Andre Wallace created "The Whisper", initially as a maquette, featuring two girls sitting on a railing. It was fully commissioned by Sainsbury's and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. There it was spotted by Milton Keynes Development Corporation which commissioned the sculpture in bronze for a prime site outside the town's library. Now it is returning to Taunton where the inspiration for the piece was born - and it would be perfect if the models could be traced. Andre said the idea for The Whisper was developed from observing how people interacted in the town centre and formed one of a number of works that depict people from all walks of life going about their daily business.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lynn Stainers Exhibition

This years Lynn Stainers exhibition was an interesting one both for both new faces and old familiar artists whose work we have seen before. The winner Waj Mirecki with viaduct and tank traps was a large well deserved beautifully executed watercolour. Lisa Wright is there again as is Michael Tarr. Melissa Scott-Millers, Front garden is a patient exposition of her considerable skills and David Piddock's Hanseatic Walk is a tour de force of geometry and thoughtful elements. Ian Hargreaves is also excellent and so is John Cahill's sunlight on morning frost which is exactly what it depicts. 

It's a shame that these are the wrong kind of artists who would never get a look in at ACE galleries. Yet their work is new, fresh and deeply engaged in thoughtful aesthetic values. The world is not just.
As Peter Fuller wrote in 1983: " I agree with Geoffrey Bateson, who once said that the passing of belief in the immanence of god within nature was leading men to see the world as mindless, and unworthy of moral, ethical and aesthetic consideration". Good thing that there are many artists around who still continue to carry the torch and who engage empirically with the real and natural world.

Turner prize 2015

Well what goes around comes around again if you wait long enough. So shock and horror according to Mark Hudson this years Turner prize is all political protest?  This one has legs and will definitely run. Have noticed how William Morris is very much back in fashion, lots of people must have been reading the very sad News from Nowhere which depicts his vision of the UK in 1956. The world he described could not have been further than the truth, yet how many young things think that today's world is the best that there has ever been, which is complete and utter tosh.
Adrian Searle thinks that the change in emphasis is for the good he may be right.
Hudson writes : 

"Architecture and design collective Assemble, who engage in “ongoing collaboration” with the residents of the buildings they create, link straight back to William Morris’s 19th century utopianism and his belief that the purpose of art is to make the world a better place."

and this comment; "In contrast, Nicole Wermers’s comment on consumerism’s obsession with surfaces, which sews fur coats onto classic modernist furniture, feels at once conventional and the work here most likely to wind up the “it’s not art brigade” simply because it sounds so silly." But that may be because the it's not art brigade are perfectly correct in their assumption and they are a growing movement.

One artist makes sounds; Janice Kerbel’s “operatic work” DOUG seems part of tradition of art deconstructing language that goes back to Kurt Schwitters’ 1923 concrete performance poem, Ursonate" and the other;

"Bonnie Camplin’s The Military Industrial Complex recalls Sixties student protest, and it appears to turn art’s current obsession with research and archives on its head by turning the gallery into an archive and the viewer into a researcher."

There you have it - as much to see as it takes time to describe it , protest has become fashionable at this time, just look at the whole of 2015 Biennale, but for some undefinable reason it all seems hollow and fails to convince. This may be because their is a strong element of Hubris in the work, but then maybe not it seems well intentioned.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

On Kawara

This months Jackdaw has an interesting story about this conceptualism; the Guggenheim museum in New York have put on an exhibition by On Kawara. This paragon of contemporary art virtues has been making a painting of a day which features just the digital date on which it was painted on a blank ground. This artist has wasted decades of his life making a first folio of complete and utter futility which is presumably the point, so if you have nothing better to do, go and view the total irrelevance and of it. Life is literally far too short to waste on "art" like this.

Sarah Lucas at the Venice Biennale

The one thing about writing a blog such as this with values to the front is that there is never a shortage of dim witted art criticism. Depressing though it is, oceans of really crap art comment fill the press, so today as that great lauded old YBA Sarah Lucas represents the UK at the Venice Biennale there is loads of press muck to thoroughly rake through.

First off Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian is a real pearl with this purile junk copy 
:“To spend an hour or two with anyone from that time is a great pleasure. They were such a bunch of brilliant amusing people, and they still are.” Lucas is still close to Damien Hirst. Of his relative fall from fashion, she says: “I feel for someone as brilliant as him. I know that without Damien I couldn’t be where I am. So many people have followed in his wake. He’s a genius to me.”

