The art world is a disaster

A third additional element in this sorry story has to do with the decoupling of art-world practice from the practice of art. Look at the objects on view in “Wrestle”: almost none has anything to do with art as traditionally understood: mastery of a craft in order to make objects that gratify and ennoble those who see them. On the contrary, cialis the art world has wholeheartedly embraced art as an exercise in political sermonizing and anti-humanistic persiflage, viagra which has assured the increasing trivialization of the practice of art. For those who cherish art as an ally to civilization, the disaster that is today’s art world is nothing less than a tragedy. But this, too, will pass. Sooner or later, even the Leon Botsteins and Marieluise Hessels of the world will realize that the character in Bruce Nauman’s “Good Boy, Bad Boy” was right: “this is boring.” 

Roger Kimball

This the coda to an admirable piece in the New Criterion I suggest you read the rest of it at

 http://newcriterion.com:81/archives/25/06/why-the-art-world-is-a-disaster/

Moving the furniture around

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‘Muller’ IKEA 2007: Shaun Belcher Readymade exhibited at numerous locations around the country see Gallery page.

In an act of humility and contrition Moogee is going to go gently on the next exhibition at Angel Row…’Cutting Edge Flagship’ of the city of  Nottingham the home of the fresh and the brave….yeah right……NOT

The next show is titled ‘Business as Usual’ and never has this been more appropriate. Following on from the Parade …well…brisk walk..of the local luminaries we have an exchange show return from Zagreb…the jury is out on that one but it looks interesting…and this…. To say the ideology and curatorial positioning similar to some of the work in Parade shows is a given ..

I quote from Edward’s Axis page….

Sean Edwards’ sculptures set up situations that lead you into examining your viewing habits. Through a formal analysis of both the real and the fake, search often employing a notion of absurdity in the process, here Edwards aims to expose the machinery of our take on reality and to lay bare an object’s function and use value.

Already a prize winner for such cutting edge ‘interventions’ as painting the Slade School of Art doors orange…woo hold me back that is radical….sorry but sometimes this kind of pretentious and earnest research led ‘work’ just makes old Moogee laugh. Of course that work questioned notions of seeing…..hmmmm of course nothing flamboyantly self-advertising about it was there..no silly me….

We seem to be caught in a decade of furniture removal artists..forget trad materials young artists you want to get ahead these days just get yourself some furniture..it so cliched already it become almost laughable. I know art students are up to their eyeballs in debt but please somebody loan them some pencils, thumb paper, paints and wood and stone for god’s sake or we’ll all be sitting around rubbing our chins at another generation of furniture shifters…in twenty years time….

Funniest of all is the fact that these ‘FURNERS’ are always using slightly ‘retro’ chic furniture it seems poor old IKEA is just no good for a badly thought out readymade these days..maybe it’s the lack of a patina of age…or simply that using new furniture would not mean it looked conveniently distressed. In this show (and no I will not see it or enter the gallery – if they can be so boringly oblique why should I bother walking round what is basically a set of illustrations to a thesis) we also have research student..Professor Pathway Intellectual grade 3 reverse somersault..(extra points for research) in C.V. Maxine Bristow.

Dull theoretical base and her ‘surgery’ located in a ‘Centre for Practice as Research’ at University of Chester…woo more avant-garde fun and frolics I bet …(no Bowery aesthetics here, no Warholian underground no its Chester:-) Seriously the website says it all (in copious amounts) this is art as academic living and good luck to her it pays the mortgage. Portfolio reveals handrails, towels, bags..very post-feminist research etc etc ….to be fair looks a little IKEA so maybe unfair to apply retro tag. Again her own spinning yarn says more than I ever could…very successful she is too but I’d rather watch paint dry..literally…

 …through her own work which establishes a dialectic between the processes, materials, and accompanying discourses of needlework/plain-sewing and the visual and conceptual concerns of minimalism, she provides a model of practice which aims to challenge perceptions and generate new practical and theoretical perspectives and thereby open up a critical space for making which acknowledges textile traditions and conventions.

So there you go …to be honest I found the recent exhibition at Castle Nottingham by Catherine Bertola to be far more interesting take on this area with far more than its own thesis to air…indeed it may have been one of the most locally relevant and crafted shows of the year.

Finally and courtesy of the Seventeen Gallery London a couple of art stars ( U.K. South Conference League division two) of which I far prefer David Ersser’s rather amusing (first time) reconstruction of everyday objects in balsa wood. A kind of little boy’s rebuilding of the adult world instead of just a few gliders that invariably crash back to earth. Similarly the elegance and dare I say it ‘craft’ of his work is charming but once you have scanned through all the variations it does become rather wearing like seeing the same joke told again and again (never harmed Julian Opie or Prince Hirst the First) but that’s it…….he makes things out of balsa.

