Category Archives: nottingham contemporary

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.

Craft V Concept 1: In conversation with S Mark Gubb

This discussion was prompted by the Goldsmiths TV debacle and the blog entry previous to this. I had suggested that the incumbent M.A. students couldn’t craft their way out of a paper bag basically….

SMG

Shaun, increasingly your blogs/rants are getting more and more like that character in the fast-show that’s been involved in everything anyone mentions; they all focus around you not quite being involved with, or rejecting, important groups/moments being written in to recent art history… I think what we all want to know is where exactly were you when Kennedy got shot?

SDB

Behind the trigger Mark….I was also behind Joe Meek on the landing and possibly in Apollo 13 too but my memory going now…I think Zelig was the figure you looking for? Maybe I could be your next art project? :-) I will respond to your appraisal…I have written about Goldsmiths before and it a response to other people’s response to the fatuous programme on TV last night….I regard Goldsmiths influence on Trent as part of the problem not part of the solution and held these views long before I got involved in academia.Your response shows you support Goldsmiths then?

SMG

I don’t specifically support Goldsmith’s – my experience of the place is limited to very much the same as yours – an interview and a rejection in the mid-90′s. I don’t, however, have a huge problem with it. I also don’t understand why there’s a TV programme about it right now (however, I didn’t see it, so can’t really comment). I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant. They are a denial of the situation as it is – a concept driven, narrative approach to the creation of work has become the dominant mode in a lot (most) art-schools.

That’s not to say it’s right, it’s just a fact. That’s how things shifted through the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. There’ll probably be another shift sometime soon, but I doubt it will be back to a (seemingly) purist position of skill and craft. There are also a hell of a lot successful artists who are incredibly, practically, skilled. The field is open to both. I wholeheartedly support the idea that an artist doesn’t need to be an artisan.

They can be, but not being so doesn’t , in my view, deny them the right to critical acclaim or to be involved in a profession that has no clear boundaries as to what it incorporates. This debate currently amounts to nothing more than a position of “this is shit, it was better, then.” That doesn’t change or help anything. It’s just moaning.

There are many art-worlds. Some are Hollywood, some are Ilkeston Community College and there is everything inbetween. People just need to figure out where they sit within these various worlds. There’s little point in a classically trained conductor moaning about the success of Girls Aloud. They all exist within the music industry but have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

SDB

Nice reply…as for the meat of your argument i.e…… I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant…..

I think you are wrong and I oppose that kind of attitude ..always have done…. and things are starting to tip in a new aesthetics direction but art schools like supertankers take a long time to turn…its about THINKING AND MAKING not either or….

As for coexistant artworlds this chimes with Gillick’s assumptions and I challenge the notion of separate artworlds I think they are intricately bound together in a way music is not. What happens at one end of the food chain affects the other. …

Nottingham Contemporary is providing propaganda for one view – a very Goldsmiths like view in my opinion. I am not asking people to join in a Ruskinian escapade of noble workers building roads again but it interesting that those who most divorced from tactile making are those most extreme in its denunciation.

Gillick represents the triumph in my eyes of a intellectualism divorced from reality that exists in a bubble of its own delusion and too many graduates think words alone can save them..to my mind they are usually the weakest students.

SMG

I think we share more common ground than is maybe apparent here. Yes, they are often the weakest students, and they mostly disappear very quickly in to the chasm of ‘no-longer practising’ soon enough.

I also believe that it’s about thinking AND making, but I also stand by the idea that if an artist acknowledges a lack in their own practical skill maybe they want a marble carved of a thalidomide victim – to realise that work through the employment of someone who has spent their entire professional life perfecting that craft, is perfectly acceptable. They don’t need to go and train for 20 years to make that one piece of work.

To continue the discussion about co-existant art worlds, setting the discussion up in terms of a food-chain, a clear and entirely linked pathway, is misleading. What Tracey Emin does has absolutely no relevance or effect on Mr Smith’s seascapes that he paints and sells through a High Street gallery in a Cornish town. They are entirely seperate things. I think the problem is that people labour under the misconception that they are not.