At the Telegraph we have the redoubtable Alistaire Sooke and boy can he write pure sillyness: "Forget the subject matter for a moment, and Lucas’s pared-down forms, with their clean lines, are highly attractive. They’re animated by pleasing contrasts between different textures, such as the smooth gloss of a ceramic toilet versus the knobbly, rough-and-ready surface of a cast. They sit happily within a long lineage of Modernist sculpture."
What does this dregs of copy say? That we have to forget about what the sculpture is about ( Private parts ) and attend to the qualities of the textures? That is a new one, forget that Henry Moore or Picasso depict women just admire the smoothness of the bronze stone or the rough paint. Never mind the quality just feel the width. Some lessons in aesthetics, would do him the world of good.
Lynn Barber writes several pages of hype for Lucas in the Sunday Times supplement. It hardly qualifies as art criticism it's so fawning. We learn for instance that Ms Lucas no longer speaks to her former friend Ms Emin and that Damien Hirst thought she wasn't demanding enough in her prices? However the end of the article betrays unwittingly some interesting truths about the  artist's limitation. Lucas is perhaps more reflective than her peers. She says that people expect her to be a Sarah Lucas which meant being angry. The biennale show though, is a women's show: "it's quite sublime or almost fluffy. It's like that dessert floating islands with meringues floating in syrup. It's a happy show"-? Looking at the objects - happy? Happy is not the most appropriate adjective now is it? Nor have the concepts moved very far from what her public have come to expect the usual scatological crudity!

Are these critics all so blinkered that they simply don't care about what art can actually do when they write about sculpture like this.

The Independent's Karen Wright says: " I for one am proud to be a woman here in Venice, with a woman artist representing my country, with what may well turn out to be the strongest national pavilion of the Biennale." 

Well yes sure the rest is poor, but what about the art? Here there are a number of half torso's cast from life which is a very lazy way of making sculpture to say the least, it's a procedure most sculpture students grow out of after their first year in college. You can end up in hospital with first degree burns from the plaster cast if you are not careful. To say that though, Gormley and others use it as technique - but it is little more than a weak shorthand for actual sculpture. No finesse, no modelling, no skill, no finished and polished manipulation of materials and no communication except for the accidents of reproducing someones body mass. You may think this doesn't matter but it does because she doesn't do proper grown up sculpture. What is so depressing though is the endless repetition of basic scatological forms which when seen once don't carry a second visit. Here there is no inspiration nor enlightenment, this is completely betrayed by the use of the ubiquitous Andy Capp cigarette.

Wrote somewhere earlier on this blog that she was improving as a sculptor, on this evidence she has remained static, both conceptually and formally.

The write ups for the Biennale itself have been broadly similar but was amused by this piece form Alistaire Sooke in the Torygraph:  "Yet, surely we don’t need to be informed so heavy-handedly that the world is a fragile, shocking, unjust, and violent place. We know this already, simply from watching the nightly news. In the context of the Biennale, therefore, making such a display of solidarity with victims of conflict and the dispossessed smacks of liberal self-congratulation."  

In the Sunday Times of 17th May we have Waldemar Januszczak complaining bitterly that all of the art at the Biennale is curators political selections (except for Sarah Lucas, the Russian artists and Chris Offili), he argues successfully that curators have destroyed contemporary art. One has to admit he has a point, they are absolutely unnecessary for the main part and they just farm their own prejudice. Artists have become superfluous and things urgently need to change: He writes:
 "Art is in trouble. It needs to get rid of the political-science hobos who've jumped on the gravy train and to start dealing again in the tangible and the visual".
Have been saying this for years, ever since the advent of conceptual art, he could not be more correct for once.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ingram Collection

Life can be full of strange coincidence can it not ?

Today visiting an exhibition of 1960's art from the Ingram Collection at Hestercombe House was totally bemused to encounter a huge David Bomberg that is very, very familiar and is one of the greatest WW2 paintings. During 1942 Bomberg worked for four months as a war artist at Fauld RAF ammunition dump in Staffordshire where he produced a series of beautiful war paintings called the bomb store.  This was one of them and having written about the artists career and was very excited to see it in the flesh. Fortunately he was only there for a short time as the dump, no21 MU exploded in 1944 making a crater half a mile wide and 200 meters deep. It was one of the largest conventional weapons explosions in history which killed approximately 89 people. This is fully documented by Richard Cork in his excellent biography of Bomberg. I have known this crater since childhood having explored the area. Paradoxically seeing the painting bought back many happy memories and some bad ones.

The exhibition was interesting in a number of ways, One persons taste can be difficult or irksome but this was a various and deeply serious collection with some real gems. Aleah Chaplin is an american painter who won the National portrait gallery BP portrait prize recently and she was represented by a superb large nude   There was also a superb Peter Howson based on his war artist work in Bosnia.
The real jewels were the crucifixion by Tristram Hillier and a superb Carel Weight.  The whole exhibition was a positive joy although there were a few low notes.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

That Sit-in at St Martins

Deborah Hermanns, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, says: “We are witnessing the creation of a two-tier education system, sucking money out of parts of the system which working class students rely on, and putting it into where money can be made. These moves set an awful precedent for what could happen to university courses across the UK.”

In these straightened times art colleges are facing a grim future, as they are the most threatened area of current educational provision. The Guardian reports :

"Set to lose more than £50m in public funding by 2015, UAL, which comprises six colleges including Central Saint Martins (which is moving to the new campus), Chelsea College of Art and Design and the London College of Fashion (LCF), is having to think creatively about how it might secure its financial future.

