Gesamkunstwerk – Saatchi Gallery

From the banal to the sublime…

 

Volker Hueller – Self Portrait.

‘Gesamkunstwerk’ – ‘a total work of art’ – uses all or many art forms. (Dictionary definition.)

Intrigued by the title which has many facets and does not easily translate into English I made my first trip to the new Saatchi Gallery. A little late in the day but then I only visited the original one in North London a couple of times and missed out on the South Bank farrago. Intrigued however was not how I felt by the time I had left and I certainly had not seen an all encompassing show of the arts as promised by the title. Indeed I felt more like I had entered a time-warp and stumbled into the New Spirit in Painting show at the Royal Academy circa 1981 but without the same excitement or technique on display. The most impressive feature was the building itself which is a Wagnerian symphony of contemporary gallery chic and cannot be faulted. Indeed a more impressive set of floorboards I have never seen. If the building is intended to impress it succeeds but at what cost? Most of the work seemed quietly subdued by its illustrious surroundings and indeed a good deal of it sank altogether. Formerly famous for setting the ship of Britart afloat how does this show succeed in opening our eyes to New German Art of the 2010′s? Well, frankly, not very well.

There are good individual artists in this show but after finding ones way around all the floors and finally being overwhelmed by the frankly awful huge works at the top I felt I had no more idea about contemporary German Art than I had when I arrived. The picture-book ‘catalogue’ does little to enlighten and whilst I not keen on over explication a little more info would have helped greatly. My impression was that bar a rough correlation of ages there was little to tie the artworks together and this had been manufactured quickly and with little curatorial thought. The one common factor was an almost complete lack of digital works. This was about big, bigger and huge…almost all the works were over six foot and in some cases were collossal. In that there were echoes of the far better German artists of the R.A. show e.g. Penck, Middendorf, Baselitz, etc. but there comparisons ended. I did not see one painter on a large scale that really showed exceptional technique or content. It was almost as if a T.V. reality show had asked a bunch of fairly average artists to create a pastiche of German Art of the last thirty years in a week.

Some works were truly awful e.g. the reclining plastic coloured figures and the afore-mentioned ‘print’ across a hundred canvasses. Others were good but lost in the hang apart from the Tobias Brothers and the small shellac and watercolour works of Volker Hueller both of which I was impressed by. I will not add insult to injury by naming the worst of a fairly mediocre bunch but winners of irritating and downright stupid awards go to Andre Butzer ( New York Graffitti school overdosed on Penck with a horrible use of colour) and Isa Genzken’s tedious assemblages like a car boot sale organized by Rauschenburg if he’d been a pantomime Dame…tinsel and spray paint darlinks is so camp …yuk. It is easier to actually spot the reference in most works. Maz Frisinger and Alexander Bircken wouldn’t have a practice without Duchamp’s large glass basically and Ida Ekbald looked like a foundation art project to use concrete that had gone horribly wrong. It seems that such is the plethora of art students coming out of the academies that even basic aesthetics have been jettisoned. Maybe she networks really well..maybe you have to living in Norway..so how come she in a German show..ah she lives in Berlin well that’s alright then…shame they didn’t chuck Tacita Dean in too at least we could have seen something interesting. By the way Tobias Brothers were born in Romania so is this really New Euro Art? Again the contextual strings were missing…if a Norwegian then is this really German Art now or just a motley collection hastily cobbled together..methinks the latter. This is reinforced by the seemingly haphazard way works melt into each other. If Saatchi can afford to build such a place why does he not employ some decent designers to fashion some continuity and catalogue support. If ‘democratising’ the artworld means flabby shows with little thought I may not be so ‘democratic’ in future. Free to enter you do get what you pay for. It seems Saatchi is keener on being seen as super-patron than actually doing the right thing by the art he assembles. But then he is bigger (as his building) than any poor artist caught in their combined wash.

The show is worth going to for the well hung Tobias Brothers room and for the Hueller small works both of which show grace and aesthetic consideration rather than the Pantomime Showiness of most of it. I came away with the impression that New German Art had fallen into a rut of pastiche of former glories and far from benefitting from new immigration the ‘Eurozone’ dizziness of it all had actually devalued some of the participants. If a single currency has devalued the economies of Western Europe then this show displays that Saatchi’s global reach and international obsessions are similarly dangerous to ‘national’ ideas of art. Post internet, post Berlin Wall what we see is a weak and diluted parade of imitators and hangers-on to concepts and working practices which were old hat in 1960. If you want to see post-war German art at its best go google Mülheimer Freiheit‘. This is just a pantomime of the new wilds and honestly it as tame a collection of physical art as I ever come across..one almost yawned on exit. Maybe Saatchi can blame his ‘art-teams’ for nothing on this scale is supervised that closely…..commitee and buyers do the rounds hoovering up those who fit the bill.

Want to be in the next National Saatchi show…tick these boxes….International (i.e. not English) …large and technically inept  and finally be devoid of real artistic merit…then you may stand a chance.
I would like to see a ‘opt-out’ clause for British native art from this circus before we all become clowns dancing to the same ringmaster.