Check the seventeen gallery at http://www.seventeengallery.com/?p=2&id=4

One thing you can say about the ‘Furner’ Generation is they do look lovely at jpg level on the web and maybe that is what all this is all about. This generation are profferring ideas which only incidently need actual realisation. Lacking the finances to set up in studio spaces (average price in London currently £300 a month) they have opted for a practical but finally dehabilitating irony and distance that is driving them farther and farther away from the tactility of material interaction. We may soon see a reaction to this divorce from materials and technique and a lessening of the intellectual gliding. As grant cut-backs impact heavily on artist’s incomes a lot of the hangers and runways that coddle these flights of the ephemeral will disappear and a good many gliders will simply crash back to earth.

Moogee is getting known for his joking and revisionist approach to the nature of contemporary art but do not dismiss because they are jokes..they are serious jokes. I do not throw these comments out lightly. I believe there has been a lack of rigorous intellectual approaches and a good deal of what we see tagged with the fashionable and flighty word ‘successful artist’ will disappear and quickly. I witnessed this kind of irony and intervention many years back e.g. Richard Wentworth but then he was in the minority. Now every degree show has its ready-mades practitioner and to be honest isn’t it all getting a bit boring. Modern Art, or as it has lovingly been re-branded post-Saatchi, ‘Contemporary Practice’ (as if ashamed that anything to do with an advertising executive could be called ‘modern art’) has drifted down a cul-de-sac of its own intellectual construction. The worst and brightest offenders are the post Polytechnic university cohorts (a word derivitive of their original purpose – to fabricate engineers and crafts-people) who have created a monopoly on what does and not constitute the ‘cutting edge academy’.

However they are no more the inheritors of radical practice than Blair was an inheritor of the Luddites. It is a be-calmed ocean of theoretical limpitude…….I threw that in to show even a barking dog can engage in ‘critical discourse’:-)
A bit more intellectual and theoretical Luddism will be needed to throw off these shackles and enter a genuinely wider debate.

For every Susan Collis (our final participant in Business as Usual – 17 gallery again) whose blurb is almost supremely special….

Collis’ practice involves a subversion of time frame and visual perception through the manipulation of everyday objects. In the piece ‘Paint Job’, what initially seems like a collection of careless splashes and stains upon the fabric of utilitarian worker’s overalls are, on closer inspection, meticulously stitched marks replicating the accidental and spontaneous moment.

It’s almost like Spinal Tap for art when blurb after blurb repeat the same Derridaesque formulas….on and on it goes and where will it all end…..how many interventions in furniture can a small island like ours take?

The ‘fabric of utilitarian worker’s overalls’ sounds like a Virginia Wolfism on being confronted by these dreadful worker types….oh how simply awful ..I mean real workers….indeed perish the thought. Is this 1920 and we all off to Henley after this art larking over???

I am not asking for the Angel Row to fill itself with paintings of victorian children, Jack Vetrianos (who I actually think stronger than the arts elite will allow) and god-forbid …..landscape artists…but for every dull ‘new acadamy’ show like this there an equal show of painters, sculptors using more traditional methods who have been and are continuing to be ignored. I challenge the Angel Row to let Moogee curate a show of the ‘outsiders’ and I bet I can find work as interesting and as founded in literate theoretical positions and ambition as any of this.

I do not blame the Angel Row staff or have any special reason for focussing my criticisms on them in particular they very nice people and they simply doing their job as advertised. They are operating in a wider art world of funding cuts and general indifference to the visual arts which not stuck in a cheap frame at IKEA .

What I am highlighting is the fact that several generations of artists have gone unseen, unheard because of such obvious fashionistas…The reason? Well its all about a production line these days.

Colleges of art are producing more and more able graduates in all fields and one of the most over-subscribed is the arts especially, as Grayson Perry pointed out, it becoming a ‘finishing-school’ for the sons and daughters of the middle-classes. It may or may not be all ‘croissants and the guardian’ as he stated in a Times article but it is becoming a default option for young students who intellectually bright but who do not fancy getting a real job…..yet. For them a decade of moving the furniture does not mean housework (male or female)  it means making art…when not too intellectually or physically heavy.

There is an imbalance that needs redressing but does ideologicaly compliant art necessarily mean good art ? As for art schools reflecting the wider make-up of our society just go to any degree show. At any one time there are more Korean, Japanese overseas students on courses than home-grown minority students….it is not the white middle-class who losing out it is the Asian and Afro-Caribbean youth who missing the gravy trains….

My detractors, and I expect they already many ready to dismiss me as a ‘Peter Fulleresque Ranter’ , miss the point. Our art schools are not in as fine and dandy a state as the PR departments would like us to think. The quality of art-teaching and artworks is not as consistantly high as the same highly glossed advertorials in brochures (sorry Prospecti) would have us believe.The dreaded bottom line and financial implications mean some standards have been eroded, possibly terminally’ by these ‘advances’.