Among other things, it is looking to set up courses in China and the Middle East while amalgamating three of its loss-making further education foundation courses and expanding its range of more lucrative postgraduate degrees."

Paradoxically the future might be more secure if they actually starting teaching art again but that is way too expensive. Conceptual art is a cheap substitute for funding practical art. So it's all about business opportunities and it's not even about UK students, funny isn't it how when something that the state established and funded becomes a business opportunity, it immediately goes to the dogs and the locals well they can go and whistle in the wind? UAL are to cut 580 foundation students places. What about the colleges bounded and statuary remit to provide an art education for UK students or can they all go to Turps Banana where they get no qualifications but pay a university sized fee for the dubious privilege.

Just read William Morris's - News from Nowhere and weep!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Francis Bacon show at the Sainsbury Centre

Jonathon Jones again, this time wonder of wonders, writing an all out attack on one Francis Bacon's work from the Sainsbury Centre. He says this: "Yet Bacon and the Masters is a massacre, a cruel exposure, a debacle. Bacon’s paintings are mocked, his talents dwarfed. The jaw-dropping masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Titian and Rodin that so nearly make this show five-star unmissable also, to my dismay, to my shock, make Bacon seem a small, timebound, fading figure."

This is exceptional from a state art critic, but tend to agree with the assessment as have often thought that Bacon's work was the best argument for censoring visual art that you could come up with. Soulless, hopeless, empty and unrewarding without any trace of decent humanity he only did negativity. In time like these when things are very bad for many people, art that offers no hope is of minority interest. Also always thought that the promotion of Francis Bacon was the critic David Sylvester's supreme nihilistic achievement. Now apparently he looks very dated and meaningless. As Jones puts it"
The masters are so relaxed, so honest. They show the facts, while Bacon desperately tries to be shocking, to “unlock the gates of feeling” as he put it, as if he has no feelings to begin with." Quite so, comparisons of totally unlike artwork is not always a good thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Y Z Kami

Every so often along comes a painter who shows the potential to change things for the better. This Iranian artist's work from the Gagossian is traditional high art of genuine quality, which leaves the reconstruction of the image to the viewer's imagination. 
Laura Cumming writes perceptively in the Observer; "How can one depict the inner being, the private thoughts, the spiritual beliefs? Kami is prodigiously aware of the limitations of portraiture. Yet it is obvious from these paintings, with their intense aspect of interiority, of trying to make visible the invisible, that he is thinking about this dimension of our lives as few other contemporary painters. So although his portraits are by nature impermeable, resistant to emotional communion, they are also candidly open in their monumental scale."

Ben Luke in the Standard has no patience with these portraits, he writes; "Yet a group together loses impact through repetition — I felt like I was looking at a production line rather than an illuminating painterly investigation."  Perhaps he has to learn how to look first?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Greek sculpture of 400BC and 'I love Lucy'.

Coincidentally, the British museum has a major exhibition of Greek sculpture and some real sculptural woefulness comes up in the press. It suggests that not only is the past another country but that in some respects we are loosing the basic premises of what constitutes a civilised society. We can no longer produce artefacts that represent the human body to rival those of Ancient Greece, maybe we never could and we blithely assume that this does not matter. It does matter, it matters hugely that we have disposed of some of the basic tenets of representation in western civilisation, courtesy of state art and conceptual untruths.

So Jonathan Jones pens an article in today's 08.04.2015 Guardian entitled Scary Lucy. As we have commented on pathetic excuses for public art previously, this article draws attention to the common problem concerned with the state of art education. Apparently American sculptor Dave Poulin has accepted responsibility for a failure to depict Lucille Ball, or rather failing completely to depict the character she played Lucy. So bad is this piece of public sculpture that the public have forced the artist to apologise for such a rubbish artefact exhibited in a public place.  It's unbelievable that it actually got cast in bronze which must have cost a fair sum. For once Jones is right to criticise, and he writes this copy; "perhaps in Celeron, Budapest or London a young artist right now is so angered by our embarrassing statues that he or she is learning to make them properly. This would give the night of the bronze zombies a happy ending."

Sure, but this begs the question who in God's name is going to teach them how to do it or does Jones expect them to be capable of teaching themselves? If he does, that is a measure of how much he knows about making sculpture. Accurate representational figure modelling is a very hard won skill, far more difficult than accurate life drawing because it is drawing in three dimensions with clay or stone with a calliper and a plumb line. It is not something that anyone - and I do mean anyone,  - can teach themselves. But cultural amnesia and the all-prevailing hatred of the past of the present hedonistic culture lies to itself. People simply do not know what they are dealing with here, there are long complex procedures that have to be learned and hard won in order to even begin to make this kind of sculpture. There are very few artists who can still do it well (even forensic sculptors fall flat often) which is why the arrogant assume that anyone can and fall flat on their faces when they produce the kind of dreadful rubbish that scary Lucy is. There are no sculptors in universities or academies now who can teach you how to do it. Michelangelo was a giant among sculptors, he started working in a stone masons yard at the age of five, and this is what you have to do if you want to make statues of the human body that work as well as those of 4th century BC Greece. Progress - what sort of progress is that, to be behind 400BC Greece in basic depiction?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Duchamp's Urinal