CODA: Is Serota’s Tate any different?..same egos just different paymasters…

Damien Hirst – Fish and a Failed Painter?

The following is part of a recent debate on facebook about Hirst’s Fish piece:
Matthew Collings included it in a ‘Design’ album then contested its meaning especially with Paul Gladston. I joined in at this point.

hirst_swimming
Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding: 1992

I would like to put to one side the contest between ‘modernistic’ thinking and the ‘deconstructive’ approach ( I simplifying here but a brief read through the blurb for Mr Gladston’s book ‘Art History after Deconstruction’ suggests he believes that it a false dichotomy and that deconstruction is essential to all art history (I am sure he will put me right if that a glib analysis). If we are looking at formal principles only then the most striking element for me is that firstly this piece is a reworking of the shark (1991-2) with smaller items which also echoes pharmacy and secondly that the fish selected are not native British species at all which suggests they imported. Lacking definitive knowledge of this ( the Gordon Burn book doesn’t tell) suggests that there is no order or meaning in the fish of themselves apart from a slightly exotic selection.

The Burn book shows that Hirst basically failed as a painter (he exhibited cardboard boxes covered in household paint at Freeze in docklands before he switched tack entirely)- the spot paintings revamped a Schwitters influenced colour collage phase he went through on Goldsmiths M.A. before leaping into the contained sculptures specifically the head and flies.

lekaythisismybody-1987

 

John LeKay. This is my body, this is my blood. 1987

John LeKay who Hirst finally met in 1992 had been doing similar work throughout mid- eighties and from then on Hirst pretty much apprenticed himself to LeKay in intellectual terms. A quick look through LeKay’s catalogue shows a far more interesting and thought out set of works. Indeed Hirst interviews LeKay in PIG magazine (LeKay’s magazine) and it master and pupil in tone. Hirst himself describes the change as ‘putting a fucking box round everything’ after Cornell ( which where ‘pharmacy’ taken from) .

Seen through the lens of a painter who influenced by Patrick Heron who was berated at Goldsmiths one can see that Hirst has never really succeeded in that area and that the spot paintings and swirls come from that and his lack of confidence as a painter…ending in the farcical Courtauld show which pretty much showed his ability starkly. However as a barrow boy he was ‘fly’ enough to see that spectacle was required and he would fail with the paint/collage approach.. also those around him were succeeding in sculpture not painting and that what he provided. I agree with Matthew’s take on exhibitionism and display…he tapped into a spectacular increase in office and retail space – the Thatcher legacy of service and supply…to me Hirst is a perfect analogy for an economy going through final post-empire convulsions. Just like his ‘fucking boxes’ the docklands he used for Freeze was contained and shipped and finally empty… again LeKay and Hirst in that interview in Pig …..

  • Damien Hirst: “The work seems on the one hand to be very chaotic and on another level very organized”…
  • John LeKay replies “Well there is a definite order in chaos and an indefinite chaos comes out of order, is that what you mean?”…PIG 1993

Alone Yet Together containing 100 fish  was created in 1993….and to me is a perfect example of organized chaos…there is no order but that is presented in an ordered way…hence the same direction. It could have been worms or birds..I even suspect that visual readings are irrelevant and that Hirst may have placed dark against light..etc but in the end does that really matter as the fish were probably sourced randomly…even random placement can create harmonies….just like collage.. It my belief that without Thatcherism….Saatchi and Craig Martin Hirst would be a provincial colourist of minor repute now but he surfed in on a flood of post Hong Kong money and power shifts. He will never be able to paint ….he could however put stuff in boxes….

Parts of the piece were broken up and sold individually so that to me negates any more profound structural approach and fits with his ‘minimalist’ approach to effort.. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/hirst-hopes-to-revolutionise-art-market-with-golden-calf-851034.html?action=Gallery&ino=3

Hirst himself from Idler..

  • “HIRST: What I really like is minimum effort for maximum effect. Like with Picasso’s Bull’s Head – a bike seat and handlebars making up the bull’s head. Such a brilliant thing because it takes that tiny amount of effort to create .”..

Hirst gave a fish shop in Leeds a fish “It was two years before Damien won the Turner Prize [in 1995] when he was just beginning to be a bit known.
“We saw some publicity about a work of his, a whole lot of fish titled Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction and we joked that it would be nice to get something like that for the shop.”

That was a Trevally.. a Pacific predator…..the unusual thing about the collection is they not the usual tropical fish ..has anybody analysed their types and reason he used them? The Shark was ordered and caught probably through Joplin maybe these were ordered too.

There were two cabinets…source art newspaper online: –

  • “In 1991, the same year in which he made his original shark, Hirst did a series of sister works of fish in formaldehyde, which are amongst his most elegant “natures mortes”
  • Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding, for example, consists of six rows of individually encased fish in two cabinets and was once described as a “static ballet in an absurd movement toward nowhere.” The first formaldehyde work to be shown in London (in a group show at the Serpentine), it too was purchased by Saatchi, travelled with “Sensation”, and then was bought back by Hirst in a £6m-for-12-works deal in 2004.
  • Hirst continues to produce exquisite works of suspended fish. One of the most dignified pieces in the “Beautiful” sale was a cruciform stainless steel cabinet containing fish skeletons on one side and fish in formaldehyde on the other. However, the “Beautiful” sale also contained a near replica of the iconic Isolated Elements wall-piece titled Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You. It had 12 shelves rather than six and the fish were smaller but, formally, it was the same work.”

barnum.jpg

again Hirst puts it beautifully

  • “Am I a sculptor who wants to be a painter,” he asks, “or a cynical artist who thinks painting is now reduced to nothing more than a logo?”…..

