidentally are preparing for an exhibition at White Cube (opening 15 July 2011) where they have worked apart for several months, the results secret to the gallery and each other – now that I will find interesting.
Tracey Emin Love is all you Need. The Hayward Gallery until 19 August 2011
Jake or Dinos Chapman at White Cube Hoxton Square and Masons Yard. 15 July to 17 September 2011
- Emin: loving and dying for her art (independent.co.uk)
- Tracey Emin: ‘art in Britain has never been better’ (telegraph.co.uk)
20 April 2011 § Leave a comment
Iain Andrews, you may recall, had his ‘fifteen minutes’ of fame as one of the few painters featured on the BBC’s ‘School of Saatchi‘. Inevitably, given that Tracey Emin was one of the judges, anyone with any recognisable talent with a pencil or brush was immediately discarded – conceptual art installations only please!
I am sure that much more than ‘fifteen minutes’ will ultimately come Ian’s way as this is an artist with real talent. He has just won the Marmite prize, competing against 48 other talented artists and was last year shortlisted for the Jerwood Prize.
Iain’s paintings take an image from art history to begin his dialogue with the past. A painting by an Old Master that may then be rearranged or used as a starting point from which to playfully but reverently deviate. His recent work is concerned with the ‘struggle to capture the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual – apparent opposites that are expressed through the conflict of high narrative themes and sensuous painterly marks. The sheer enjoyment of making these marks is not intended to drown out the appearance of the real through a curtain of expressionistic gestures, but rather an attempt to transform and redeem the form through the act of making.’
Iain treads a path that plays between the borders of figuration and abstraction, and thus slows down the viewer. His work is sensuous and material, yet also deserving of contemplation. If his works continues to develop he could go far and is worth looking out for.
12 August 2010 § Leave a comment
A previous post on Harry Hill the Idea Generation Gallery briefly discussed the term outsider art. This was mainly in respect to some basic ‘outsider’ credentials of Hill’s work. In retrospect however the term is rather difficult to use so briefly and I have been itching to expand on this brief mention, but focusing on contemporary art and adding traditional crafts into the mix.
This is not an overview of ‘outsider’ art since the terms attached to it are so broad, have been so widely misused and applied in a casual manner. Outsider, Naive, Folk, Visionary, Neuve Invention, Art Brut, Marginal, Intuitive are all variously used in connection with it, and have been used in varying ways in different places. Raw Vision has done a good job of definition on their website, even if the terms are frequently misused elsewhere.
Most interesting to me is the steady resurgence in interest not only in the more ‘traditional’ definition of this art but its latest incarnation within recent contemporary art. The deeply unfashionable nature of the naive/folk/craft tradition within the post-war art scene was especially attractive as a basis for rebellion for some British artists of the 1990’s. The award of the Turner Prize to Grayson Perry in 2003 brought this theme to the fore and, despite her disgust at the award to Perry, Tracey Emin’s wall-hangings and tent also betray the same craft origins.
Harry Hill has already been discussed and there are many other artists that could be added to the list of those who draw on, or are inspired by the same traditions. In particular are those painters of ‘amateurish’ style whose star has been on the ascendant in recent years. Coming to mind immediately is Alice Neel (above) with her current retrospective at the Whitechapel. Neel uses a casual style to portray the famous as well as marginalised and vulnerable of society – immigrants, children and the elderly. The title of the exhibition, Painted Truths, demonstarates the widely held view that this more natural ‘folksy’ style somehow allows Neel a deeper psychological insight in to he mind of the sitter. The portraits cerainly reveal a fragility and the paintings are delicate and sensitive. Interestingly Neel herself led a troubled life which included mental breakdown and attempted suicide.
Karen Kilimnik’s loose and ‘awkward’ style, is outwardly similar although she paints not from life but using appropriated images of celebrity. She is currently showing at Sprueth Magers, London. Elizabeth Peyton paints small, intense and colourful portraits of friends, celebrity and monarchy. Like Kilimnik and Neel she has found broader acceptance only since the 1990’s. More recently there are artists like Ryan Mosley who combines multiple traditions to create mysterious quasi-mystical worlds and Lynette Boakye who produces naive and dark portrait of imaginary characters, have also appeared on the scene amongst many more.
None of this adds up to a movement, and many of the artists have of course been successful and well established for many years. Nevertheless the trend is there for all to see – the Whitechapel has had major shows featuring Neel and Peyton in the last twelve months, Kilimnik was at the Serpentine a couple of years back and features in the current Saatchi imagazine, which also includes a substantial article entitled ‘The Folk Spirit in Contemporary Art’. Last but not least, the subject of the original posting, Harry Hill manages a few pages in the latest isue of Tate etc. I could mention many more artists and more exhibitions, but it is clear that the influence of these traditional and ‘outsider’ styles is here to stay – at least for a while yet with investment in this area less speculative and more reliable.
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- Alice Neel: Painted Truths at the Whitechapel Gallery, review (telegraph.co.uk)