The preview of the Liverpool Biennial 2014 (which opens to the public today 5 July) on 4 July was somewhat odd. Open for the purposes of the preview were the usual main venues—Tate Liverpool, the Bluecoat, FACT, the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery, plus a new venue in the form of the Old Blind School in Hardman Street—other venues will be open when the Biennial starts in earnest on 5 July.
The preview was curious because one expects a Biennial to showcase contemporary, i.e. current artists, and this was not the case at two of the main venues the Bluecoat and Tate Liverpool. The Bluecoat chose to focus on the 19c artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler who was a pioneer in the aestheticist movement of the late 19c. Aestheticism certainly impacted on early 20c art and indeed it is still relevant today. For example one can contrast Whistler’s concern with the aesthetics of form and colour, as well as the question of “taste”, with the very good example of very bad art that one found in the Old Blind School in Hardman Street. That was one of the main samples of new contemporary art on offer for the preview on 3 and 4 July and it was off-putting to say the least. The John Moores Painting Prize on the other hand was very worthwhile with lots of examples of interesting approaches to the still expanding discourse of painting. Like Whistler, the Painting Prize made the work exhibited in the Old Blind School seem bombastic in terms of what one might generously describe as deliberately bad art (one hopes it was, at least, deliberate).
FACT showed work by Sharon Lockhart in a very professional and polished fashion, certainly worth the visit. Then there was the Tate Liverpool which has put on a large show of works from the Tate Collection (curated by Mai Abu ElDahab with Stephanie Straine) which is always a treat. Once more these historical works—mostly from the second half of the 20c—were so much more involving than the banal offerings in the Old Blind School that one wondered at which point the artists exhibiting at the Old Blind School had abandoned any connection not only with aesthetics (represented in this Biennial by Whistler) but also the creative cauldron that is art in the second half of the 20c.
One should also mention the very creatively curated exhibition of instances of early 20c art at Tate Liverpool in the ground floor Wolfson Gallery where avant-garde architect Claude Parent has created a La colline de l’art (art hill) that he calls a ‘machine for viewing’ which consists of a series of ramps leading up to the works.
And one could see something else quite spectacular moored in the dock aside Tate Liverpool, a “dazzle ship”created by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, jointly commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool. This work is based on the use of ‘dazzle’ camouflage on ships in WWI (and WWII). Cruz-Diez has painted his colourful Op Art-like dazzle pattern on a historic pilot ship owned and conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum. His work references the British Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth’s Painting of Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919
So, is it worth a trip to Liverpool? Most certainly it is. I’m sure the Old Blind School offering will be blown away by the additional venues opening from 5 July onwards that will be showing examples of current practice.
The romantic notion of creativity is based on the apotheosis of nature evident in Romantic philosophy. We see this recapitulated in Freud who saw the unconscious mind as a state of nature. And being of his time namely the 19th century when colonialist powers saw themselves as superior to more primitive peoples, Freud understood the unconscious as essentially primitive. Accordingly the creative processes of dream and reverie which the Romantics had already identified was associated in Freudian psychoanalysis with primitivity. For Freud the unconscious Id (it) was a savage mind in contrast to the civilised mind of rational consciousness. Lacanian psychoanalysis is more sophisticated benefiting from the field of structuralist linguistics and understands unconscious processes such as dream as a form of language, as a thought process that may be different from rational conscious thinking but is certainly not inferior or more primitive. (more…)
Understanding contemporary art has become more difficult because since the 1990s there has been an increase in pluralism, a lack of a dominant strategy that an emerging artist can latch on to. This state of affairs seems to be associated with the rise of the globalised art market in the 1990s which displaced New York’s reign as the centre of the international art world, which lasted from approximately 1960 into the mid 1990s.