Sorry Matthew but I firmly believe in the second statement :-)

 

 

source: Sarah Thornton http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=16269

In and out of love with Damien Hirst | The Art Newspaper

www.theartnewspaper.com

The long slow death of visuality…responses to Matthew Collings

On Facebook ( that noted art history forum:-)
Matthew Collings posted the following:I have highlighted what seems to me the key lines. The second paragraph is his introduction to the set of photos which even I,as someone accused of convoluted and dense and unreadable sentences,found hard to fathom and only after several re-readings did I get a sense (I think) of what he on about. My interpretation is he is concerned that at a time when we surrounded by a tsunami of visuality (more artists,more imagery than ever) that there is no coherent ‘ethical’and ‘aesthetic’agreement of what is ‘good’or ‘right’. i.e. that we live in immoral times and that affects judgement too. This chimes with the ‘Rediscovering Aesthetics‘standpoint. I do not know to what degree he agrees/disagrees with their views. The idea of visual achievement V visual success may be contrasting actual artistic creation with visual success i.e. cheap fame….low artistic worth..I am not sure. Below my response on facebook and a continuation of my ‘objective argument’which I apparently regularly fall short on …woof woof:-)

Matthew Collings: On some very visual and recent art
If there is celebrating it’s celebrating the visual dimension,but the reason to post the album (and others) is not “let’s party”but to look at the possibility of visual substance,depth,richness in art, because in the general idea of what contemporary art “is”that operates at the moment this visual dimension is virtually either actually absent or else unseeable (and consequently undiscussuable or unappreciatable).

Some very visual current and recent art:

Reassurance of pre-modern and even modern art no longer available —universal Rembrandtian Shakespearean etc greatness out now —meantime fragmentary but very visual art does exist. Problem in heads is to get visual to connect with ethical. Many steps. First is to be visually observant. Then questioning. What is all this visuality for? How can we make it be for something else,something better? (That is not for wrong ideology,wrong life dictated by consumerism etc,as exemplified horribly by contexts in which this art is actually usually seen.) And is a visual system aiming at high visual achievement,or visual success —and which therefore has the possibility of failure —and therefore entails some kind of judging —is it connectable to moral and ethical dimensions,political dimensions etc? (Nazis judging good notes in symphony,still chuck victims in ovens etc.) Or do we have to accept visually abject art that has moral excellent credentials? Plus accept visual abjection that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials (idiotic pretence at engaging with history society etc while remaining in-crowd smugness only)?

My response:Part one ( from facebook)

Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet which may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’ way it did in the 1980′s when it ring-fenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherent worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
My response: Part two
ARTSCRIBE

I have written about artscribe as part of a longer piece called Beyond the crisis in art ‘Making and Doing’which covers the ‘artscribe years’.

http://belcheresque.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/beyond-the-crisis-in-art-making-and-doing/

Whatever it was (for those too young or unaware of the magazine) artscribe was the most important magazine in the period 1976 -1985 after that it became Artscribe International and I felt lost its way and became a precursor of the fashionista art mags we have now. early artscribes were ad free tomes of high-seriousness where you could enjoy lengthy,erudite articles on painting especially from the likes of James Faure Walker,Matthew Collings and Adrian Searle. Collings himself is representative of the gradual change and led to the ‘Internationalisation’of the magazine. My feeling has been that the success and failure of Collings’s internationalisation is a smaller model of the sea change in British Art at this point i.e. Sensation et al. Ironically Collings left the magazine in 1987 after which it went downhill fast and disappeared totally in 1993. My only surviving copy is ironically from Collings time as editor because I feature in it albeit in a very minor role as a model in a Gilbert and George painting called Gateway which featured in an article on them. That was about as close as I ever got to the International Art World. So any discussion of artscribe and visuality and its apparent ‘demise’cuts heavily into my own artistic history or ‘suicide’depending on your viewpoint. Now this is where things get interesting –in searching for the artscribe image I came across Matthew’s ‘Rant’from the saatchi magazine.

http://magazine.saatchionline.com/magazine-articles/reports-from-new-zealand/put_downs_and_suck_ups_matthew_14

In it he discusses Peter Fuller. Ironically I was interviewed for Goldsmiths course in 1987 and 1988. The first time of interview I had recently completed a black empty canvas for painting and sat bewildered as Mary Kelly and Nick De Ville pontificated about it for what seemed hours (I too shy to point out it just a ground!) before telling me I ‘interesting’and they would come back next year. Sadly my studio was demolished and penniless the next interview was in my legalised squat in Arnos Grove and a disaster…
Basically I uttered the name ‘Peter Fuller’and it was if I had shat all over the assembled interviewers (and a postgrad student who hung bing bags on hooks who ignored me and spent whole time staring at out coathooks). Now reading the Collings piece I understand how evil I had been…Collings explains

“When Modern Painters began in 1988 it was the brainchild of an art writer called Peter Fuller,a man loved by fogeys and philistines,and middle class people who kidded themselves they were into art,while the art world as such couldn’t bear him. I couldn’t bear him either,at least not what he wrote. It always seemed so off the mark.”