This ‘review’ did not need to attend the show which in fact not even open yet to address these fundamentals. The quotes above depending on your point of view corroborate or deny your own entrenched views on where that art world (international or otherwise) truly is. I am simply trying to prise some of the debating ground open so that the other side of the coin can be seen and allowed to shine a little. I and many artists like me have been sidelined because of it and in many cases quite unfairly. Balance may not be possible but surely every artist should be allowed to fly their kite/model aeroplane.

Remember the academy thought they were right in France in 1899 and look what happened there…nobody has an exclusive handle on the truth. Nobody is immune from being crap too…….whatever they may say….
As a beautiful postscript to these thoughts I suggest a singularly wonderful track by The Handsome Family an americana duo from Chicago now resident in the Mojave Desert. Their song ‘Moving Furniture Around’ says more than all the above ‘artistes’ with dare I say it more compassion, craft and genuine talent…but then they just travelling musicians…not academics or professional artists. Artists studios used to resemble workshops full of rebels..these days they operate more like architects practices…

p.s. amusing footnote – this show also uses the previously hidden and obviously fascinating space of the Angel Row store-room……just like Mr. Russell did in Parade….bit like babies and cardboard boxes at Xmas that one then…I wonder if it so rivetting why they don’t just open a storeroom up as a gallery and save on building CCAN for £15 Million it would be a hell of a lot cheaper…….

Arts Hub Column June

 Dog Bites Man

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In a reversal of the time-honoured journalistic cliché and in heartfelt protest Moogee this week declares all performance artists like Mark McGowan as ‘fair game’ for us bewildered Art Dogs. For those not in picture Mr McGowan plans to eat a dead Corgi ‘live’ on radio. He has so far eaten a swan, purchase a fox and crawled around with a George Bush mask on and a placard stating ‘Kick My Arse’ which apparently almost brought the American president to his knees begging forgiveness…of course it did.

Moogee is busily preparing another sign called ‘Bite My Arse’ so the art-loving dogs of these isles will know exactly where to inflect their criticism. The words cheap gimmick, stupid and waste of space come to mind but hey he’s doing it for a noble cause you know and no doubt believes that this will raise the issue…when in fact it just makes the whole thing look like a cheap art stunt (which it is). Just how is slurping on a bit of Corgi flesh going to come over on radio? Will our peerless studio engineers stick a microphone close up so we can savour the gnashing of this self-declared ‘veggie’ on doggy gristle and bone? The old adage ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ may be put on hold in this case and as for the radio station…..must be slipping in the ratings war….

Moogee feels it time to separate the art ‘clowns’ from the reasonably serious and god forbid actually talented…guess which category this fellow will end up in….woof….contender for Moogee ‘Bone of Contention’ award 2007 already.

Meanwhile the collapse of western civilization continues apace and the art market continues to reflect the wider lunacy. Francis Bacon was a decent enough painter but was his ‘detritus’..that’s ‘rubbish’ in layman’s terms worth selling at auction? Indeed it just copped a near million notes for what?

Some old cheques torn in half, some misplaced paint and a few broken canvasses? It makes an old dog lose the plot and start barking even harder. Will rising art stars now collect all their sweet wrappers and old fast food containers in case they worth a mint one day? Though in some cases…you know who I mean..will bits of dead animal and old beds be art before or after they discovered to be rubbish? Maybe Mr McGowan’s next exercise could be to liberate that slightly mouldy old shark from its tank and eat that. Would certainly kill two birds with one stone and I expect that literally unless formaldahyde turns out to be good for the digestion. Would also bring the art market prices down if every potential dead animal buyer knew some carnivorous veggie lurking around the corner.

This would make a great sequel to Shaun of the Dead….Dog Eating Zombie Artists in 3D…..can see it now….woof, gnash, splash…a real Art Slasher Movie. Moogee retains all copyright to this idea and interested Hollwood Producers please contact me…Jack the Drip takes on a whole new meaning…

So until I bark again and in case some lunatic artist tries to devour me whilst I chasing sticks on the heath please be careful it’s a sad old world out there and nobody is safe…..not even the President or the Saatchis.

Debate or spin?

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Moogee been barking on the debate again…here his latest …

from Arts Council Debate Tim Rose said…

I find myself thinking the heretical thought that public funding of artists is a disease posing as a cure. I would like to see a 10 year moritorium on funding of artists. There is no clear criteria on who should get funding, remedy whether the public might agree with the way their money is being spent (sometimes a contemptuous disregard for public opinion from funding bodies). Also it creates a dependancy culture within the artistic community leading to an unwritten belief in the power of the state to ‘dictate culture’ and paradoxically dissempowering artists in their self belief. Art is not easy, every one is not an artist and there is no real reason the state should pay artists any more than an aromatherapist. I do believe in funding for galleries and exhibitions but artists should only be funded for specific commissions…….well I said it, got it off my chest and feel better…hey ho!