Abstraction dominated art in the first half of the 20c informed by either by a philosophy of sublimity, which offers an excellent ‘explanation’ of abstraction, or by a philosophy of techno-rationalistic utopianism (e.g. Constructivism and De Stijl) which offers an alternative ‘explanation’ (the machine aesthetic). But in the second half of the 20c abstraction was overtaken by something else. We might refer to that something else as ‘conceptual art’ or ‘postmodern art’ but shifting away from such labels it is worth trying to understand part of what this something else is and where it came from.
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In the postmodern context identity is a problem; we speak, for example, of the ‘decentred self’ or ‘decentred subject’. Certainly, we are all different but we are dependent on each other and our identity is to a significant extent socially and culturally constructed. Feminist theory has been very useful in terms of understanding the social construction of identity figuring it in terms of the ‘male gaze’ and the gaze of the ‘father’ (referring to the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan).
Romanticism in art is a movement that lasted approximately from the late 18c up to the invention of photography in 1839 and laid the basis for modernism. But Romanticism was much more than an art movement it crossed all the arts and was also a major movement in philosophy and aesthetics. The ideas generated by Romanticism still affect concepts of art today albeit in what one might call a ‘postmodern’ modality.
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Pak Sheung Chuen’s A Travel without Visual Experience, 2008 is an installation shown at the Liverpool Biennial 2012 and was one of the most interesting experiences offered by Tate Liverpool’s contribution to the Biennial. The installation consists of a totally darkened room which when illuminated by the flash of a camera reveals a wallpapered room with framed photographs.
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Kader Attia’s installation Untitled (Ghardaïa), 2012, is both attractive, somewhat fascinating and simultaneously disappointing. The centrepiece of the work is a reconstruction of Ghardaïa (an ancient, exotic Algerian town) via the ephemeral and culturally specific medium of couscous.
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This weekend Vladimir Umanets attacked a painting by Mark Rothko spraying it with a crudely dripping statement of ‘yellowism’, which refers to his manifesto of a new kind of art—evidently quite a political, even fundamentalist species
The Sky Arts Ignition Series is sponsoring Doug Aitken’s multi-screen video The Source (15 September 2012 – 13 January 2013) at Tate Liverpool and running concomitantly with the Liverpool Biennial 2012. The Source is certainly one of the most polished works available when visiting the Biennial. (more…)
Tino Sehgal’s These Associations performed in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern is certainly at the cutting edge of fine art practice in the 21c. But unsurprisingly it is also a reworking of ideas developed by the Situationist International (SI) in the 1960s. (more…)
What is Documenta? It is certainly not akin to the Venice Biennale or the other biennials that Venice has spawned. Documenta is not simply an exhibition of the latest talents in the world of art. It has a history and an agenda. Set up after the Second World War in a city (Kassel) almost totally destroyed by the Allied bombings, Documenta is an instance of Germany coming to terms with the tormented conflict between its cultural self-image and the barbarism unleashed by Germany during the Nazi period. That crisis of identity is ingrained in Documenta which can be understood as an attempt to place culture on the highest pedestal possible, one that can rise above the bodies piled up in Auschwitz ,Treblinka, Dachau, Sobibor and Breitenau (the latter is just outside Kassel). (more…)
The Hauptbahnhof is arguably the outstanding venue of Documenta 13 and I will provide a basic rundown of various artists on display there. (more…)
I will put up some more posts on Documenta 13 when I finish my vacation but for now I can provide a brief overview. The show is solid, exhausting in terms of layout and with some outstanding venues: The Hauptbahnhof, Neue Galerie, Documenta Halle and the Karlsaue Park and Orangerie. (more…)
The initial stirrings of the modern sublime occur in the Romantic period (late 18c to mid 19c) wherein notions of genius, unconscious creative process, the creativity inherent in childhood, the effects of mind altering drugs (e.g. opium) and loss of reason become objects of aesthetic attention. A modern notion of the sublime also intersects with the Romantic concept of the individual artist-genius in touch with mysterious unconscious creative forces. Genius became a framework for defining art in the absence of the social function provided by Church and courtly patronage; it enabled individuals to produce art even in the absence of social approbation and financial reward—the last outstanding heroes of this particular narrative are van Gogh and Gauguin. The sublime points to the mysterious internal realm that genius has access to.