My Response:Part three

In contrast I had actually read and re-read Fuller intensely ( especially Beyond the Crisis in Art)and loved him and Modern Painters under his editorship. He seemed then and seems now to have been way ahead of the YBA pack. Ironically Matthew seems to have revised his opinion somewhat…

“The bits I like are,mainly,his raving on (positively) about Ruskin,who in those days I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn anything about. Now of course I think Ruskin’s great and in fact I believe only an idiot wouldn’t think the same. As a personality,Peter (who I got to know fairly well) was great too.”

So I was victim of an almost Stalinist rejection of a certain way of looking at art. The Goldsmiths tutors gave me short shrift refusing to even ‘look’at my Bacon and Sutherland influenced self-portraiture. I was a rank conservative..an amateur who did not understand the mission that Goldsmiths and YBA about to launch…( obviously the offer of a place at the Royal College for painting by Peter de Francia in 1981 was a figment of my imagination….sadly I was scuppered by Thatcher’s plan to give working class children a place at public school..guess what she took the money from the R.C. ensuring a foreign student took my place and this working class boy ended up on the dole). Forgive me if the International Art World leaves me a little sarcastic..wouldn’t you feel the same? ….Goldsmiths or Thatcher it all the same to me.

I ran out of critical road and ended up back in my parent’s council house in Didcot and immediately spent a year drawing the hills around my hometown in charcoal on location and effectively became as conservative as possible in reaction to the Goldsmiths debacle. My art career effectively over I went to ground just as Hirst and Emin won the art lottery. I continued to read Fuller and Ruskin and to ignore the London art scene for the next 20 years and pretty much still do. My artistic career petered to a halt with some etchings at Edinburgh College of Art in 1994 and that was that…until Moogee in 2005. So that was then but what about now and what about this contested ‘visuality’ everybody banging on about?…..continues below….in it I hope to link the processes at play in 1988….Goldsmiths, internationalisation, YBA’s to my own career crash and the birth of Satchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the ‘visuality’ bubble.

 

My Response: Part Four

VISUALITY?

THINGNESS?
Responding to internet representations of art.

Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works (Stella and Morrris ) in reality whereas I think I only ever seen one actual Stella and no Morris so have no idea of scale or construction of Morris so how could I really compare which brings us back to key point re. visuality..whose visuality?….we engulfed in a pervasive media which displays versions of reality..how many dscourses based on actual seeing any more..perhaps we need an institute of looking?

If we could assemble all the paintings you have here and make people actually look the responses may be very different. What we have here is a virtual gallery that lacks the essential ‘thingness’ of objecthood…..if one not responding to that essential object but only a virtual mis-representation then we are always on dodgy ground. What I find infuriating about contemporary theorists of the virtual is they discount the essential veracity of constructed artworks…to them and their students (and NTU has its fair share) they are continually avoiding the real by dancing spectacularly in clouds of theory and networks…..never touching the ground and certainly never needing to look at all..Ruskin would be appalled.

Conversation re; Artscribe with Matthew Collings: from facebook June 2011
SDB
Has ‘visuality’ disappeared as much as you say across the board. I thought it just a Nottingham thing…..it almost eradicated from the fine art course because of all those elements I been ranting about for years….I didn’t even attend the PV of my own School as seen one blackboard with a Wittgenstein quote on and a screaming performance artist you probably seen them all;-) Really enjoyed selection could this not make a great ‘Art Commentary’stand alone website…..or interactive TV show.
Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’way it did in the 1980′s when it ringfenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherant worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
MC
Well ironically Artscribe was very much a visual celebrating mag under the editorship of its founder James Faure Walker,but when I took over,in early 80s,it became much more oriented to bringing news to UK of international trendy developments,and ultimately to airing info about those developments back to places where they originally came from —I wouldn’t say ethos of mag in my time was at all like ethos of these FB threads,which is because my true interests,while they were always there,were a bit buried in those days beneath my drive to make the mag buzzing and powerful.

That is really interesting Matthew ..so you are more naturally attuned to JFW content than your own in hindsight? Do you think there a current magazine that caters for ‘visuality’and here I using term loosely to denote contemporary visual art where the emphasis on ‘objecthood’….I struggling to put it more clearly maybe in sense defined by Abigail Diamond here …

The role of the art object in contemporary art –http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol3/adfull.html

i.e. are we talking about art that reveals itself primarily as an object..in which case ‘OBJECT’would be perfect title for such a magazine :-)

This conversation was extended into a full article for MATTER magazine availabel on Scribd HERE:

Death by a thousand cuts how fine art killed itself

The latest figures are spine-chilling. Cloaked in a fake Liberal shroud the right-wing zealots behind Cameron and Osborne’s ‘realignment’ of British politics are systematically closing down the founts of opposition. Its a tactic worthy of sixties France but because the arts fraternity are trapped like rabbits in the headlights nobody seems to be able to respond. A well aimed boot at Millbank does not change the agenda one iota.

