Friday 9 October 2009

The Shock of the New


“The animal brains and pulverised jet engine are a hit with the critics, but if you want to look like a true connoisseur, pretend to see shapes in a swirly golden mural”    Leo Benedictus, Guardian.

The Turner Prize 2009 Exhibition opened at the Tate Britain on Tuesday and I’m dragging a kicking and screaming Guy - rigorous traditionalist - there next week. (Actually, I think he just pretends to be grumpy when in reality he’s secretly enthralled by it all. Either way, he’ll most certainly have a great deal to say about it afterwards!)

Turner Prize Hmmm?  Imaginative logo design? 



It’s all subjective, right?

Then what, exactly, is art?

Of course, that question has been hummed and haa’ed over for centuries. What is sublime to one person can be garbage to another. Art, like life itself, evolves and changes – but has it now become identified with all that is found, filmed, unlaundered, pickled, switched on and off, or pooped and scooped?

 lights going on and off - Martin Creed 2001 Turner Prize ‘Lights going on….                                                                                       and off. '   Installation by Martin Creed

Did Antony Gormley get it right when he said “these days, art can be anything” at the start of his Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square?

Victor-Martinez-on-the-fo-001Victor Martinez on the Fourth Plinth, July 2009

Perhaps you’re seduced by Miroslaw Balka’s Oasis at the Tate Modern where he suggests a domestic setting in which the daily rituals of human existence are played out? Eating and sleeping, love and death are evoked using materials which have a particular resonance for Balka such as milk, wooden planks from his childhood home and pine needles salvaged from the tree that grew outside his window.


Maybe you feel outraged that the Charles Wollaston Award for ‘most distinguished work’ at the 2008 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition went to a broom handle candle by Gavin Turk. Dumb Candle, a sawn-off broom handle carved into the shape of an extinguished candle, was praised for both its simplicity and subtlety. I have to admit my jaw still drops in astonishment at the thought that this was considered worthy of the £25,000 prize.

Dumb CandleDumb Candle

The Wollaston Award this year went to an audio visual clip called Turning the Place Over by Richard Wilson RA.  Fascinating though it certainly was, I couldn’t help wondering when it was that film crossed over from its own world to compete with painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking.

turning the place.Turning the Place Over

Where in your home would you hang Cadet Congo Ganja by Tim Bailey? The artist states that it is a fusion of Mr Kurtz from Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' and Colonel Kurtz from Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now’.  This is one of the painting which drove the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones to exclaim “What I see in works such as this is more of the same deadening irony, disbelief and smallness of mind that has reduced painting in modern Britain to a stale, repetitive, self-parodic eunuch.” Harsh words indeed, but do you agree?

Cadet Congo Ganja Cadet Congo Ganja

Does Tracy Emin’s My Bed do it for you? Is it art, self-absorbed disclosure or plagiarism?  Or all three?  Did Emin know, as she was arranging the detritus of her life on and around her bed, that artist Robert Rauschenberg had put his own bed into a museum in 1955?  Rauschenberg’s bed, by contrast, is splattered with paint and has Twombly-like pencil scrawls on it - possibly done by Twombly - so, in my opinion, his bears a closer relationship to art than Emin’s soiled mess. 

tracey-emin-my-bedMy Bed

How about this one? Untitled by Maurizio Cattelan. This stuffed horse lies in an otherwise empty room, impaled through one flank by a placard that reads 'INRI'. Apparently Pontius Pilate had a similar sign hung above Jesus on the cross – it means 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'.

Untitled Untitled

From the horrific to the faintly ridiculous.  Takashi Murakami’s ‘sculpture’ Hiropon is fantastical blue-haired woman skipping with a rope made from her own breast milk.  Is it art or merely an enlarged and enhanced Barbie doll?

Pop-Life-Art-In-A-Materia-001 Hiropon

Despite the fact that he recoils from the vagaries of the abstract, this is Guy’s current favourite painting.  On the reverse are these words:  Dear Mazee – this is a cement mixer that I painted for you at Stickee Fingers – love James.  The artist is our grandson.

cement mixer 001 Cement Mixer by James (aged 3)

Is it the impulse of art to explore beyond surfaces, to question appearances, to bend the conventional into unexpected shapes? Because so many experts have shrunk from defining the concept, are the terms ‘art’ and ‘artist’ up for grabs? It has even become common for critics to resort to such absurd statements as "If an artist says it's art, it's art" (Roberta Smith in the New York Times.)  However, if a work makes no sense at all to an ordinary person without the intervention of an expert, is it outside the realm of art?

Maybe things will become a little clearer after I’ve been to the Turner Prize exhibition, but right now I ‘m still stymied, frankly.

What do you think?