[click image to enlarge] Coates communes with nature in a totally artificial manner. The difference between Coates and more romantically inclined artists lies in the fact that he is fairly pragmatic about his chosen strategy which is to attempt to communicate with the animal kingdom, the forces of nature, if you will. On the face of it this is very romantic notion, but Coates isn’t especially romantic. Of course we can intellectualise his strategy with references to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘becoming animal’ but it is also the case that Deleuze and Guattari are influenced by romanticist philosophy such as that of Nietzsche and Bergson. But we can just as well refer to the animism of African art that inspired artists at the turn of the nineteenth century and the interest in animals evident in Douanier Rousseau and Blue Rider artist such as Franz Marc and Kandinsky. (more…)
Hirst is not considered an able painter instead his skills lie in the direction of sculpture and installation. His approach is postmodern in the sense that there is an ironic and commodified edge to his work that makes it an amalgam of Francis Bacon’s darkness and Jeff Koons’ kitsch. (more…)
[click image to enlarge] The postmodern sensibility sees no spiritual pulse at the heart of nature apart from the schizoid/psychotomimetic experience promoted in the psychedelic ‘60s by David Cooper and R. D. Laing and taken up by Felix Guattari in France who later joined with the philosopher Gilles Deleuze to write Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Cooper and Laing’s ‘60s romanticist vision of liberation becomes amplified in Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘machinic’ interpretation of schizoid experience. But late capitalist consumerism and mass media saturation overwhelmed 1960s drug-induced delirium leaving us with only a scientific vision of nature as a machine, or more precisely machines within machines, systems within systems, processes within processes. (more…)
There is a sublime darkness permeating Gerhard Richter’s oeuvre. His boyhood was spent under the Nazis and WWII, we might understand, therefore, his work in terms of ‘art after Auschwitz’ paraphrasing Adorno’s famous quote: ‘To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric’. But one can elaborate on Adorno’s statement and suggest that artistic expressions of beauty after Auschwitz are if not barbaric then doubtful and ambiguous; but a poetry of sublimity is perfectly suited to the contradictions of the postmodern period. (more…)
Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, 2003, is one of the most significant works of the early 21c especially from the perspective of the sublime, and perhaps because of its relationship to sublimity. Entering this installation was like walking into one of Turner’s proto-impressionistic landscapes. The Weather Project is a pinnacle of installation art due to the intensity of the experience. The simulated sun and haze stimulated the good chemicals in the body-mind producing a sense of bliss. But the point Eliasson is trying to make in this remarkable work is counterintuitive and prototypically postmodern which is that the installation is pure theatre, pure contraption. This work is very distant from the Romanticism of Turner according to the intention of the artist it points to our separation from nature and even to the alien nature of nature. (more…)
Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (2002) was the most sophisticated theoretical text to accompany the new generation of artists that emerged in the 1990s. Compared with the writings of the New York-based October critics, however, who framed the postmodern appropriation movement of the 1980s (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Hans Haacke) Bourriaud’s text lacks theoretical depth and cohesion. Relational Aesthetics contains a section on the aesthetics of Guattari but Bourriaud pushes this to the end of his book as if he does not want to scare the reader away with too much theory. Most of the book consists of mentioning the names of artists and providing very short glosses on particular works which they have produced. The only sustained analysis of a particular artist is devoted to Felix Gonzalez-Torres. (more…)
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Bergson develops Nietzsche’s key concept of evolution as a creative process and follows Nietzsche in postulating a vital force of nature. For Nietzsche the latter was a ‘tremendous shaping, form-creating force’ (ungeheure gestaltende herformschaffende Gewalt), for Bergson it is élan vital, a vital impulse. For Nietzsche the forces that produce phenomena are considered in terms of “dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other dynamic quanta” (Colli 1967:; Schacht 1992:). Bergson continues this process-oriented trajectory by proposing that phenomena are fundamentally dynamic and interconnected.
“Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?” . George Bernard Shaw. (more…)
Nietzsche almost breaks with romanticism. He almost reaches into the postmodern scientific world: the world of quanta, complexity and connectionism. But, unsurprisingly given his historical position, he does not quite make it. This is plain when we examine the relationship between his central principle of the will to power and his reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution. What is problematic is that Nietzsche refused to accept natural selection–which we can now understand as deconstructing the boundary between inner and outer, organism/environment, animate/inanimate.
THIS IS A PART OF A DRAFT INTRODUCTION TO A BOOK I AM WORKING ON, ANY COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
This book is an attempt to explore in depth the issues raised by Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde. The term “transgressive aesthetics” in the context of this text refers to the shift in modern art perceived by Bürger from late romantic aestheticism, l’art pour l’art, to a mode of art that acquires an ethical dimension and which Bürger describes as the “reintegration of art into the praxis of life” (Bürger 1984), which we will shorten here to bringing art into life. A fundamental problem with the project of bringing art into life as described by Bürger is that its goals and presuppositions are not clearly articulated or interrogated. Bürger’s analysis is also suspect in the sense that it suggests a paradigm shift which is not borne out when we examine the movements which he suggests initiate that shift: namely, Dada and Surrealism. (more…)
THIS IS A PART OF A DRAFT INTRODUCTION TO A BOOK I AM WORKING ON, ANY COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
Transgressive aesthetics is ostensibly distinguished from aestheticism, l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake), by the incorporation of an ethical dimension. Upon examination, however, the relationship between ethics and transgressive aesthetics is profoundly equivocal. Aesthetically, evil and injustice are ultimately more interesting than goodness and justice. Without injustice and “evil” there would be no literature and there would be no political art. Surreptitiously aesthetic practice feeds on injustice and evil. Transgressive aesthetics can even become antiethical as is evident in the surrealists’ fascination with the Marquis de Sade and the philosophical and literary elaboration of sado-masochism in the writings of Bataille, we can also add the ethical aporia evident in the contemporary fine art of Paul McCarthy, Jason Rhoades, Gregor Schneider, Santiago Sierra to name but a few. (more…)
Although I love theory, and this essay has to be about love as it concerns humanity and death, I also have a great deal of sympathy with Pierre Bourdieu when he characterised theory as “conceptual gobbledygook” . Bourdieu was referring to Anglo-American rationalistic scientism in sociology when he wrote that, but he also turned a similar criticism towards the intelligentsia in his book Distinction. The philosophisation of the image has taken us away from any clear image of ourselves in contrast to the classical and Christian tradition with its heroism and hope. Although, this is not entirely true, because we have to agree with Nietzsche that the image of God on the cross is supremely sado-masochistic, a taste of things to come as it were. Even Nietzsche didn’t really get the picture, he was still wrapped up in classicism when he created the image of the Overman. After Auschwitz that man is now over. (more…)
For most of human history art has been associated with religion and spirituality. This changed with the advent of modernity. Religion was one of the victims of modernity and the rise of science. In this sense science had a massive impact on society. On the other hand modern science distances itself from morality: it lends itself to Kant’s division of human faculties into rational, moral and aesthetic. Science remains in the rational divorced from the task of creating values for society. And it can argued that art follows the logic of modernist specialisation and remains in the domain of the aesthetic, also divorced from morality. This is the phenomenon we can refer to as aestheticism. Anti-aestheticism fundamentally refers to a putative attempt to release art from aestheticism, to bring it “into life”, to make it a moral force resisting the alienating, nihilistic, materialism of capitalism.