In the Telegraph’s list of most affected humanities Universities Nottingham Trent is near the top. Along with Falmouth, Goldsmiths and Norwich it one of those ‘arts-based’ Universities ( pace old Polytechnics) singled out for attack. The reason simple. A right-wing government will not fund centres of excellence however well or badly run that career to close to a left-wing perspective. Despite years of market-driven forces and business orientated management that all but driven the Marxists to the wall the arts colleges are the last bastion of free-thinking leftism. As Stewart Lee rightly points out this is worse than Thatcherism. She would have loved to have destroyed the ‘luxury’ of such institutions. Now before she slips into history her bidding being done by her political spawn.

Does this matter? Well yes because alongside a direct attack on the fundamentals of a liberal society e.g. education for all is a direct attack on the ideological foundations of that society. You can now express any opinion as long as it free-market.

The long road to the present car-crash is a minefield of good intentions but contemporary art and its institutions and apologists has paved the way for their own slaughter. When a modern University can respond to students with the message ‘we do not want your life-drawing’ we do not ‘do’ painting’ we know we in a sorry state. Justifying further funding against a backdrop of nepotism, slack intellectual foundations and clearly lacklustre and befuddled cohorts no wonder the rightists having a feld day culling the weak and unnecessary.This is not just one institution it has crept virus like into the whole body from the Goldsmiths injection point.

It is almost impossible to defend a system that grew fat on easy money and gorged on flatulent theory. Even a smattering of old-school rigour and skills based training…you know all that messy drawing and painting would have stood us in good stead now. But a lame conceptualist blowing bubbles and chanting Kant is probably as good as it gets. It has been a slow artistic suicide that all conived in to further and feather their own nests and lo and behold now the whole tree being chopped down.

There will be no last-minute reprieves and most if not all fine art courses as we have presently configured will shrink or disappear. We are back in Royal Academy pre Pop-Art territory with only the most cushioned able to learn and create. In the new landscape only commercially viable artists will survive. We will see a rise in conventional conservative buying and creating and curating habits it comes with the ‘new reality’. The Arts Council is finished and only the most partisan advocates of its waste and confusion will miss it (i.e. those most rewarded by its skewed sense of smug righteousness..we are saving art darlinks…yes well done ACE … like the Vietnamese Village that was destroyed to save it.).

I take no pleasure in watching the corpse shudder and leak unto its last breath but unless the leftist arts-world coheres and starts building a coherent and skills-based response it game over. Deader than Marysas we will be left with nothing but the skin of the conceptualists to wonder at. Did we ever really fund their flaky musings?

Mind the gap: the slow death of fine art

I have spent the last couple of days seriously investigating the area which for want of a better word one can call ‘Transmedia’. Coined by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture (2008) who said (and here I thank Alison Norrington for compiling the quotes)

“transmedia represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms, ”

Jenkins defines transmedia as storytelling that

“immerses an audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story.”

I have taught in a department designated ‘Multimedia’ for the last three years and nobody has ever defined exactly what multimedia meant then opr now. Young students look blankly and mutter something about 3D and older people remember stuttering CD-Roms which thankfully gone the way of the floppy disc into cyber-extinction.

So here we are in 21st Century TRANSMEDIA land and believe me the term is catching on. The August edition of Wired UK magazine had a whole feature on it including references to latest Dr Who ‘transmedia-ing’ so it definitely a buzz word.

Let us unpack the term a little further. What it actually and quite neatly doing is removing the illusion of ‘separate’ digital worlds which we will increasingly work in. The fact is we are working in one ‘shared space’ and that space is digital. Imagine an art school where there were once nice designated rooms…..sculpture, painting, graphic design, film, theatre. In fact one does not have to imagine it in most cases despite the ‘digital’ revolution that is how our institutions are set up. But as the pace of technology increases alongside the power of the hardware we are fast approaching a point where all this ‘silo’ demarcation will become totally irrelevant. I work in such an institution however and we are going to have to tear down those walls soon….very soon…

Students raised on the internet recognise this to be true. It is harder for adults schooled in the defined areas to grasp. We cannot continue to train in silos. The future student will be operating across platforms in ‘transmedia’ studios (they already opening up). The future student will not only need a working knowledge of web and 3D ( Adobe and css 3d integration helps there) but of graphic (paper), film and conventional narrative storytelling too ( what we currently call film and TV).

So called film and TV simply do not exist from the moment Steve Jobs Apple started selling portions of ‘action’ for $99 a go. The itunisation (sounds like Balkanisation – ironically) of cultural product continues apace. I was shouted down once for suggesting we change the name of Multimedia to ‘Adobe’ art school but that is what happening. Technology is the driver and because of its omnipotence it creating some interesting side-effects.