I find myself in sympathy with Tim Rose’s comments. Not because the practitioners in East Midlands are any better or worse than rest of U.K. We have our share of tickboxers and plain lame like anywhere but because it chimes with an unspoken assumption being aired about what the cuts will mean in reality. As money slowly seeps away from lottery and grants are cut it appears that the best and most honourable solution is to give the money to organisations and galleries that can share the benefits between a group of artists rather than one. An old-fashioned benevolence but one that far fairer than hefty wads of cash being hoovered up by the most able to fill forms or convince the ‘administrators’ in A.C.E.of their genius.

Finally has anyone noticed that this debate was launched just before the cuts were announced – pre- emptive spin to bury bad news comes to mind but maybe I just a tad cynical – our government would never do something like that would they?

Of course not….the very idea…

Gloria Cummins said….I believe the only principle should be has it got sustainability?

“sustainability” has become a buzz word here for the droves of eager beavers working on their app forms before the bar gets lowered again…and it like most buzz words means absolutely nothing at all….

If somebody can show me how any project can be described as having “sustainability” I’d like to know how…even projects I been involved in that appear to have legs are suddenly confronted with problems in location, funding and direction that can mean they can end at any point. There is no ‘given’ that talking up a projects long term prospects means that when push comes to shove any funding stream or sponsorship can be guaranteed. The private sector knows that when the money runs out the shutters come down and the same rules apply to the arts unless you happen to have a particularly lovely benefactor with deep pockets or…heresy..you have a business model that ‘makes money’…and few arts bodies would be able to think like that…

The New Profs: Parade 3 – Stuff Happens

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“we would have known and surely would have predicted that the General Motors of the art world – the museums and universities – would ultimately seek to alleviate their post-market status and control the means of production … Within 10 years, stuff the art world was on its way to becoming a transnational bureaucracy. Everybody had a job description and a résumé … I was face to face with a generation of well-educated and expensively trained young artists whose extended tenure in art schools appended to the art world had totally divorced them from any social reality beyond it.”

David Hickey quoted in Gordon Burn try ,1921975, buy 00.html” title=”Make it new”>’Make it New’ Guardian October 14th 2006

Hickey is talking about the 1970’s in America but just as we have lagged behind our unweildly offspring in so many things since WWII – armaments, planning, social movements, music so too we have lagged in Art Education. Hickey’s words are echoed by sculptor Richard Serra who called it ‘Floor and drawer art’ – referring to the fashion for conceptual, documentary and installation work. ‘Plus ca change’. Here we are in the late naughties playing catch-up again but this time the implications for an art-world on brink of overload are severe. What has this to do with the offspring of our munificent academies toting their ‘cutting-edge’ wares before us on a sunny evening at Angel Row? Well everything and nothing…..

To explain I have to tell you a little story……

Once upon a time there was an Irishman and an Englishman and they both  dreamt of America….one ended up there studying at Yale with the same Richard Serra and one made it across from the hinterland of Birmingham on a Fullbright. What both of them ingested as well as a respect and understanding of American academic practices and art-scene was an understanding of the new world that was emerging. No more cosy provincial art-schools with their tired old life-drawing rooms and quaint practices. No they saw a golden vision of a big brash new world and they weren’t going to let the old feudalism dent their dreams. The history of post WWII propagandist use of art movements such as Pop and Abstract Expressionism as examples of ‘democratic American freedom’ is well written. Far more subtle and really only apparent now years later is the influence of the free-market on the art schools of Britain. In an unholy alliance academics with left-wing sympathies who were able to earn right-wing lifestyles found that the ‘freedoms’ of a free-market in education gave them prestige and their bosses higher turnover and profits. Locked together ‘Art Education’ and ‘Commerce’ factors danced like there was no tomorrow.

The Irishman was Michael Craig Martin and in his pivitol role at Goldsmiths he ushered in the YBA (Young British Artists) phenomenon. The other character in my story is John Newling of Trent University ( formerly Polytechnic). At Trent Newling has overseen a similar if less glamorous drive towards both improving standards and building the new University’s reputation in the arts. It is the nature of what that built upon that I am interested in..those words of Hickey and Serra came back to haunt me as I moved around the Angel Row in the evening sunlight……are we witnessing the evening shadows lengthening on the day in the sun promised by the YBA circus…I think we are…..

