Category Archives: galleries

Gesamkunstwerk – Saatchi Gallery

Andre Butzer – Ahnenbild 2411

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…

Why I despise the New Curators

Like a Circus tent the U.K. institutional art world is collapsing. The one that has spread like a virus from its home at ACE headquarters and The Hayward in particular and which liked to believe that it was always ahead of the curve and pushing back boundaries etc etc is finally entering its last and desperate phase. With its collapse we are also seeing the collapse of the visual arts as a saleable commodity in museum terms…they have no money to buy ‘stuff’.

So in its place are the new artist turned curator hybrids who are busy pretending that they are not failed artists but went to art school all along to metamorphose like butterflies or ugy ducklings into that far rarer creature ‘the new curator’. There are loads of them swarming out of new ‘curator’ courses hastily being set up. ….

Why? Simply because an unholy alliance of fine art courses that have lost their way and meaning in face of the new economic realities and an academia in thrall to statistics and ‘research outcomes’. Nothing helps boost a research outcome like a sensational non-event in a far distant land attached to a alumni’s C.V. Even better if that ‘curated’ mish-mash of baloney, philosophical wank and bullshit erudition is part funded by an arts agency and an academic institution.

Like vultures around the grave of the fine arts the new curators are not interested in the visual arts as such, nor the traditional forms of practice. No everything must be ironic, liminal, short-term, cheap (i.e. round up your mates who work for free because that’s OK and then you cannot blame the ACE or government.). Then sell this as a package to under-funded institutions desperate to back a ‘happening’ young project however daft or stupid and basically totally ineffective in getting any support from the wider public.

Having thus decided to turn inwards and destroy an already shaky grounding in reality the new curators have also turned on those practitioners who actually create traditional artworks with some intrisic value through craft, practice and sheer knowledge.

New Curation is rife and it is polluting an already unstable institutional artworld with short term fake interventions and ‘strategies’. Once it has collapsed post real fees being introduced in our universities and the final total deconstruction of the arts councils we will be left with a hollow shell of arts provision for the wider public. This void is already being ceaselessly mined by the likes of Saatchi and other ‘populist’ organisations hell bent on turning a profit.

The room for erudite, political and genuinely avant-garde works like those produced in the seventies is getting smaller everyday. The new curators are smart, urban networkers shoring up a ridiculous and damaged art world. They keep spinning their illusions like silkworms but unlike the real worms we will never make anything solid from their futile lives.

I believe in artists as being able, intelligent and strong masters of their own destinies. There is no need for this new bunch of arrogant, dull networkers hogging the limelight just to save their own failed careers. Like middle management everywhere they could be removed from the system completely but then who would the regeneration partners and government institutions point to as proof of their often vacuous  ‘creative’ successes.

In the art world’s fading circus the last thing the lions needed was a new bunch of lion-tamers pretending they are also lions.

Let’s hope they all get their heads bitten off.

The long slow death of visuality…a response 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 convuluted 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 coherant ‘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 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’?


My response: Part two
ARTSCRIBE

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 and therefore 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 BEAUTIFUL NON-CAREER (an aside)

Square Gallery Highgate London February 1988 – Serious Artist phase

Exhibited

1989 Pyramid Arts, Dalston, London.
1988 Solo show. Square Gallery, Highgate, London.
1987 12 Young Artists. Square Gallery, Highgate, London

Black Monday oil on canvas 5′ x 5′ 1987

MORE PAINTINGS

Influences – New Scottish painters like Campbell and Maclean, New French Painting and the post New Painting 1981 show at R.A. Italian Transavantguardia…Ivon Hitchins, Francis Bacon, Howard Hodgkin,John Bellany
Philip Guston, Fernand Leger, Malcolm Morley, Gillian Ayres,De Chirico, etc. etc… oh and Gilbert & George.. and artscribe!

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 Sattchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the ‘visuality’ bubble.

“Blewburton Hill charcoal and chalk on paper 24″ x 36″ 1991

My Response: Part Four: VISUALITY?

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

THINGNESS?
Responding to internet representations of art.