Those students who most able are instinctively realising that to work with a defined ‘content’ call it story, narrative, subject matter have increasingly had to move from the ‘fine art’ arena to other less ‘rarified’ but craft orientated areas. This means 3D, film, web and graphic design.

It is just the combination of these areas in a new ‘Transmedia’ genre that the traditional ‘storytelling’, going back to the Greeks, is now existing and flourishing in. Fine art in contrast has fled from meaning in a dance of almost perceptible fear as the traditional avenues of expression have been closed down. The weight and academic importance given to fine artists production has increased in direct contrast to its lack of content.

Fine art cannot compete with the advances in technology and cannot seem to ‘jump the gap’. Losing traditional skills has hastened its irrelevance and baroque lack of focus. It is almost comedic to wander round any contemporary show as nine times out of ten the rehashed work is reiterating the same old tired themes…despair, isolation, anti-capitalism.. indeed we have a multi-million pound gallery devoted to this here in Nottingham. It invariably empty because the show has moved elsewhere.

The show is in people’s hands now. It was situated on their desktop, then it moved to the laptop. Within five years it will exist solely in handheld devices. Nowhere in the current fine art scene do I see any coherent attempt to deal with this seismic shift in the cultural landscape. A bunch of badly coded art websites or fleeting ‘non’ professional arty videos only underscore the failure to evolve into the new digital landscape. So we are left in a ‘gap’ or rather a divide. Before the divide fine art was taught as a fully professional, committed and ‘slow’ arena in which most artists would succeed after years of toil. Now it has jumped on the ’fast art’ bandwagon but with no clue of the digital tools it flings around. Faster and faster students are encouraged away from paint and pencil and into parading their lack of digital skills.

Meanwhile the real ‘fine artists’ for the 21st century are getting on with what they always have done..storytelling…they just aren’t called ‘fine artists’ any more…

http://www.henryjenkins.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Norrington

Craft V Concept 2: In conversation with Wayne Burrows and Jezz Noond

SDB
The Goldsmiths show was too painful to watch all way through – did any of them show a high level of thinking and making? I doubt it….a bad idea (e.g.rainbow jumpers) however well made remains a bad idea but a genius concept badly executed is equally dodgy…a certain shark and tank come to mind….( only that wasn’t genius just advertising).

WB

The thing that gets forgotten (on both sides) is that an idea, a concept, is itself something that requires a high level of craft to produce: look at the elegance in the work of Duchamp, Joseph Kosuth or Sarah Lucas, for example, or the craft that goes into something like Spiral Jetty. An idea is something that needs to be *made* in exactly the same way a pot or painting is.

SDB

Indeed there is internal ‘elegance’ just as there is in say a beautiful theorem..or passage of music..however the point I trying to make is that in my opinion it is ‘honed’ through contact with its formal ‘construction’…the elegance of the Duchamp (apart from readymades?), Lucas and Smithson occurs in its creation? Ideas free of these constraints… See more are swimming around us in the artworld these days and the constraint has gone….thus inelegant and in some cases just poor and flabby….my thesis is it is the contest between thought and form that creates beauty..back to aesthetics…away from pure immature philosophising…

how many ‘great ideas’ badly made have we seen lately….how many bad ideas well made probably even less 🙁

Jez Noond

Spiral jetty is an elegant ‘concept’ and ‘thing’, but its construction will have been necessarily brutal.I think Cragg’s work kinda gets the balance right too.

SDB

will check but I was thinking there must have been quite a few drawings or blueprints? Then a lot of bulldozers you are right..see here http://www.robertsmithson.com/drawings/spiral_jetty_300.htm

JN

oh yeah – but the bulldozers are part of the elegant conception of the piece – the elegant thinking…
The relationship between Oldenburg’s maquettes, drawings, notes and final large pieces is interesting. Although, I think most of his final big pieces are failures. Batcolumn is about the best. With him, I think its all in the drawing anyway.
I have a tiny book of his drawings (Notes in Hand, 1971) – theres a page in there I’ve looking at for over … See more30 years (jesus!) – his design for the NYPD uniform – its basically a clowns outfit…heres a link to another page:
http://www.nqpaofu.com/2002imgs/oldenburg-notes2-386.jpg

WB

Maybe I think of it from the perspective of a writer, ie: the concept and the medium of language are materials in themselves, and shaping them into ideas is craft as much as hammering bronze or manipulating paint on canvas is. Hence an idea has form, shape and craft. I’d say Duchamp, Kosuth and Lucas all do this in the making as well as conception… See more… in Lucas, the way a thing is made supports the idea behind it perfectly, in Duchamp the level of craft in Etants Donee or Female Fig leaf is very high indeed. Where would you place folk arts or unconventional painters like Lowry or Dounier Rousseau? Does the failing in correct perspective and technique undermine the work, or become the source of its appeal? Where do you place someone like Tapies – amazing craftsmanship at the service of an illusion of complete informality…same thing with a fine painter using automatist methods, or a current trompe l’oeil artist like Susan Collis.