As a student Trent had already a growing reputation, Goldmiths too but nobody could have predicted the sea-change in the arts that they have overseen. At Hornsey College in 1980’s I witnessed a full scale attack on the bourgeoise notions of craftsmanship, artistic talent and skill as ‘new arts’ performance, installation and digital swept all before them ..this a full 5 years before YBA’s. The students of the 1970’s had prospered and brought their own practice to the art school corridors..out with the old and in with the new. In the art critical wilderness voices opposed to this turn around were berated as hopelessly conservative..Peter Fuller who had started his published life on a left-wing press was berated as a closet fascist. The art-war was over…progress had won and as the numbers of students swelled ( fuelled partly by a government which had become a dab-hand at closing down all else especially manufacturing) and the money flowed in and the old ‘Polys’ blossomed into cathedrals of light and regenerated beauty who could argue? In Nottingham’s case the University actually built a new business school on the site of the old Raleigh factory. There was never a better time to be an artist and the YBA cash cows were the icing on the cake……..things could only get better and better…couldn’t they?

20 years on and the cracks in the facade have started to appear. The new Unis have been very succesful for those lucky enough to be within their privileged walls..and increasingly the proportion of ‘overseas’ students is climbing in direct relation to the falling numbers of U.K. students unable to navigate the fees fiasco or convince their parents that the art lottery worth playing. Meanwhile the Further Education colleges take up the old boring mundane training duties for ‘real work’ the hairdressers and bricklayers who would have trained on the job in the old days. It not only the working class feeling the pinch as Grayson Perry noted even the middle-classes beloved of Blair are examining the fine print carefully these days before committing their hard earned cash. The art-world today has been transformed and here the nub of my story……what we seeing is a generation of ‘Floor and Drawer’ artists….our clean, bright lovely ‘New Professionals’ who could have easily gone into medicine, architecture or been vets…the art-world has been ‘scrubbed up’ for the naughties..it had to be to carry on…anarchists, hairies, yippes of old need not apply…..solid artworks and intellectual rigour only…if it is weird it is safe ‘weird’. Which brings me back to my reverie in the late sun in the soon to be ‘upgraded and cleansed’ Angel Row. Where has all the fun gone..the anarchy, the dare I say it ‘revolution’ and as for ‘social reality..you ‘avin a larf guv’nor?………..

Oh dear am I being too old-fashioned for you dear reader?

Parade 3: Curated by Leo Fitzmaurice (who incidently has some fairly slight squibs on supermarket posters in the entrance) is the final act in the three-ring circus that was Parade – an attempt to showcase the brightest and most ‘urgent’ art from the sunny East Midlands.

In concept it draws on a large amount of networking events and in-house collaboration between artists chosen because they already ‘performing’ across the ‘Critical Network’ i.e. a post degree infrastructure that effectively promotes more of the same and excludes just about everybody else from the show. Imagine a Circus tent that pitched up in town and when you arrived 90% of the acts were clowns and when asked ‘where are the horses and elephants and even the jugglers’ you were told sorry by official decree only the clowns can take part the rest have been deemed too ‘reactionary, conservative or just too old’. The factors causing this state of affairs are tedious and would take a book to explain but art as instrument of social policy, art as regeneration symbol, art as education and most importantly artists under 30 as keys to unlocking European Funding have all played their part. Factor-in a developing network of self-promoting across the land and you have a virtual ‘alternative art scene’ but is it ? What is mind-numbing about this series of shows is how ‘safe’ it really is and how old-fashioned it all looks. The new underground drinks lattes, shops at Muji and uses their arts council grants as deposits on houses…capitalism must be quaking in its boots. One artist ( the oldest in show of course) actually has a thread of the real rebel in him and it shows.

Another reviewer noted the air of ‘inconsequantiality’ about this third show and he nailed it. This is Sunday supplement wannabe art. It affects an air of defiant rebelliousness but it no more real than a Peter Docherty ‘poem’ or Tracy Emin Sunday column. Art has been divorced from its social setting and artists starved for years of funds and attention are more than happy to dance to the piper’s tune. In an area like the East Midlands where there virtually no private sales system that means Academia and Subsidy…….they are all on A&S (the medical overtone there correct) without it most would have withered on the vine years ago or got proper jobs. So what is ‘Joe Public’ (conspicuous by his absence of course) to make of this Parade in his name?

I could list every artist’s name but for a fuller overview please read Mark Patterson’s incisive account in the Nottingham Evening Post (which incidently in response to public clamour for art coverage recently reduced said coverage by half in order to print more dating ads…). I am just going to give my honest appreciation of the work as it shown. I know only one participant and that is Paul Matosic whose floor piece of dismembered computer parts got a a thumbs up from Mark Patterson and which I agree is a highlight of the show. Another piece which caught my eye immediately was Hessing’s assemblage of multiplugs…concise and a formally inventive and clever piece that had real ‘sculptural’ precsence. In the same room Godfrey’s magazine excerpts were Foundation level smartypants, ( ditto  Davis …so you took these symbols of capitalism and contemporanity…and you ‘broke them down” …..how exciting……..) Jamieson’s envelopes were a good joke…Sol Lewitt for the poor? Ayling and Conroy I leave to an anonymous comment I ‘overheard’ …” art for the front page of Frieze only it will never make it’…..it looked like Jeff Koons on a bedsit budget… if they’d aimed lower like the neatly formulated ’96 tears and 96 eyes’ they could have got frontpage of A.R. publicity literature instead. One thing I cannot fault though is the premise of lo-fi, reusing objects as defined by the overall curation….it is stuff and sometimes it is happening but mostly it isn’t.