Did Duchamp steal the urinal idea from German baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven?  If so then what Julian Spalding writes here is of great significance;

"Duchamp had long hated art. Both his elder brothers had become successful artists; he had not. Envy seeps out of many of his unguarded utterances: “Why should artists’ egos be allowed to overflow and poison the atmosphere?” he said in 1963. “Can’t you just smell the stench in the air?”
When the mood took him, Duchamp could be honest about his dishonesty. In an interview in 1962, he told William Seitz: “I insist every word I am telling you now is stupid and wrong.” Why, then, has the art world persisted in believing an account grounded in the myths he promulgated?"

The answer is  too much money is invested in the ocean of conceptual art that has resulted from his insult to art and aesthetics.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Tate Britain - the changes.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. She has been mentioned here on this blog and the Art newspaper reports: "
A few of Tate Britain’s recent exhibitions have aroused the ire of some critics, including the current show “Sculpture Victorious” (until 25 May) of mid- to late-19th century British sculpture. The criticism has verged on a vendetta, downplaying the merits of the presentation of the permanent collection and well-received temporary exhibitions, such as ones of Turner’s late works, Lowry’s cityscapes, and a survey of British folk art. The gallery’s annual attendance has hovered around the 1.4 million mark, compared with around 5 million who visit Tate Modern."

They have conveniently ignored her sacking the Turner, Constable and other experts in a poorly thought out restructuring to save a few quid. Jonathon Jones cannot resist getting out the cudgel with this: "It is arrogant to so ostentatiously push your personal taste as the official Tate Britain view, when in my opinion, that taste is so poor. Her bad taste has also, I think, been evident in ever-worsening Turner prize shortlists. Turns out you need taste to run a museum. Anyway, Curtis is going. But that will not solve this museum’s problems."

Taste is of course a thing that is absent from most of the guff from Jone's pen, the Barbara Hepworth exhibition was good but Jones doesn't do fine art values, just the same old state salon art criticism, toe the line - dull conformity.

One might assume that after the 2008 crash artists remained singularly unmoved but not so according to the Telegraph who have brought up this exhibition in Dresden where artists are complaining about capitalism. Ivan Hewitt (who he?) says this:
"This is art made by an élite for an élite, speaking only to that tiny sliver of society which is fluent in the ways of contemporary art. The show is excellent fodder for earnest conversations at arty left-wing dinner-tables, but most of the people who've actually suffered in the crash will surely be baffled by it."  Which begs the point - how can you get away with slagging off your patrons and sell to them unless they are as baffled as the Spanish Royal family were by Goya's portraits of them?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Art student unrest

Students at Central St Martin's are revolting as they often did way back in the sixties. Their present beef is financial, although to read their online demands they are using the opportunity to make some odd requests.  Remember long ago in the 60's when a sit-in was taken down by an art school principle who had not long before survived a Japanese prisoner of war camp, he did not take prisoners, it collapsed.

Occupy UAL: Demands
- No cuts to student places
- No staff redundancies
- UAL should use its weight as a large arts instituition to lobby the govt. against the FE cuts
- Stop the £500k Widening Participation cuts
- Liberate the curriculum (we want more black artists, theorists and lecturers)
- Implement anonymous marking – Mark our work, not our names!
- Financial transparency, what is going on with budgets and how are they allocated.
- Student and staff reps to sit on the Executive Board
- Fair pay for all staff, including outsourced staff – close huge the pay gap
- No nepotism
- Take a stand against tuition fees, cuts and student debt
- Abolish materials and printing costs
- No to privitisation
- Affordable accomodation
- No sanctions or punishments for students & staff involved in this peaceful occupation
- Freedom to move in and out of the occupation

Anonymous marking, now that really is revolutionary. How will that one work when they are practising as "anonymous" artists and designers? The bitter truth is that there are far, far too many artists out there trying to scrape a crust as it is, many of them being exploited by employers in jobs they are over-qualified for. But that doesn't mean to say that the creative industries don't need workers because they really do. It is also about time these industries started actually paying their way and providing decent salaries, so we can vaguely hope that the revolution starts here.     There has been too much exploitation of artists and unpaid internships for way too long. If you are thinking of taking an unpaid internship, carefully consider the fact that only 7% lead to an real job. We are perfectly entitled to despise promotors of slavery (to call it what it actually is) and that is exactly what it is - exploitation.

Today 10th April brings the news of legal action by the college against the students which is proof if proof were needed that education is business. Shelly Asquith, president of the student union, is one of those named on the injunction. She says: “I was not consulted whatsoever over huge changes to our courses; and now I have an injunction being brought against me for having the nerve to protest against the cuts.