Using the word propaganda about NC’s programme is, again, too sinister. NC is providing one view or take on the art-world(s). The museum provides another. If you don’t like it, don’t go. Find the galleries that are pushing the propaganda you agree with. If you’re Tory you’re not going to go to the Labour Party conference.

People are way too quick to see things they don’t agree with as entirely negative when, in fact, they are simply delivering something they don’t agree with, but something with no less relevance or right to be there than anything else (and something which, ultimately, may even be positively feeding a much broader situation).

SDB

The Warholian ‘director’ stance as adopted by Hirst and Emin is a flaw not a boon in my opinion. If that student actually tried to take on board some of the craftsmanship required to carve marble instead of just creating ‘yellow pages’ art we’d all be better off. My complaint about most Brit Art is that factor..if you can’t ring someone who can is a copout stance. Most of them were technically cackhanded. This proven by Hirst’s hilarious attempt to paint…

I think there is more awareness of the amateur seascapes world than you give credit having taught at that level those people have the internet now and what happens at Tate is on the radar in a way it never was before – yours is a more traditionalist view for once…never underestimate your audience :-)

As for NC I used the word propaganda in its correct form….NC is propagating a view which it believes the only and correct view and it has no time for opposition parties Tory or otherwise….in time this will be its undoing….

For your information I have never been near the building and probably never will until a change of regime or it becomes a nightclub.

As for labour or Tory I agree with neither and my party is only one member strong so far…in fact probably aways will be I am a natural outsider.. :-)

SMG

Then this is where we must agree to disagree. You clearly believe in craft being integral to a works validity, whereas I do not (I would argue that Hirst merely dropped a bollock by fundamentally changing his working practices after so many years i.e. making the paintings himself). I still don’t understand exactly WHY we would all be better off if everyone stopped having things fabricated…

I also don’t believe that NC is propagating a view which it believes to be the only correct one, it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators. As and when these people change, it will reflect a different view again.

..and just to clarify, my point about Emin and the seascapes was in no way a judgement of my imaginary painters awareness or interest in other areas of visual art, it was more an economic and theoretical assessment of the situation, whereby for every neon or bedsheet that Emin sells for £1m to (questionable) critical ovation, this has absolutely no effect or impact on the others love, ability or desire to paint the sea and sell them for £45 in a High Street gallery….

Right, I’m off in to the studios to handout some Gillick writings. You’ve caught me on the one day a week I get paid to de-skill the next generation of the curatoriat (we’ve taken most of their’s ability to tie their laces – have you seen the amount of slip-ons around these days? That’s art schools fault. We’re just working on how to take their ability to use a knife and fork, then we’ll be really rocking).

SDB

No I believe a knowledge of craftsmanship and an awareness of tactile elements is frundamental to an artists growth. How that artist ‘deploys’ is up to them..some conceptual art valid e.g. Stephen Willets, Conrad Atkinson but all had some traditional training…as for propogation which sounds better than propaganda…..you defined it in way that supports what I saying at this particular time …it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators.

I just not keen on the seeds it sowing…

As for seascapes…You are switching to a Gillickesque socio-economic analysis…I talking about visual awareness….not giving a neo-marxist analysis…as for Gillick handouts I presume they more like biblical texts……which makes you the Curatorial Moses :-)

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

Nottingham Contemporary: The good, the bad and the ugly..

donkey

I have recently had to pull a discussion post from the Nottingham Contemporary Free discussion group on facebook. Here I explain why and deliver a more considered version of basically the same material which less likely to offend the great and the good of this noble art city.

The post was a hasty response to seeing the effect the opening of ‘The Golden Egg’ is already having on culture in this city.

Geoffrey Diego Litherland’s show at the Castle was his reward for winning last year’s Nottingham Open competition. A well deserving winner and a good set of paintings in a show spoilt only by the ludicrous arrangement of hanging on a staircase. Meanwhile pride of place as usual went to a travelling Arts Council show. No better nor worse than many but surprising that second show on this theme in as many months…..are our curators trying to tap into an underlying theme about Nottingham..i.e. are we all trapped..or criminals?