SDB

I’d class any naive artist as having intuitive craftsmanship…I wouldn’t use ‘failing’ to describe their art more a pre rennaisance sense of space.

Collis is a very interesting example though as she is using conventional notions of ‘craft’ to create objects that deny that craftmanship but surely the beauty there is in their actual precision despite their nondescript illusionism?

To me it similar to the exquisite beauty of the Blashka natural history exhibits which more than just illustrations but to me are art in their own right…….

http://www.ucd.ie/blaschka/dublin_coll.htm

WB

In that sense, then, the idea of craft as it’s usually defined (in a rather limited way) is as flexible as that of the ideas themselves…I agree on the Blashka glass pieces, scientific models, and art, at the same time. But what if I then took a ‘non-art’ object like a Blashka model (or an x-ray, or NASA mapping of the surface of Venus) and represented is as art, in some other context: does that nullify the craft of the object being shown? An example of someone who does this beautifully is Cornelia Parker – her craft is often in the matching of techniques to ideas and concepts (often philosophical or poetic rather than formal), and much lies in the way she frames and presents the objects she finds. This to me is where the idea that there’s an inherent distinction between craft and conceptualism comes apart – there are just good and bad examples of art using both (or neither), but rarely only one or the other.

SDB

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo something one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

e.g. Picasso and Braque….

WB

Would tend to agree about the Warhol line, not because it’s ‘conceptual’ instead of ‘crafted’ (there is craft in the silkscreen process, just not Warhol’s own, by and large – and his 1950s illustration and advertising work is beautifully made in a very traditional sense) but because the concepts are usually fairly thin, and the work itself rather ‘… Seem more flat’, with no great physical presence (I’d except his early – late 60s films from this, to some extent, as these are genuinely original as films – not necessarily as ‘art’ – and more philosophically interesting than his paintings – Kitchen, Chelsea Girls, the Screen Tests etc). Similar feelings about Hirst – the craft is there, but he buys it in, and the finished works are hit and miss – in any room of 25 or 30 Hirsts, there’ll be 3 or 4 really good pieces, enough that you can’t completely dismiss him, not enough to suggest consistency or even a single ruling concept, of the kind you find in Warhol. Don’t agree that Warhol destroys that tradition of crafted making, though – whether you like their work or not, during the Britart years, for every Hirst there was a Glenn Brown or Jenny Saville, and for every bad conceptual, video and installation based work, there are others that are more interesting and much stronger – yes, not sure about some of the more obviously Warhol-influenced types who’ve been around, and the Pop Life show of post-Warhol stuff at Tate Modern demonstrated the weakness of much in that line – but draw up another list of concept-led artists like Jeremy Deller, Roger Hiorns, Anya Gallaccio, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Annette Messager, Susan Hiller, John Newling, David Hammons and even some of the better (Archimbolodo-influenced) work by Noble & Webster and you’ll find a lot more craft in both the ideas and the making than I think the simple distinction of ‘conceptual’ and ‘crafted’ tries to suggest. But crucially, maybe, it’s the work coming from the poetic and surrealist lines of descent within modernism, or those with strong links to full-strength philosophical investigation, that do this most consistently…
Wayne Burrows is editor of STAPLE magazine and a poet

http://wayneburrows.wordpress.com

Jezz Noond is a short short story writer currently on a creative writing course at Nottingham University he plays a mean bull fiddle

How Goldsmiths destroyed British Art: But is it art?

Up front I will declare my position. In 1986-7 I was interviewed twice by the great and the then good at Goldsmiths.

The interviewers in first instance included Nick De Ville (Graphic Designer responsible for Roxy Music covers who had done a fine art degrees at Derby and Newcastle hence Roxy link and he still at Goldsmiths in charge of MA’s….god help us) and Mary (Post-partum Document) Kelly – her of the feacal stains etc….not promising and guess what it didn’t go well. However because I had a studio and looked serious they tried again a year later when I didn’t have a studio.

My abiding memory of that first interview was their combined excitement about a black canvas I was about to paint on as they riffed on its ‘potential’ ignoring virtually everything I had to say. They completely missed every reference to painting and Francis Bacon I was making..maybe they thought after another year I’d come to my postmodernist senses and toe their line.

A year later I’d scraped by in a crap job and lost two studios in rapid succession so had to do interview in my housing association house on the north circular (not as pleasant as leafy Sarf London) I forget the interviewers (different) but I do remember a prat of a female MA student whose latest work was a row of binbags …tremendous stuff….She was so rude she didn’t even enter the room where my paintings were…maybe they scared her….all that formalism..naked…..

Within seconds of the interview commencing I’d been rejected on basis that mentioning Peter Fuller was tantamount to joining the Nazi Party. You see I hadn’t realised that being a working class student from a council estate was good but thinking in a non-Goldsmiths way was bad. Make no mistake there was a clearly delineated ‘party line’ at Goldsmiths…despite appearances (i.e. white rich middle class tossers) these people from Craig-Martin down were ushering in a new era where one could have it all..marxist left-wing views and right-wing travel and pay packets. Its called the hipocracy my friends.

