Emin, Hirst & Banksy – who deserves to be in the news?

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!]

liverpool galleries – a day trip

31 August 2010 § Leave a comment

Adrian Wiszniewski

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Liverpool has never been very high on my radar as a spot to consider for a flying visit. Naturally, as all Southerners know, any northern town is obviously grimy, dirty and highly dangerous – if the muggers do not get you then, in time, the pies, chips and fried Mars bars will reap their toll! Next is the weather. It is of course icy cold and rains all the time – not just in nice quick falls but in a steady, penetrating wind-blown sort of way that lasts for days, especially around Liverpool. As if that was not enough it also is such a bloody long way – I do not know how far of course, but I do know for certain that it is way, way too far to consider travelling anywhere north of the Watford Gap except in the case of an extreme emergency. And as for a day trip – fuhgeddaboutit!

That is until yesterday. Tempted by the Picasso: Peace and Freedom at the Liverpool Tate I had a couple of weeks ago looked at the possibility of a brief trip. Initially I had considered an overnight stay but after checking out the trains I discovered, to my amazement, that it only takes just a fraction over two hours from Euston to reach Liverpool Lime Street – a station that is not on the edge of the city but bang in the heart of town, next to the fabulous Walker Gallery. Then the price – plan ahead and it is a bargain £22 return. Sold! Walking shoes on foot, plastic mac and thermos in backpack and city map in hand I ventured northwards.

The 1854 neo-classical St Georges Hall is the first stop – you virtually trip over it as you step out of the station. Fortunately open (not always so), it is the one of the finest buildings of its type in Britain. The main hall is stunning, although sadly the amazing Minton floor is usually covered with a protective wooden parquet. From here it is just a few yards to the  Walker Gallery, the ‘National Gallery’ of the north, with its exceptional collection of pre-Raphaelite art. There are fine works by all the major artists of the period: Lord Leighton, Gabriel Rosetti, Holman Hunt, Albert Moore and many more – all very Victorian and very British. Suddenly, right out of the blue, appears an 1891 Giovanni Segantini – my Italian co-traveller nearly fell over backwards. A smaller version of a much larger Italian one (I forget where) it is a beautiful symbolist work. Here is what the Walker say about it:

Segantini - The Punishment of Lust

The souls of the women are depicted floating against a snowy background based on the Swiss Alps where Segantini spent much of his life. The grandeur and spirituality of the Alps was a constant inspiration to Segantini whose last words before he died were: “I want to see my mountains”.  In the painting the spirits of the women are punished for having committed the sin of abortion consciously or by neglect.

We were a couple of weeks too early to see the entries for the next John Moores Painting Prize so we settled for an exhibition of previous winners. It was an impressive selection that included the likes of  David Hockney, Peter Doig, John Hoyland and Peter Davies. One could have done much worse than buy up a work buy each winner as they were announced – you would certainly have made a few bob! I liked the work by the Glaswegian School artist Adrian Wizniewski (pictured at top of post) whilst the 1993 winning work from Peter Doig was a lovely work called ‘Blotter’ for which you would need some £2m at auction today. This is what the artist says about it:

‘Blotter’ was painted from a photograph I took of my brother standing on a frozen pond. The reflection was enhanced by pumping water onto the ice. It is a variation of earlier paintings that have been more reliant on the imagination. The title refers to (amongst other things) the notion of one’s being absorbed into a place or landscape, and to the process through which the painting developed: soaking paint onto the canvas. The figure is deliberately shown looking down into the reflection; this is to suggest inward thought, rather than some sort of contemplation of the scene.”

Next stop was the fine Bluecoats Gallery for Arabcity: Such a Near East where six Middle Eastern artists who ‘explored cultural heritage from unique perspectives’. Most interesting were Chant Avedissian, with witty Elizabeth Peyton-like  portraits of stars and commoners alike, and Ayman Balbaaki’s cityscapes. Two worth watching.

Via a gawk at the Cavern Club, its beer-sticky street and the tourist throng we took a stroll down to the Tate. I will not review the Picasso exhibition  – because firstly, it ended yesterday and secondly, it has already been reviewed to death, but I will just make a couple of observations. Although it was interesting and neatly brought together elements of Picasso’s political and post-war work one has to say there was a certain amount of , let us call it ‘Picasso Blindness’. An exhibition of Picasso’s wine-stains or phlegm-traces I feel are nowadays uncritically hailed as further examples of his genius. I do not buy it. This was a moderately interesting, comprehensive and competent exhibition of a period of Picasso’s work. There were a handful of great works, a few moderate ones and a bunch of ‘fillers’. It was reasonable.


The DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture also only just makes the grade. Supposedly ‘curated’ by Michael Craig-Martin it is nothing more than a seemingly random selection of every, broad, aspect of sculptural practice –  ‘one of each’ is the mantra here. And as for the headphones with random dance tracks – what were they thinking? There were however some excellent works that could be selected from the ‘mess’ and made a trawl around the three rooms well worthwhile.  A tremendous Lipchitz was my pick.

Finally, we took a look at the two contrasting and despite ther ugliness, strangely appealing, Cathedrals – the dour red block of the Anglican Cathedral and the modernist crown of the Catholic. The climax of the day was a pint in the wonderful Philharmonic pub to admire the ornate Victorian decor and capped off a wonderful day. Oh – and Ialmost forgot to mention that it was hot and sunny all day and although the muggers did not get us the greasy chip shop did! I must go again soon.

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