News of the same thing happening in South Wales where they are trying to save a course from the cuts.

Which brings us to Turner prize artist Marvin Gaye Chetwind who has found a new street-wise and relevant moral and ethical role designing playgrounds for children. She has started in Dagenham, which was once upon a time a byword for inner city deprivation. Only now, it has good well performing schools and it is the poor white children in UK rural locations who are the deprived. 
She says:  “In Britain, artists are often thought of as tricksters or p--- artists – and certainly not as useful. But in Europe, they are really respected, and that’s great. I think of this project as art that has come out of the studio. It’s not elitist, it’s on the street, it’s art being functional – and that’s amazing.”
Well yes, it is very good to be useful but doesn't that mean that it is really design rather than fine art, because it is actually functional and useful.

Very depressing there is more evidence of the endemic British sickness, cultural amnesia and the consequential race to the bottom, the Guardian fears for the future of the arts after the next election whichever party wins.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Richard Diebenkorn at the RA ?

This week there has been very little art apart from the Goya and Impressionism exhibitions. There is the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition at the RA though which Laura Cummings has reviewed in the Observer. She writes accurately this tribute;

"This is what connects late with early; all of these paintings are bent on seeing and depicting the same thing – cities and landscapes – in new ways. The elements may be the same, the architecture of lines and planes, the suave black drawing, the patches, clusters and veils of atmospheric colour. But the sense of endeavour, of tension, scrutiny and indecision changes every time and makes each painting vital and restless for all its composure. Even at the end, Diebenkorn is still trying to work out another way to give us the light and space of California."

Diebenkorn is a grand old man of american painting and along with Wayne Thiebaud both of whom have grown in stature since the 1950's. Their work will survive long after most of the rest of today's dross has been washed away because their art is rooted like Picasso's in the real world. It depicts real perceptual life phenomena. Diebenkorn has produced some of the best late twentieth century life drawings  in existence. Highly recommended if you want to see some real art. Adrian Searle writes: "Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings occupy a sort of hinterland. They’re a beautiful distraction, paintings to lose your way inside. They’re not quite landscapes, not geometric abstractions and not exactly colour-field painting either. They belong to a time and place but have in them times and places all their own. They’re accumulations of incident within a larger scheme of things. You can see Diebenkorn thinking as he paints, getting lost, turning back, wandering off into the fields, finding the larger view."

Down in devon Damien Hirst has run short of photo realist painters so if you are an artist and fancy moving to Devon apply to extend brand production. Hirst is a publicity junky so there is this story concerning an original spot painting whose sale has been blocked by him. "Jess Simpson, who has owned the home with her husband Roger since 2005, has removed Bombay Mix, mounted it on an aluminium backing board, and framed it in the hopes of selling it. In doing so, she has run into firm opposition from the artist and his team."  

Jeff Koons is also ramping up the production of his brand, he now has 12 computer-operated stone-cutting machines, two robots and around 30 employees and he has a large public $8.000.000 commission for Sacramento Basketball team to complete. This is not very popular however, the protest gathers momentum.

Then there is the great Impressionism blockbuster that is drawing all the crowds at present at the National gallery. This has been extensively reviewed by everyone and is a bit boringly passe. Strictly for the newly converted to art as a religion types. Dorment tells us it's fantastic here.

Lastly and very depressingly more evidence of the endemic British sickness, amnesia and the consequential race to the bottom, the Guardian fears for the future of the arts.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Fourth Plinth - a horse skeleton

The BBC held an arts question time in response to the Warwick report on the state of our culture. It was a very disappointing program full of time serving self promotion and a total failure to expose the truth as is usual with TV.  The Telegraph couldn't resist using it for a poke at the arts and published an article by one Rupert Christiansen with the worst piece of unconsidered dross copy I have read this year.
Particularly this unconsidered pig ignorance :"And what about the role of "the arts" in schools? Should we really be so fervently encouraging young people to be "creative", when standards of literacy and numeracy are so low? Shouldn’t schools be more focused on priding children with useful practical skills, such as speaking foreign languages or understanding the legal system? Our universities spend billions of pounds half-educating people in "the arts", when society has far more urgent calls for manufacturing and industrial skills: aren't "the arts" ultimately enfeebling us as much as enriching us?"

It isn't worth arguing with a clown who doesn't know what a useful practical skill is, never mind the accusation of half educated arts graduates....... Or one who isn't aware that high achievement in the arts leads to improvements in basic subjects such as maths and english. As for the UK's industrial and manufacturing skills, the comment is risible. The copywriter for that is all he is, doesn't realise that 85% of his readers have no economic access to the precious legal system. He is the one who is half educated, and he should know that his Tory political masters allowed our industries and manufacturing to go off to China. (Which is now building, 230 art colleges)

 Mary Moore daughter of the great sculptor has taken exception to Damien Hirst for putting art back 100 years. The issue with the work of Hirst and others was that it relied on title and the cube it was in, she said. It was much more about having to read the label to know what was going on." 
She is quite correct to make this criticism, lack of considered formal values and sculptural considerations is the main hallmark of avant garde lite. She argues that Hirst brought back the frame after her father had dispensed with it. This is a purely formal issue, anyone who has studied sculpture knows that the object - whatever it is, has to work in the round, that it has to be seen from all points of view - which is exactly why Michaelangelo said that painting was women's work. Hirst presents natural and manufactured objects usually in a rectangular box or frame. It can be simply understood from one 90 degree angle it's symmetry and it's label. 