Stuff that could have enjoyed development included Stevenson’s signage…nicely done and could progress, Hessing’s ‘re-modulations’ and maybe Fisher’s other work although HAL was a bit too pop culture referential to have any real bite but full marks for a laddy reinvestigation of traditional laddette materials. Kirshnir’s morse code was a good idea badly presented.

Stuff that emphatically, ‘oh god why bother’ didn’t happen for me and quite a few others, included Gubb’s amplifier…yawn….and Danica Maier’s soft (literally lace..but from abroad…not Nottingham you understand…) pornographic cartoon. Nothing trembling there. By coincidence the two most lethargic entrants have the academic seal of approval….and if Norman and Mayer continue like this they will soon join them.

Stuff Happens..was sort of Ok in a five out of ten way….to return to the vegetable metaphors then this was more like a street barrow at 5pm on a Saturday and whilst most of it was well past sell-by date intellectually ( pace 1970’s and 1980’s conceptualism and assemblage) there were some still fresh bargains to be had and at least the curator/barrow boy tried to showcase as much as possible…i.e. throw enough against wall some sticks ….rest flog it cheap mate..

So what does any of that have to do with the first part of this extended ‘rant’ or ‘diagnosis’ depending on your age/social background and access to those barrow boys and girls of benevolence….A.C.E.?

Well members of the jury my prognosis is simple. What has happened with our art education system is directly reflected in the quality and the depth of the work these artists display. Too many older artists in the East Midlands have tried to reinvent themselves in recent years to gain access to these charmed circles and in doing so have jettisoned any credibility and development for a handful of silver. Amongst the younger artists the ‘wow factor teaching’ has left them polishing old ideas in ever decreasing circles and now ever decreasing funding. The golden eggs are no longer going to be dished out for fourth rate art and I’m afraid the only gold will be hanging around athletes necks. The system of professionalisation has left us with a glut of pretentious semi-curators with more and more artists of variable talents to ‘curate’. Academia is the ‘safe-house’ where the avant-garde can sleep safely and all the while the ‘social reality’ remains a late-night bus ride away. There was not one reference in any of this work to the actual area of the East Midlands. That ‘social reality’ simply didn’t exist. The ivory towers have not got any taller ..they have just got thicker walls.

Once upon a time there was an Irishman,an Englishman and a Scotsman and they dreamt of America…they dreamt of revolution. of turning the world upside down…where is Tom Paine or Burns when you need him most?

To quote a singer in a band..Jefferson I think we’re lost…..

All we have now after the Parade has passed are a handful of beans and a golden goose….oh and a lovely, lovely square…

Editor’s note: Apologies to Alexander Stevenson for an honest mistake re. his and Kirshnir’s work. In the speed of writing I mistakenly assigned his (positive) mention with Kirshnir. This has now been rectified and a heartfelt apology to both. My only defence is it a genuine mistake and my incredible age. Even with proof-reading sometimes things slip through. Amended version now online.

The Real Art World: 1980 – London’s Burning

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Hornsey Art College burns…a great start..

I am going to describe the 1980’s artworld as it really was for the majority of art-students. Not the cosy new money YBA’s and their cohorts or the city-slickers with loft-spaces and pockets to fill. No this is one lowly art student’s coming of age in the brutal underbelly of North London in the years when Lady Thatcher was in charge and you could get round London all day for £2.50!

I will start with the photo above. Hornsey College of Art burning well in summer 1980 just after the previous year’s final show. Alexandra Palace had sat safely on the hill above North London through over a century but in June 1980 a considerate workman was deemed to have inadvertantly set fire to a roof. Most at the time didn’t believe it and it sad to say that both the council and developers gained much from the resulting fire. An art college burns very well by the way what with all the paint and combustibles contained therein. My favourite story from the conflagration was the one about etching tutor Dick ‘Sleepy’ Fozzard who having worked a plate to the final stages was sleeping throughout most of the fire and only an alert staff member prised him away from the presses before they melted. I watched the whole thing from my parent’s council house in Oxfordshire after my mother kindly pointed out that my college appeared to be on fire on the T.V. Hot enough to make the BBC news! I sat in an armchair with my pork chop and two veg and watched two years paintings burst into some spectacular flames and then it was gone…next day I pointed out where my space had been in The Sun’s coverage …now empty sky….