The artwork online by Sarah Morris and a Frank Stella from protractor series

Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works 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
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’?
          
  • 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 :-)

Death by a thousand cuts: How contemporary 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 too 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 as a golden goose 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 coherant 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?

AXIS RANT #2: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat?

When did it happen? When did the power structure in the arts shift so fundamentally away from the practicing artist and into the hands of a new breed of art school trained curators or as I have re-designated them ‘curatoriat’? The growth industry in ‘curatorial’ courses like the MA at the Royal College of Art reflects a far wider shift and a worrying one for us poor artists at the bottom of the arts funding pecking order. Read the rest here on axisweb.orgShaun Belcher: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat, Feb 2010

You should read the whole article.

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

I have long been a fan of the Sharkforum and resident artist/critic Mark Staff Brandl’s take on the present state of art criticism.

This is by way of a practice run to ‘scope’ the afore mentioned ‘art criticism now?’ agenda :-)
I love that word ‘scope’ you’d think we were shooting bears..maybe we are…certainly foxes…

His latest project involves asking artists to write about their practice and its theoretical basis as a challenge to the current curatorial/academic mish mash that sometimes pertains in the IAW (international art world). He (I think correctly) cites the current fashion orientated dealer driven art world as suffering from a ‘glossies’ approach that has jettisoned the baby with the bathwater and quite correctly identifies a gap ‘in the market’ (how loaded that phrase has become in the past 30 years) where artist’s voices have become swamped in other louder discourses. Usually these discourses are tied hand and foot to financial and kudos driven ‘standing’ in that same ‘IAW’ and have long since lost any real veracity or in some cases coherance as theoretical writings let alone curatorial statements or overviews.

We here in Nottingham have some recent first-hand instances of this I.A.W. Gobbledygook thanks to our sudden emergence into the IAW thanks to Nottingham Contemporary. As our provincial minds sink in the flood of propaganda we are about to be verbally lashed by maybe it a good point for some circumspect analysis of this phenomena.

My own artistic history is pretty much framed in two decades. Firstly 1980-1990 then 2000-2010.

Phase 1: I graduated from Hornsey college of Art London (Middlesex University as is now) in 1981 and my art history tutor there was John A. Walker who has written extensively about the specifically political dimension to celebrity art as well as popular cultural connections ( Art in the Age of Mass Media 2001). At this time there was little separation between ‘art’ and ‘theory’. Indeed it was common practice to read and absorb not only general theory but specific artist’s statements. Magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly put artist statements centre stage and along with a varied ‘contextual’ studies area which ranged from contemporary poetry to applied design we were encouraged not only to think for ourselves but also to be as wide in our reading as possible. In those days notions of ‘networking’ and ‘careerist’ ‘making it’ were viewed from a heavily left-wing viewpoint ( Hornsey had been a scene of ‘Riots’ alongside actions in France in 1968 ) so much so that I do not think the words were ever used.

We were serious (maybe too serious) students with serious ambitions to create serious artworks. There was little hope of making money except in maybe the long term and we set ourselves for many years of cold, lonely debate and artmaking activity in usually sub standard freezing cold ‘studios’. We did have a sense of community and a shared sense of what the ‘art world’ was and what was ‘significant’. What was written about in Artscribe framed the debate and our sense of the ‘art world’. There were few curatorial driven exhibitions to see and a hang of Bacon or Auerbach at Marlborough would be the highpoint of a summer. Serious artists shown seriously with little theoretical framing except in large Thames and Hudson or Phaidon tomes or reviews in the ‘serious’ press. Waldemar Janusczack, James Faure Walker, Sarah Kent, Brian Sewell, Mathew Collings…the names of those critics I remember 20 years later such was there standing….Artcribe had a ‘local’ i.e. usually London focus.