Moving on there has been much discussion by our erstwhile critics of the Victorian sculpture show at Tate Britian. Laura Cumming writes this which is incomprehensible:"Yet Tate Britain’s claim that this is “a golden age for sculpture” is itself outlandish. It might be a golden age for commissions, and popularity, but the art itself is wildly variable." When was it not in any situation one might ask? There are real skills on display here and not a little real art.  You have to be able to see it!

The Spectator has a pop at Penelope Curtis which seems to be a common press pursuit these days (google it!). The real culprit is Sir Nicholas but the conceptually addled Richard Dorment couldn't resist putting the boot into the Victorian sculpture exhibition. The poor dear has only just at the tender age of sixty nine, it seems, woken up to the fact that art history and art criticism as forms of knowledge are contingent upon the reason for their production, no more no less. Which says much for his capacity for reflection upon his own writing. He writes this in genuine anger: "I couldn’t care less when they to publish their low-grade, pseudo-historical twaddle in periodicals no one reads. But to see it in a catalogue published by a respected institution like Tate is depressing, because it will now be repeated over and over until it becomes the accepted view of Victorian sculpture." He really should get out more. Since when has that not always been the case? Reminds me of the paper I wrote on the hatchet job Sir John Rothenstein (former director of Tate Britain) did on Sir William Orpen. If you want to read that, it is on the Jackdaw website. 

The fourth plinth is in the news again, this time due to a skeletal horse by Hans Haake. A stock market ticker tape runs around the horses neck, so we are informed that the whole thing is a critique of rampant capitalism as in the 2008 banking crash. Haake has some form for this sort of political comment, but one can and one is entitled to ask would the symbolism work without the conceptual description to tell us that he is having a go at the city? How and why does a horse's skeleton symbolise the city of London and the banking crash? 
The answer is this:  "Asked whether his piece was a criticism of the power of money, Haacke said: “The title is Gift Horse and that implies that something is off…"

Monday, March 02, 2015

History is now - at the Hayward!

Waldemar Januszczak - Sunday Times 22.2.2015 writes an article entitled The state we are in concerning the "History is now", show at the Hayward which purports to be a selection of meaningful art for consideration vis the election. 1970's and 1980's stuff mainly and no, do not see the connection?

Seven artists have been asked to curate the exhibition and with one exception they are state art acolytes. The exception is Richard Hamilton's 1980's canvases of the Northern Ireland troubles and Januszczak says the show starts well and finishes well but the middle is very poor. "Confused and confusing" there are some artists here who don't work with the exhibition brief, Roger HiornsHannah Sarkey and John Akomfra for instance.The tenor of his criticism is also poor, state art hype to the front he remarks that: "the sight of the redundant bloodhound missile on the forecourt made for a thrilling sculptural sight" which is the usual. No missile can be a work of art and only a conceptually biassed critic would confuse the two. What one is entitled to ask; is life enhancing or positive about a guided missile whose sole function is to kill? Mind you the Tate did it first with Fiona Banner not long agoRichard Wentworth's missile,  is a quaint piece of non meaning, it is certainly not a sculpture, you far are better off going to the Hendon aircraft museum or Duxford, and UK people are doing exactly that as the Tate's attendance figures have recently proved. People do not want to see this stuff.

Our lad Alistaire Sooke likes it as a statement because it is pointed at the city? but he says he is exhausted by this exhibition.
He writes this bunk: "Moreover, Wentworth is unafraid of visual drama: outside on a balcony, he positions one of the few surviving Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missiles deployed by the RAF during the Cold War. (It appears to be aimed in the general direction of the City.) If only the weaker, impenetrable parts of this exhibition had been more like his one." Which only goes to prove that he was not around in the cold war......  He also pens this piece of brown nosed name dropping: "I left in a cloud of unknowing, defeated by the cacophony of so many competing voices, but sympathetic towards officials such as John Chilcot, who have to sift masses of evidence like this while chairing inquiries in order to compile their findings. No wonder it takes them so long."

The Standard has lost the plot as it seems to no longer employ the feisty Brian Sewell and someone called Ben Luke pens this hype : " - there’s Sam Taylor-Johnson’s celebrity-tastic, feelgood film of David Beckham sleeping, for instance. Fujiwara’s might be the most contemporary section but everything here feels pertinent to now in its own way. It’s a portrait of Britain as a deeply complicated, often inspired and sometimes infuriating place.
It leaves us with much to ponder about our past and present as we head for the voting booths in May." Oh yes does it then, like how we got into this degenerate state? State art as a critical comment on the status quo - how does that scan?  One can only say that Brian would have made justifiable mincemeat of this.