What follows is a scholarly and insightful passage on Jasper Johns from Irving Sandler’s The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties, New York: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 183-193: (more…)
If you thought relational aesthetics (Bourriaud 2002) was something new then read this the celebrated fragment 116 in which Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) defined romantic poetry thusly: (more…)
Below is list of artist’s websites I am compiling. It could be useful for any artist thinking of setting up their own website to see the cyberspatial competition: (more…)
At its most profound, at its most “mad” (Breton) love is a total dissolution of ego, a total spiritual (there is no other word) fusion with the other as far away from violence and evil as it is possible to travel. Falling out of oneself into the other not even physically but purely empathically provides the ultimate sensation of being. What is the vehicle of communication here? Because it is not language, it is not even body language. Is it something else we cannot measure with any instrument apart from our body-mind? And achieving this most radical empathic depth/death of “mad love” is nothing less than ecstasy, an indescribable bliss, an inexpressible union with the other that sets out on a voyage into the abyss of being beyond self/other. Fused with each other and beyond each other, leaving language and even the body far behind. Only the word “love” is left over to describe it. And as for sex, that is a metaphor in comparison. (more…)
With regard to Damien Hirst’s recent auction success, a quote from Jean-François Lyotard: “Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: you listen to reggae; you watch a western; you eat McDonald’s at midday and local cuisine at night; you wear Paris perfume in Tokyo and dress retro in Hong Kong; knowledge is the stuff of TV game shows … Together, artist, gallery owner, critic, and public indulge one another in the Anything Goes — it is time to relax. But this realism of Anything Goes is the realism of money: in the absence of aesthetic criteria it is still possible to measure the value of works of art by the profits they realise.” (Lyotard 1992) (more…)
The romantic literary theorist Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) was, as Michael Weston explains, inspired by Kantian philosophy to the extent that he exclaimed “poetry and philosophy should be made one” (Schlegel 1971: 115; in Weston 2001: 8). And the basis of this modern philosophical poetry lies the fundamental unknowableness of the Kantian thing-in-itself, unknowable because according to Kant’s philosophy the synthesising genius of imagination effectively creates reality. (more…)
Nietzsche took Schopenhauer’s notions of Will (artintelligence) and Kunsttrieb (art drive, art impulse) and transformed them into his own Will to Power (Moore 2002). Nietzsche effected this transformation by connecting the art-drive with the theory of evolution. This is of considerable significance because evolution is the most creative process of which we know, it created the mind that now reflects upon it. (more…)
The romantic concept of genius is the foundation stone of the modern and postmodern concept of the “fineness” of fine art. Without it the ability of the fine art institution to create its canon of “great artists” and the capacity of the art market to sell faeces and urinals as precious objects would collapse. But at the same time this concept is insidious because it focuses on the least significant aspect of art: its supposed “fineness”. In order to understand the concept of genius, which has insinuated itself into the popular unconscious, we need to take a look at the phenomenon of romanticism which arose in late 18th-century Europe and had a very significant impact upon art of the 19th century, which in turn laid the foundation for 20th century modern and postmodern art.
I would like to draw your attention to a new website for the Kikit Visuosonic project http://www.visuosonic.org/ I was involved with KikitVisuosonic in its early stages and hence have some particular insight into its mission. Two artists are involved: Maurice Owen an Russell Richards. As with most significant art the founding idea was quite simple, to create an interaction between sound and interactive digital visualisation. From the beginning, however, this simple notion contained within itself the longstanding goal of attaining a Gesamtkunstwerk—a total work of art. (more…)
Humanity’s self-image was redefined in the modern era not by art but by the mass medium of photography. Take for example the photograph from the American Civil War reproduced here (click image left). Previously artists had mythologized war as heroic due to the fact that their patrons were the ones who waged the wars. But the photographs of carnage during the American Civil War (1861-65) represent one of the first occasions when the general population could begin to see war and human behaviour from a much more pragmatic and demythologised perspective.
The term ”quiddity” as used in art theoretical writing refers an aesthetic that places emphasis upon the objecthood, or objectness of the work of art rather than its representational or metaphorical aspect. Such emphasis is principally associated with American minimal art which was presaged by Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting 1951 (artintelligence) and began in earnest with Frank Stella’s black paintings in the late 1950s. Stella’s black paintings were self-referential, they were paintings about painting. In this sense they paralleled the work of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns who foregrounded the materiality of painting. There is also a family resemblance between the semiotic blankness of John’s American flag paintings and Stella’s use of black stripes.