My real disappointment was with the Castle Permanent Collection. It has always been a lacklustre space full of frankly third rate paintings and some gems. But previous visits never saw it looking quite so tawdry. When I pointed out that some of the signage appeared to be little more than blu-tacked to wall I got response..well all the money gone to the Egg. True or not it did make me wonder if Jack hadn’t given the cow away for a hill of beans…

Bad signage aside if one scans the ‘hidden’ collection (including a fine William Nicholson of downland I seen but once) one realises that very little of it gets aired. Something more than occasional Brit Art shows should be done with this space. Which leads me on to my main point. The Nottingham Contemporary..for good or ill and whatever it costs is here now….it has raised a certain part of the profile of the local art scene i.e. the pretentious outward looking side a notch from the days of Angel Row but what does that actually mean? We have lost at least three contemporary gallery spaces..Angel Row, Yard Gallery Wollaton and Bonington Gallery and gained two..New Art Exchange and The Egg. The Castle under Deborah Dean continues the kind of work Angel Row did…tied to ACE and very rarely escaping the confines of a certain tired politically correct viewpoint…..noble causes…dull art. Angel Row occasionally surprised but more often was as dull too and only at the end did it burst into some kind of life with the Parade shows..too little too late.

Love it or hate it Angel Row did occasionally show a mix of local and ‘international’ (i.e. what somebody saw in a magazine made it international…generally this meant American as most Art Press is USA dominated). There were never contemporary Spanish or French shows….I may be wrong as frankly I hardly bothered going in the place and when I did just got annoyed…

But it did (particularly in earlier days) show local ‘semi-professional’ artists. What worries me about The Egg is that it is a Tate Lite for the region and nothing more……in this sense it very similar to the Museum of Modern Art Oxford which apart from a ‘local artist’ space in their cafe (still operating after 20 plus years) never showed local artists unless they had made it to the glossies….

This may be one of the reasons that Oxford has virtually no thriving local arts scene..like Nottingham had up to now….it virtually ended ambitions before they flowered….I knew however hard I tried I would never ‘make it’ there….

So if The Egg shows international ( USA and Bradford born Hockney so far but he famous so that OK) and New Art Exchange is so heavily ring-fenced by its own mission statement (although I hear the curator there is trying to reflect the changing nature of the environment..) then with the loss of so many spaces for exhibition where are local artists to show? If you then say but look at the plethora of cutting edge spaces that sprung up recently I’d retort with yes and how long without funding will they last? A few have been primed with money by the Arts Council to create the impression of a vibrant local art scene to spin around The Egg but truth is ACE finding will not keep them alive forever…..just long enough to get through next year’s Brit Art spectacular is my guess then what…?

Meanwhile the mid-career (i.e. older not dead yet but been going 25 plus year artists) who actually created the ‘Nottingham Art Scene’ have been turfed out of their studios or faced rent rises and most scrabbling in the gutter or the studio equivalent. Apart from the bitterness this provokes this also bodes ill for the future as younger artists see the good and bad side of dedicating a life to their noble career…

Discounting local anarcho-capitalist venture The Art Organisation and volunteer driven/ace space The Surface there is little in the way of a middle ground left..in fact nothing left…for a serious artist who not on the Faberge Egg list (i.e. international by the magazines definition or on the Tate’s radar etc etc ) to aim at.

My ill thought out and pulled rant did raise one serious proposal that would help but which will not get funding. A serious space for local serious artists on a more permanent basis like replacing the tired dusty Castle collection with a proper survey of local artistic output (not the Open…that’s too much like a jumble sale) would help…..then we would have less bitterness and less frustration.

At present to be a mid-career artist in this city is to feel like a unwanted guest at a shiny teenager’s party we not invited to…and when we do arrive we constantly reminded that ‘making it’ is more important that actually making it…the art work…..it the disease of contemporary art institutions and education…..until that addressed we will continue to clutch at Golden Eggs that when cracked leak sand not gold…

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http://www.shaunbelcher.com/blog/