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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cornelia Parker sometime YBA

The weekend press has articles about Cornelia Parkers forthcoming exhibition in Manchester to celebrate the re-opening of the Whitworth Gallery after a £15 million revamp.  First off she talks to Tim Adams in the Observer and he says this of her;"

"She has that sense that some of the freedoms fought for in the 60s and 70s are being erased. Though she has always, she says, felt herself an outsider to any art establishment – she studied at Wolverhampton Poly rather than Goldsmith’s, and though sometimes co-opted was never a convincing YBA – she enjoyed that golden period of free education at art school. " 
One would think from the writers condescension that Goldsmith's was the only art college out there and yes, oh yes, freedom, that happy silly illusion; that is another art education casualty in a recession, after free higher education which they still have in Scotland.  She is she tells us an artist who wishes to distance herself from all the taint of advertising;  Maybe that is what distinguishes her from the products of Goldsmiths.
“I think just being an artist is a political act. Just doing things that are not mediated by anyone else. I don’t do many commissions because I don’t want to tick anyone else’s boxes. Sometimes I’m a bit tempted. I got approached by the Formula One team McLaren who wanted me to do something with the bits of a damaged car. It was a nice idea, but I don’t want to be a jobbing artist, or do anything that seems like advertising.” 

"She’s not sure she has a mission, but if pressed she’d say it was to close the two cultures gap between literacy in science and art – not least because it represents our best chance of preserving the planet on which we all live."
Considering the previous post about the aesthetics of form Parker's sculpture is about the accidental aesthetic accidents that proceed from controlled destruction not from creation.

Then there is this quaint anomaly, the world's biggest Giff :  Which can only be properly viewed from the air.

Finally, this blog has documented some idiocy over the years but this is a new one. French artist Loris Greaud lost his bottle with an art critic over the opening criticism of his latest show in Dallas and had a group of performance artists destroy the whole thing. Why on earth did he bother in the first place if he couldn't handle the criticism and had to throw a stupid juvenile hissy fit?  He is in the wrong profession. Only an artist who is profoundly confused about the purpose of art criticism, which is by its very nature just opinion, would demand that reviews of his exhibitions be simple and objective. Those types of reviews exist; they’re actually called press releases.

The there is this information about a west coast USA artist who had her identity and cash stolen and exacted a revenge with an art project.  A neat kind of balancing of the account!

Lastly this letter to my younger self has struck a chord with many artists and is circulating on the net.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

So what do art critics do for us?

First off:
Stupid article - 21st January Guardian by Jonathon Jones criticising Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as minor league players in 20th century art.  Conceptual prejudices to the fore our erstwhile critic gets it all completely wrong yet again!
This is a particularly thoughtless remark:
"But to claim they are among the really great modern artists is daft. Picasso dwarfs his imitator Moore. But it’s not just Picasso who makes these modernist Brits look minor. In Hepworth’s case the most significant comparisons are with the truly great abstract artists: you cannot seriously set her works alongside those of Brancusi, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pollock, Rothko or Richard Serra. She is not in the same class."

Well of course she isn't because here our erstwhile critic is not actually comparing like with like. Hepworth was a sculptor and apart from Brancusi he is comparing her work with that of 20th century painters. Only someone who has practised neither could be confused enough to compare and contrast two completely different disciplines. Anyone who has practised both knows that sculpture is an infinitely more demanding discipline that requires a completely different form of thinking to painting on a 2D surface.  Picasso was a poor sculptor and a very great painter, Moore and Hepworth were both first rate sculptors. Rothko, Mondrian, Pollock and Serra were all painters whose visual content was minimal in more senses than one. Jone's art criticism you might expect to read in the Sun or Star, lazy and unquestioning assertion  and assumption.

Secondly, an interesting piece of really cogent criticism from Adam Thirlwell in Guardian of 24th January concerned with the fact that art no longer shocks anyone.  He writes some really good criticism of Manet's Olympia.
He says :"Manet’s genius and the true source of the bourgeois outrage was his ability to “disappoint expectation”: “instead of the theatrical forms expected of him, Manet offered up the starkness of ‘what we see’. And each time it so happened that the public’s frustrated expectation only redoubled the effect of shocked surprise produced by the picture.” The greatness of the art was that it changed the nature of the form." "The shock was just a side effect."
This last comment that the greatness of the art was that it changed the nature of the form is the most meaningful critical remark that has been published for some time because it is so absolutely true. He explains T J Clark's remark that the shock served only to create a failure of criticism. When did this last happen in front of a contemporary artwork? When? not for a very very long time, as he says: "Even in 1865 shock was passe"

When one considers the oceans of avant garde lite we are floating in it is obvious that we no longer have artists of any stature who are capable of creating shock through form. Kapoor's efforts are mere gestures, Koons sculpture is fairground attractions, the Chapman Bros nazis's are horror shock lite and madame Taussauds, Hirst's efforts are presentation and window dressing and Emin's work is self absorbed etc etc.  Yet State art is we are continually being instructed is challenging and shocking, but this is lies and passe.
So in this inverted art world of hysterical and false values how can anyone really shock? Thirlwell argues that shock has to dismantle the ruling ideology and be offensive to those who continue to believe in that ideology. Being offensive to salon state art would be a start. 