I sometimes try to recall not only my artwork but that of those around me…ironically Bell & Langlands (later Saatchi chosen ones) had just left and had probably removed their ‘burnt-books installation’ before the real fire got a hold…life imitating art? I can’t say I was that impressed with Bell & Langlands then it seemed mediocre conceptualism and I can’t say my opinion shifted much since. I did see them sucking up to someone form the Tate years later and evidently they played their networking hand well..but art??..hmm not in my book. Ironically looking at the archive photos it just as well that most of us actually more intent on learning our craft and developing theories..if the same occurred now half the students would be ‘documenting’ the ruins and the other half either rolling in the ashes for a site-specific performance or claiming they had burnt the whole thing down as a protest against neo-stalinism in the Hackney gulags…

As it was we suffered in silence watched the building collapse and got on with drinking ourselves stupid and occasionally making splendid art at the original college which still contained the Foundation Course about two miles down the hill. We were all shipped back in there come September 1980 and told to get on with it..three years work to be done in one..oh yes we were a hardy lot….no digital archives then just new paint. canvas and stone..oh and cameras…

My first memories of the new building were that it had changed little from the grainy footage of the Hornsey ‘Riots’ which was religiously shown to all new students ( along with a healthy helping of art history tutor Peter Webb’s porn collection rebranded as art history). Now although some real Situationists did make it over to sleep on the floor and smoke dope with the Hornsey crew in 1968 it was hardly Paris ’68. Indeed the footage confirmed our suspicions that most were spliffed out hippies having a damn good time and sandals and kaftans aside there was no real riot just a bunch of students carrying coffins and  getting bitten occasionally by friendly police dogs. Kent State it wasn’t in fact it wasn’t even Guildford. The College had been purpose built at turn of century and had some fantastic north-facing studios, illness perfect for painters and if truth be told was better equipped than the now crumbling Palace with the exception of the much-missed Panorama Bar which had been the handiest bar to an art college ever devised. Situated directly below the college one short stairwell down and half the college had written off another afternoon in fierce debate or shallow drinking depending on your viewpoint. The view was lovely….I remember listening to the Iranian Embassy siege on a tinny radio and watching the smoke rise across the London skyline to the south. Dearest Margaret was untroubled by our Leninist revisionism and Barthes semiotic signifiers she was too busy deploying the S.A.S. and getting ready for the real enemy within ‘Oop North’.

As we struggled to unload the batches of new easels and paint stocks from the lorries ( the technicians as ever too busy to help as they rebuilt yet another american car engine) little could we guess that the 1980’s were going to be as troubled a decade as any of us would ever see. I managed to set myself down in a bunker below ground with my welsh compadre and stone sculpting house-mate Ken Absalom who defined hippy chic in a way many of us had never known. Five years after punk he still wore a kaftan embalmed in pitchouli and owned more tie-dye and crocheted shirts than any man should. A miner’s son from Blaeanavon on a cold welsh mountaintop he’d ended up in India discovering large amounts of hashish and women in about equal measure. A return to his village was precluded by a fierce isolationism that was to affect us both sooner rather than later. For now I tried to rationalise the fact that I’d chosen to occupy a space about ten feet square next to a mad welshman who was power-drilling his way in true miner style through a ton of portland stone. Each time he started up a piece of stone would hit me in the ear or back and the dust….It was only when my ‘personal tutor’ (they could afford to be called that in those days) almost lost an eye and choked her way out of the plastic tent I was trying to protect myself in that I realised that a painter could do better in the purpose built studios upstairs.

Easy to say in retrospect but as I spent most mornings developing tinnitus by ‘drumming’ ( loose description) on old dustbins in a freeform jazz orchestra/ punk supergroup that later became the ‘Fuck Pigs’ most aspects of reality had probably already passed me by. None of this was drug induced the major drug was the ale sold at the new ‘Art School Pub’ The Railway conveniently situated downhill from the College in pre-yuppified Crouch End. Hard to believe that what has become the land of lattes and expensive three whelled buggies was then a pretty rundown suburb with a few pubs……and not a wine bar in sight….most of us then would have guessed a Pinot Grigio was an Italian dancer…maybe we were right…

My Proustian moment #1

In a vain attempt to prove my solid postmodernist hypertextual qualities I will occasionally sidetrack by digressing on a particular piece of artwork and see what hidden depths it may reveal or shallow inexcusable art pretensions it unravels before me after all these years. Starting in September 1980 is as good a point as any as everything pre June 1980 had just disappeared in smoke with the exception of a Foundation and school folder which remained tucked in my parent’s loft. Whereas my memory of the sculptors ‘Neffertiti at the waterhole’ remains strong….he was still hacking away at it six months later..my own work has slipped from my mind. I do however have the sketchbook from September 1980 here and it reveals a strange concoction. I had started drawing house plants whilst still at my parents. To save money most students (especially those unemcumbered by rich parents and trust funds) would go home for the summer to save paying rent which in my case set at a fiendishly expensive £9 a week thanks to the wonderfully eccentric yet generous Jewish Hashidic family the mad sculptor and I roomed with in Stamford Hill…The Gordons..of them more later….