The Bug said...

Um - I'm no art critic, or artist, or even much of a creative person - but I wasn't very thrilled by any of the examples that you showed until your grandson's - I love the colors! See, I'm a philistine with no credentials to offer an opinion. But I guess I feel like there's a difference between a "statement" and "art." They both evoke a feeling, which is important - but there's some indefinable difference that I can't name...

Sarah said...

Stymied too I think. There are so many things defined as art out there and it is hard to define-in the same way as it is hard/impossible to define intelligence. The great thing about the lack of hard definitions or the impossibility of them is the fact that there is room for everyone-it is an inclusive thing.
I have visited Tate Modern with both of my parents at different times and they are very much of the opinion that it is not art if it is, for example, a room covered in dust sheets, paintcans, half empty cups of tea and other decorator's detritus. To my Dad that was just a working environment. I love the variety of ideas and concepts in 'modern' art and think film and video has got a place. I think it is the idea of skill that gets in the way. Having ideas is not valued in necessarily the same way as being able to sculpt or paint. Being able to paint in an abstract way is not valued by some as much as in a representational way.
Have you seen the Myra Hindley portrait made out of many children's hand prints? I did have a problem with that in that I felt it was exploitative of those children to use their hands to make that when they did not have knowledge to make an informed choice. I have come to the conclusion that as a piece of art though, it still worked on one level-that of provoking my anger or discomfort. Anyway, I am rambling now. I enjoyed your post! Hope you like the exhibition!

Irene said...

I'll make it short and sweet and dismiss everything I've seen, except for your grandson's painting, which is truly a work of art and the best thing there.

xxx said...

Art school killed the artist in me... defining art is a little like talking about politics and religion.... a big can of worms :)

Art is all that we think it is and all that we think it is not.
A word to describe human creative expression!

Art dealers love the mystery as it helps keeps the price tags high.

Who knows :)

best wishes

PS... beautiful painting of the cement mixer!!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Art is in the eye of the beholder. Methinks.

Linda Sue said...

I have traveled with a couple of art groups- when i see something that is total crap I ask someone to help me understand how to appreciate it so that I don't go off...sometimes it works but mostly I just go off... bunch of crap!

Merry ME said...

In my opinion the cement mixer is the best of the lot. I think I'm in the majority here!

Karina Russell said...

I'm a new follower and beginning blog site writer ( I love your blog.

I have a degree in art and have to agree that your grandson is the true artist here. If people are buying the examples in the photos, then I have an old kitchen mop that should qualify to be in a museum!

Caroline said...

Tessa, I like art that makes you think and question but contravertial pieces like these are often beyond my comprehension. That broomstick is totally ridiculous - 'dumb candle' says it all and is fit only for burning, in my opinion! I'd like to know what he has done with the £25,000! Like others here I reckon your grandson's piece tops the lot!! Thanks for a great post!

Webster said...

Of all those that were shown here, I liked James' the very best.

Carol said...

I love the painting by your by far the best!!

I watched an art programme the other day and was astounded at the price the paintings were fetching. To me they just looked like scribbles...and then I discovered that they were none other than marks made on paper by a dog's claws!! The 'experts' were talking such complete bollocks along the lines of 'oh the dog was trying to convey the decay in modern society' that I realised that I was actually sitting there open mouthed!! (I shut it quickly in case I caught a fly!!). I'm now thinking that I might try and train the cats... *grins*

C x

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

James gets my vote for the Turner Prize! Vivid colour, the hint of texture and an imaginative and original interpretation of his subject matter! Truly!

Ah, the old art question - I kind of want to say "yawn". Half the trouble, I'm inclined to suspect, is that the "serious" artists take themselves far too seriously - or, alternatively, they don't take the public remotely seriously and set out to deliberately mock them with their bed sheets and broom handles.

Honestly, I think art is that which causes a resonance within the artist and the viewer. It becomes "pure" if that resonance happens simultaneously, because art is not just about a depiction, it's about a synchronicity of some sort, nebulous though that may sometimes be.

I remember when, as a young art student, I first started exploring modern and abstract art - it was totally lost on me - but I've since learned to see things that I couldn't then - and I often surprise myself by finding meaning (or a response) in images and installations that I would previously have dismissed as nonsense. Perhaps therein lies some of this debate... I suppose too, a lot of it depends on the individual viewer's imagination, conditioning and ability to intrepret..

That said, I have to admit that that some of the images you've posted, well, hmmm - lost the plot a bit, methinks, in this era of self-absorbed post-modernism...

But then isn't that art anyway - individual interpretation and something in the eye of both beholder and creator - and who's to know or interpret the individual's response or sense of "meaning" of artist and viewer alike...

Elizabeth said...