He concludes his summary of the novels of Houellebecq with this pure piece of intelligence:
"The future works of shock I imagine are as formally adventurous as they are intellectually destructive. I’m not in fact sure that true resistance to ideology is possible without resisting aesthetic conventions." 
This is one of the most succinct summaries of the complete failure of avant garde lite in the 21st century that has been so far written. Simply because it succinctly points up the lazy dishonesty at the heart of the contemporary "Art" that fills to overflowing our major contemporary art galleries....... Supported as it is by endless written garbage about the supporting cast  - Duchamp and his rancid urinal. Odd isn't it how so few people who accept this junk as gospel can see the malevolent irony of it's content and gesture? It's a way of deifying junk!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Notions of abstraction.

News today that Richard Long is returning to Bristol for his first local exhibition in fifteen years. He will be using his standard media river Avon mud for his drawings according to the Guardian's Maev Kennedy. Do have a lot of respect for Long, his abstract work speaks eloquently of the brief transience of life in more ways than one.

"George Ferguson, Bristol’s mayor, who is an architect, said the partnership would be hugely beneficial not just for the gallery and the university but for the whole city – one estimate suggests that every pound invested in the arts in Bristol generates a four-fold return."  Same old same old elegiac leftist utilitarianism and idealism, how many time have we heard that in the past twenty years and where is there any proof that it is remotely true?

Then there is this on abstraction on 18th January from Waldemar (Sunday Times) and Laura Cummings (Observer) at the Whitechapel"Adventures of the Black Square
Abstract Art and Society 1915–2015"Waldemar comments that: "the first half of the show is an overcrowded history of art's past whilst the second half is an overcrowded lucky dip of contemporary wilfulness."
Whilst Laura says: "And this is the parallel purpose of the show: to look specifically at the kind of abstract art that aimed to change the world, or that was at the very least supercharged with the possibility of revolution. This is not just Malevich’s sky-high claims for abstraction, that it would break the bonds of earth and rise into some stratosphere of the spirit: “Follow me, comrade aviators, sail into the chasm!” To say all this stuff is boring is to give it much more credence than it warrants. It is boring and inert, of only marginal interest or relevance and defy anyone to attempt to prove otherwise, in particular any architect. Similar guff comes from Louisa Buck in the Tele wag.
She writes this :"It soon becomes evident that geometric abstraction could be used and interpreted in directly opposing ways, with the rigour of its repetitive units capable of expressing both the language of freedom and idealistic optimism as well as the impersonal rigours of unyielding totalitarianism." Re-read this several times and it still does not make any real sense, aesthetically or historically, it is wish fulfilment, of the same level of legitimacy as the current spurious asinine worship of Duchamp.

Proof that the money follows and consolidates failure, and it is puerile guff:

"The reputation of Goldsmiths as one of the best art schools in Europe is not to be taken lightly. In the last 25 years, the school has produced seven Turner Prize winners and 30 nominees. The school, founded in 1891, is renowned for its multidisciplinary approach to art making and rigorous critical curriculum." 

And this marketing refuse : "Francis Outred, Christie's Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Europe, commented. “Every bidder will be contributing to the future of the creative industries in Britain."
This should be re-read carefully as follows:

The reputation of Goldsmiths as one of the best art schools in Europe results from the supine and asinine way in which it fawned upon Charles Saatchi as the sole guardian of avant garde-lite and contemporary art values. It has produced more state art acolytes than any other art school, and it's educational provision, curriculum and it's approaches to art making were transitory and doomed, based as they were in lack of rigorous criticism and an unquestioning and uncritical acceptance of conceptual art. This has resulted in terminal damage to UK art education that cannot be undone because the visual skills have been lost. These skills are now sneered at by the terminally incompetent as "Craft." So now we can move move on to consolidate Goldsmith's sourced conceptual kitsch as art, which it will never be!
Cannot forgive this inane and conceited philosophical category error oak tree; an artist is not a priest, no way was this ignorant and blasphemous conceit a legitimate artwork. But then it was only Christianity that was being mocked and it is only art. If you need any further proof of the terminal damage that has been done, consider the inadequate and very expensive Cultural Olympics and their imaginary and non-existent legacy!

Lastly there is this news that Luc Tuymans has been convicted of plagiarism and one wonders why it doesn't happen far more often considering the stolen visual content of some contemporary artists works?  You decide which are guilty?