Looking back it was the defining moment in my entire artistic life. It was us and them and I pretty much been of same opinion ever since. My ’self-portraits’ (a tradition extending back several hundred years darlinks) were too closed off and personal and used too much paint and chalk..yes I dared to actually draw…. I referred to the OLD GARDE…Graham Sutherland,  Henry Moore and John Piper who were now in the Stalinist ‘new age’ considered patriarchal monsters and worst of all I mentioned Fuller….a reactionary traitor who had started on their side but had fled their camp. Hence the squealing antipathy.

What Goldsmiths led the way in every other Art College has aped as they stumbled on that stamp of authority…CASH…oodles of it following Craig-Martin and Hirst’s great scam (enabled by the true joker in the pack Jopling…no Jopling and Goldsmiths would have crumbled to insignificance by now). Instead it went stratospheric and is still living off that moment 25 years later..no matter that virtually none of its graduates has anything like the gravity or talent of a Moore or Sutherland..they had reaped the new money from the Thatcherist experiment….and as good socialists they weren’t going to give it back….oh no this was all part of the irony as was my background…I was just an unenlightened member of the working classes deluded by notions of craftsmanship and talent…so very passe darlinks….only the feeble still dealt in actual mark making and daubing this was the brave new world of ideas not craft.

Twenty-five years on and every other art college has either directly imitated or followed jealously in the Goldsmiths experiment wake. It will be interesting to see in an era of falling revenues and a hostile government (right or left) how much of it survives the next twenty-five years. My prediction is that we have seen the last of this ‘low dishonest two decades and a half’ (to paraphrase Auden) of peurile postmodernism and that we in for a bumpy ride across the whole arts…especially fine art.

There is a glut of badly trained,  intellectually impoverished ‘post conceptualists’ students littering our streets and all the indicators are we in for a downturn in numbers…imposed or through natural selection…..mummy and daddy won’t take kindly to funding a career that doesn’t ‘pay-off’ like in the 1990’s. The Art Star is on the point of burnout and nobody has a replacement hence the desperate angling for attention (see link below). I thought I was right in 1986 and I think exactly the same now…..we must turn back to craftsmanship..to Fuller and rebuild the system from below as Goldsmiths and other ‘Ozymandias’ institutions sink in the sands of recession and the new reality.

Advert for Goldsmiths courtesy of the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s01xm/Goldsmiths_But_Is_It_Art_Episode_1/

Time to close down The Arts Council? AXIS RANT…

From the AXIS RANT page
Feel free to bark back…

hoops
Our new Ranter-in-Residence for February, Shaun Belcher, starts off on a topical, if controversial note, asking ‘Has Arts Council England (ACE) failed? Do we really need it anyway?’.

Shaun asks if the lottery years have set ACE up for a fall as we move into tighter financial times and political pressures are heightening.

Read original HERE:
http://www.axisweb.org/archive/news-and-views/the-rant/rant-30/

Saatchi online …really???..you having a laugh?

I still in a state of shock but thought I’d cut and paste here as well just in case it all an administrative error and when I wake up all gone….still in an ironic world this as ironic as it gets!

Original article below as deleted from Saatchi Website in a revamp:-)

turner

Shaun Belcher is a prolific artist whose practice encompasses photography, painting, drawing, poetry and song writing. We will focus here on his cartoons that are visible both on Saatchi Online and more extensively on his website.

Belcher frequently posts his doodles on his blog, which thus functions like a diary. They retrace his mood, his frustrations with the arts scene or his views on the art world with a deadpan humour. His drawings are a mixture between comics, scribbles and caricatures and are made with an unhesitating black pen. The message is straightforward and clear. In some of his cartoons such as “Give me the Turner Prize, I am as shit as anyone”, his slang vocabulary as well his definitive statements can have something moving and aggressive at the same time – as if distant remnants of teenage hood. They reveal an unsettled state of mind and tell disarmingly touching and droll stories.

His ironic and shameless comments on the art scene are indeed serious and make him at times sound desperately ambitious and direct. For instance “I am a pretentious 25 year old with no fucking skills but by networking, crawling, by doing voluntary works in a gallery I now have a small foothold on the art world…” By talking about his experience, he brings up questions that any artist might ask himself: How can I be visible as an artist in a saturated art scene? Can I make a living from my work? How can I network even more than I currently do? Even though his works refer a lot to very English contemporary art events such as the Turner Prize or the Nottingham art scene, they can apply to every artist striving to succeed and to be recognized.

Shaun Belcher was born in Oxford in 1959. He is currently living in Nottingham and is now a multimedia lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, freelance web designer and practicing digital artist.

To see more of his work registered on Saatchi Online click here, and visit the artist’s own website, www.shaunbelcher.com.

Victoria Chaine Mendrzyk

Victoria Chaine Mendrzyk graduated with an MA Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, a BA in Fine Art and History of Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BA in Philosophy from University of Paris X, Nanterre. She has worked for Beaux-Arts Magazine, the Grand-Palais and at the Maison Rouge in Paris, at Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York, at Documenta 12 in Kassel and at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. She is also an international correspondent for Art India Magazine.

Published on 08-02-2010