The art world then may have been smaller (pre boom and bust and the internet) but one felt one could get a handle of the major developments and the significant figures as they emerged. I remember seeing early shows by Doig and Julian Opie. Indeed I even ended up as a figure in a Gilbert and George photo piece. This was pre Goldsmiths, Hirst and the collapse (in my opinion) of those values and the boom in a larger, more fashionable, successful and in my opinion shallower art world. That art world was fed, watered and bloomed under the hands of an advertising executive and there was indeed a cut off point. The change in attitudes can be dated to the Royal Academy Sensation show…soon Stuart Morgan tried to sail artscribe into ‘International Art World’ waters and promptly sank….he just didn’t understand the Prada Bag set…

There and ever after even the hard leftists in the artworld found themselves chasing a beguiling gravy train and penned many acres of explication to justify having sold out out to a capitalist driven art world on a scale hitherto unimagined. Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths and principles of newly business orientated Academies across the country raced to catch up and cash in. This also coincided with a boom in markets across Europe and the USA and suddenly Brit was HIP. Nobody could bare to criticise a position we so fully deserved…now we were art top dogs we could look down on others and crow….and of course objective criticism.hard criticism..was thrown out the window.

I remember attending a show in the mid 1980’s where the curatorial statement ran to over a thousand words and was written in such impermeable ‘academese’ that nobody could actually read it. I dismissed it but foolishly did not realise the power of the word was on the march…..

Soon fellow artists were ‘locating their practice’ and referencing Derrida and Foucault. Indeed one friend went from rather dull printmaker to being an expert on postmodernism in a matter of weeks. The honesty and integrity of magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly were suddenly outshone by their glossy step-children …Frieze, Flash etc etc and countless others that spawned and drowned in their own scenes. This also coincided with the first attempts to push M.A.’s and Phd’s for artists…..up until that point M.A.’s were few and far between and centred on the ‘top’ institutions The Slade, Chelsea and Royal College. More importantly these were heavily studio-based courses…long on practice short on theory….evn in the late 1980’s one could still just paint at the Royal College like David Hockney……just….

I still have some of the copies of artscribe I would spend hours poring over..then for a few brief years before his untimely death Peter Fuller’s ‘Modern Painters’ seemed to show a way forward with erudite well written articles by the likes of Jed Perl rubbing shoulders with informed ‘outsiders’ like David Bowie and poet Jamie McKendrick. I ws verbally lashed by a graphic designer who then head of Goldsmiths M.A. for even suggesting Fuller was worth reading as too rightist..the same Goldsmiths that spun a silk purse out of a sow’s ear a year later with Damien Hirst……ah the irony of it all. Nothing corrupts good intentions and political principles like a hefty wad of cash especially in the Halls of Academe….

What Fuller recognised (he was a good critic grounded in an appreciation of the English Tradition especially the writings of Ruskin, Moore, Sutherland and Hockney..read ‘Beyond the Crisis in Art‘ currently out of print) was the essential connection between an artists’s writing and their art. Especially if one moved closer to the arts and crafts area of Gill, David Jones and all the way back via William Morris to William Blake.

That tradition has never been broken it merely been supplanted by the hysterical whinnying of a thousand ‘on the make’ mediocrities in both studio and academia. Tie-ins and stitch-ups replaced a grounded and reasoned debate. A in-depth knowledge was not needed to spurt out a trendy 1000 word review of Hirst that never delved into his fragile and lately revealed lack of knowledge of anything remotely to do with art. Like the Peter Sellers film ‘Being There’ all that mattered was to be in attendance at the ‘Cinderella’s Ball’ to catch some benefits from the King’s largesse. Many very good painters and theorists (equally) retreated to the shadows …some never to return…..John Hubbard, David Blackburn, Simon Lewty, Gillian Ayres even artists with reputations as formidable as Athony Caro’s, John Hoyland’s or Tom Phillips’ were not safe. they were all pushed from the banquet table by the greedy and Sunday Supplement friendly advertising savvy new brood….they have never left nor raised their snouts since…..Chapmans, Hirst, Emin..you know the rest….

Now there seems to be a new mood afoot where not only Aesthetics but the artists themselves may once more be allowed their rightful place at the high table of art and there a very good chance their writing a lot better than the charlatans who supplanted them.

Read David Smith, Robert Motherwell, CY Twombly, Philip Guston, Picasso, Matisse…….it a long and noble tradition of both thinking and doing..