The sketchbook reveals the influence of solid painters like John Walker, Alan Green and John Hoyland. Everything was very ‘mark-making’ in those far off days. We are talking pre Zeitgeist, pre R.A. New Painting Show. Recently there has been a spate of re-assessment shows in USA and Australia looking again at the supposedly ‘dead’ area of painting during those minimalist and conceptual 1970’s. ‘To the victor’s the spoils’! The art history has been rewritten from the more recent perspective as once again we are reminded that painting is ‘dead’. This memoir is in part a redress to this manipulation of history.

I remember distinctly taking Samuel Palmer and Graham Sutherland books from the newly restocked College Library and the drawings show their influence. I was encouraged in my focusing on ‘British’ art by my tutor a wonderful printmaker called Tricia Stainton who unbeknowns to me also taught part-time at the Royal College. I was the world’s worst ‘networker’ and so focussed on my own concerns things like that just went straight by me….others were less naive.

The sketchbook contains a print by Fragonard which came from a cheap artbook my Auntie Sue had bought me one Christmas from our local W.H.Smith….It wasn’t until my early twenties that I could afford more than a few large art books. The sketchbook stays in its dark foliage, slightly gothic mood throughout until the following March when Picassoesque forms take control. Maybe a subconscious reaction to the fire ..who knows..I know many of us struggled in those early months after the fire and the staff (in most cases) were very helpful. Needless to say the technicians helped the most attractive girls and the owners of american cars the most…

As my mood (and circumstances lightened) the drawings took on more Matisse and Picasso touches and a trip to see the Picasso bequest in Paris certainly helped..although my strongest memory of my fellow student’s reaction to first plate of snails must wait another day…Jackson Pollock comes to mind but not in a good way…..

Here is one of my very few prints that survived from the printroom then and Tricia’s influence. Samuel Palmer and Sutherland put through a blender certainly…

(picture to come)

The Fake Gallery – revisited

fake gallery logo

FAKING IT

It seems to me that artists have two choices…travel to Rome and adopt the clothes of the conquerer’s and become ‘curators’ or walk to the furthest edges and break down fences that border the still wild and unexplored possibly with multiple personas….Pessoa comes to mind and in his spirit I have invented any number of ‘Fake’ musicians and artists recently….indeed to the point where I declared myself a ‘Fake Gallery‘and declared my various ‘styles’ separate personas…

Only in fakery did I become real…

Fake Gallery

full original article HERE from January 2006

The Fake Artist and the Fake Gallery

Here a further response to the Mark Staff Brandl article on sharkforum.org

fake gallery logo

FAKING IT

This article really hits home from the perspective of an ‘ex’ artist, malady future artist struggling to deal with the multiplicity of styles and cliques now infecting the British ‘Body Artistic’. I was a party to the initial infection of ‘oblique strategy’ art through a couple of interviews for Goldsmith’s College of Art here in the late 1980’s ( ironically just before the Brit-Art boom).

I was discarded as being too ‘traditional’ at these interviews and responded by disappearing literally to the countryside where I grew up to complete the supposed ‘reactionary’ art I was accused of. I ceased exhibiting soon after and have led a merry dance around the genres ever since and in fact came across r.d.roth of sharkforum in that dance.

It seemed then and it seems now that a a badly misunderstood ‘mission statement’ based on an outpouring of cobbled together cod philosophy (especially French) actually mattered more than an ability to develop or complete a substantial body of work. This trend has thrived like a virus especially in regard to art-training which has shed all pretence to accomodate ‘skills’ in favour of ‘networking’ and ‘business acumen’.

As an example of how far this trend predominates I recently had a show where I instinctively felt that my actual ‘work’ ( traditional landscape drawings influenced by Paul Nash ) were irrelevant to my audience and in a fit of pique I started drawing on the day of the show a series of sarcastic and irreverant cartoons about the art-world in Nottingham on basis if you can’t beat them join them! I immediately gained attention, viagra some small renumeration and a possible future show……

I feel that I have stumbled into that world the article describes of small pecks at the rhino’s hide in search of my own artistic salvation. I increasingly over last decade and a half admired ‘polymath’ souls such as Butch Hancock (musician/photographer) and anybody operating well away from the main stream especially so-called ‘outsider art’ as they seemed immune to this ‘tainted generation’s’ stylistic morass.

It seems to me that artists have two choices…travel to Rome and adopt the clothes of the conquerer’s and become ‘curators’ or walk to the furthest edges and break down fences that border the still wild and unexplored possibly with multiple personas….Pessoa comes to mind and in his spirit I have invented any number of ‘Fake’ musicians and artists recently….indeed to the point where I declared myself a ‘Fake Gallery‘and declared my various ‘styles’ separate personas…

Only in fakery did I become real…

Fake Gallery