James, obviously, was passed over IN ERROR.
His picture is so bold and so lovely. He is a wonderful colorist too.
In another life, I was an art critic for Long Island Newsday which had a circulation of about 4 million.
Hmmmm. I am married to an artist. Mt talented dog is an artist.
I have decided that our lives are out masterworks.
Most modern art is merely the product of a so called 'artist'.
So much rubbish has been written about art. I can quite see why so much of it (the writing and the art) is considered pretentious claptrap.
Excuse me while I go and hit my head against the nearest wall and weep.
ps I went to the Metropolitan Museum yesterday and it was stunningly wonderful.
Happy weekend, Tessa.

Dimple said...

I don't have an opinion about what art is or isn't, but I am frankly offended and horrified that some of these are presented as "art." Perhaps that is the point the "artists" were trying to make. In any case, your grandson's painting deserves a prominent place on the refrigerator!

Ces Adorio said...

Ugh, that bed again. Where the heck is my emesis basin?

Ces Adorio said...

Tessa my dearest! No apologies, I just turned my gaze on your eloquence and I was cured.

The only thing that makes sense here is James's painting. If his last name was Piccasso they would have put guards around the painting.

I have been thinking of you for the past several days.

Ces Adorio said...

Hello Tessa dearest, I was being too clinical. That bed is a very good example of shock therapy...and she gets paid for that? I wonder what I can show?

Off tangent: Do you have short or long hair?

de ja vu: have I asked you this before?

Renee said...

I agree with Guy, James piece is my favourite.

Some of the other stuff just seems ridiculous. Like I would be an artist if I took a shit and then stuck a sign in it saying roses.

love Renee xoxo

Madame DeFarge said...

Oh I just have so much trouble with modern art. I try very hard, but just don't get it at all. I'm stuck somewhere in the 16th century I think.

Lori ann said...

I love children's art the best, always have. James is too precious for words.
I'm LOVING the book Tessa dear.
How are you and the move prepartions coming along?
much love ♥

Anonymous said...

Wow - not an easy question to answer because art requires both a creator and one who views the creation. I can be on either side of the question, but I cannot be both at once...thus the difficulty. As a creator I seak relevance. As one who views the creation, I seek relevance. So for me, art must be relevant. Unfortunately, relevance is relative.

Angela said...

Dear Tessa, I have had these discussions with my brother the artist (did I ever tell you? Look up Vic Guhrs at google, if you like). He tells me I don`t understand modern art, and of course I don`t. To me art has got to do with beauty, or at least a strong feeling of something transcenedent (his own pictures are great) and these "objects" don`t make me feel anything.

Renee said...

How are you feeling lovely friend? I hope you are alright.

I think Obama like many before him (Carter, Tutu, etc) won for their talk about what they tried to bring about. Peace, no nuclear weapons, diplomacy.

Love Renee xoxo

Holly said...

Sometimes the world is a curious place; other times it's even curiouser.

I loved the comments your readers left on this blog of yours.

I'm not one to think much of these odd pieces. The INRI? Is the artist saying that what we have all decided is The Christ is a Horse's Ass?


Here's one thing that was said to me when I was looking at a series of completly black of the docents heard me say, "I could have done that!" I was completely put off by the notion that these were considered art.

The Docent looked at me and said, "Ah, yes you could have done it, but he was the first to do! And, that makes all the differnce in the world."

I never forgot that. It's easy to say, "I could have..." after viewing what someone already "has" and perhaps that does make all the difference in the world.

Art? Perhaps. But, the decision to consider it art, has nothing to do with whether the viewer likes it or doesn't.

However, here in my head where I live and it's sunny all the time, I'd say, "Crap is crap...even if you do put an nice bow on it!"

Rosaria Williams said...

I'm thrilled to see this kind of art. It tells me that there is thinking and creating going on, different from previous creative attempts. WE create what feels right for us to enjoy/express: the circles and lines of children's paintings, standing for something else. We record/reproduce images that please our sense of beauty, help us connect with emotions and objects we want to preserve. We also touch on expressions that are rarely expressed, the unspeakable, the stuff we construct that stand for things hard to express. The bed? It's the last item, the mess we collect/make that has become us.

Art enlightens, spotlights what we don't see, as well as relate emotions and beauty we see and feel. Thanks for the opportunity to share ideas.

Yoli said...

There are no words.

Bee said...

I don't think we should need the intervention of experts to "get" it. Shouldn't we be able to see it with our eyes and feel it in our heart? By that criteria, I have to agree with Bug's assessment: your grandson's abstract is by far the most artistic.

(The Dumb Candle? I'm dumfounded.)

julietk said...

I think that James is definately the best of the bunch :-)