Hirst on Art………don’t make me laugh

Academic Artist? Oxymoron?

1RowlandsonExhibition+Room+Somerset+House

There was a time when the phrase ‘academic artist’ was synomonous with a certain conservatism and use of traditional strophes that reflected the academic virtues of fine handling of paint, drawing of a certain standard and a certain ‘resemblance’ to the world of the viewer who would recognise the metaphors and the world that produced the works. A ‘hang’ may be as crowded as the Rowlandson of Somerset House but like the Royal Academy Summer Show one knew what one was getting.

Now the phrase has more chance of pertaining to an altogether more insubstantial, less skilful and frankly bizarre world…..for now we have a new breed of ‘institutional academic artists’. These strange hybrid creatures (neither fish nor fowl) have realised that their ‘practice’ ( a cosy word for what they ‘do’ that has jettisoned the need to actually ‘do’ anything) is a fair hothouse flower that could not survive in the cruel harsh winds of UK PLC in a recession. having realised that their slender talents are unbankable in any BRITART fab cash in bank way they are flocking to peddle their wares at the feet of Symposiums and Academic meetings. spitting out acronyms like the funnel of one of Turner’s Steamships and generally trying to survive by writing as much about themselves and doing as little actual ‘work’ as in artwork’ as possible.

The Botanic Gardens at Kew do not have as rare and flimsy a bunch of Credit Crunch Orchids to maintain as the New Universities (desperate for AHRC money to keep the wolf from the door having spent all the cash the poor students have provided). One cannot turn around these days for collaborative projects, new commissions, artists in residence ( a wide term as will be seen) and lectures by people less able to academicise than actually ‘do’ anything. In the past there were often spurious connections to float the poor artist into the academic flow…

Some artists benefitted from a fragile correspondence between their practice and the particular specialism of a department…Lace or plastic, car engines, botany..tie-in art flourished and some artists swiftly moved from garrett to academic offices and never left such was the increase in prosperity not to mention the warmth involved.

Now we are at a fascinating juncture in this process as the wind of time and change starts to blow back on these poor fragile blooms. As the realisation that UK PLC is not only bereft of jobs but the talents to actually do something instead of just talk about doing it University departments are clutching at new straws…economic development and regeneration are the key.

From talking about their practice these hybrid ‘Academists’ are now spouting a whole new range of acronym driven homilies….again to keep their place in the warm flowerbed….it is too cold out in Real Land..too many redundancies too few opportunities.

So as the recession bites maybe one would expect the chill wind to produce some hardier perennials..maybe a return to some of those traditional practices and skills as mentioned in the old concept of ‘The Academy’. No not a jot of it…

No it appears we will wait in vain for hardy snowdrops to bloom in their stead.

I have recently trawled through some academic notions of practice and whilst many reduce the brain to a sponge and yet others begger belief both in description and action none so far has matched my latest prize…..

An artist who shall remain nameless is speaking at a destination which alack shall also remain anonymous
on his revalatory practice of…….

‘Pouring special brew on a station platform and shouting’

I wish dear reader that I could be making this up…but alas it is true. Said artist manages to not only stupify with the nonsensical act but then to explicate it in almost Johnson like hyperbole….Dear friends what looks like the drunken action of a immature less than gifted imposter is in fact art..and not only art but art of a high order..art that bears a direct descendance form the Greek Gods and Hermes himself and yes from a tradition of lay preaching….

This is where we are good kind people mouthing platitudes and accomodating gibberish in the name of art….

I may not know much about art but I do know many kinds of shit when it travails the ear and this is 100% genuine bullshit and some of our academic institutions live and breath this kind of nonsense…..so far…

Methinks a little pruning in the gardens of the comfortably well off not amiss…and soon.

Maybe then some of those real blooms and real skills can blossom without choking in the avant-garde weedbeds of edification, explication and plain verbose drivel……and we can leave that to rot like any good remnant of verdure on the roots of the finer arts.

And a handy gardening tip if it smells like shit it probably is…treat with caution and dig it under whenever possible.