This text is an extension of the post entitled “The Beginning of the End of Painting“, attempting to go deeper into the historical roots of the decline of painting. The notion of the “end” of painting possesses almost mythic significance due to the fact that for centuries painting was the principal defining feature of fine art. It was during the 1960s that painting lost its centuries-old lead, falling into the background, surpassed by new forms of art that could not even be defined firmly as sculpture, although they sometimes possessed a family resemblance to that medium. (more…)
In my last post I mentioned that I was disappointed to find that the venerable American art critic Donald Kuspit had beat me to the post with the title of his book “The End of Art”. Even before I read Kuspit’s book, however, I knew that it was antithetical to the position that I would take. Kuspit is a follower of a conservative apotheosis of modernist abstraction theorised and championed by the influential American art critic Clement Greenberg. In this post I will engage in a critical enquiry into aspects of Kuspit’s position.
A couple of weeks ago the title for a book sprang into my mind “The End of Art” it seemed like a very good title for a book that I would like to write. I was rather disappointed, therefore, to learn that this book had already been written. But, of course, when I actually got hold of this book—which is by the art critic Donald Kuspit—it was not the book that I wanted to write.
Born in Germany 1968 Wolfgang Tillmans moved to London in the 1980s and began his career photographing “street culture, Gay Pride and the rise of the clubbing generation” (Reynolds) for lifestyle magazines The Face and i-D. He came into prominence as a fine artist in 2000 when he won the prestigious Turner prize, and the Hamburger Bahnhof survey exhibition includes a reconstruction of his Turner prize installation. (more…)
Athanasia Kyriakakos and Dimitris Rotsios’s remarkable video-sculptural installation Intron (click image left) was housed in the Greek pavilion on the occasion of the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003. Intron was a collaboration between Athanasia Kyriakakos and architect Dimitris Rotsios. What was noteworthy about this work is that it brought together a variety of innovative features. (more…)
Tatiana Trouvé’s sculptural installation (click image left) Black Polder  at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 was memorable. Like a great deal of contemporary sculpture it plays with narrative in a non-narrative, quasi-abstractionist, mode. In this case the visual game was complex and rewarding. There is something especially fascinating about scale in the context of sculptural imagination. A practising artist constantly sees objects in her everyday life that she can transpose into sculpture.
Photography was largely spurned by the world of fine art for over one hundred and twenty years (the daguerreotype was invented 1839). There were some notable exceptions such as dada photomontage, surrealist photography and constructivist photography—but these were always on the fringes of the principal activities which were painting and sculpture. It was only in the 1970s when conceptual art began to use photography as a primary mode of expression that photography, finally, took centre stage. This became reinforced by the fact that conceptual photography segued in the late 1970s into the postmodern appropriation movement (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine) that dominated the international art scene in the 1980s. (more…)
Pae White’s recent exhibition Too Much Night, 2008, (click image left) at Neugerriemschneider in Berlin, was attempt at a baroque installation. The overall “installation experience”, however, was not especially powerful. Installation art in the 1990s and 2000s has developed various effective strategies such as immersion, narrative, and exploration. This installation was not really immersive, it was too much like a shop window display for that. But it did have a non-linear narrative dimension that demanded some, but not a great deal, of exploration. (more…)
Christian Jankowski’s exhibition at Klosterfelde in Berlin should be of interest to anyone concerned with the aesthetics of kitsch. Kitsch if we remember was what the champion of classical abstraction, the art critic Clement Greenberg put forward as the antithesis of true art (Greenberg). Greenberg’s attack on kitsch was informed by Marxist aesthetics and one of the problems of Marxist aesthetics is that it cannot determine what ought to be the essential role of fine art in the context of capitalism. (more…)
It appears that the two principal forces keeping sculpture alive today are: firstly, the art market which always needs new objects to sell; and, secondly, the art education system which is largely unable to provide students with skills in the newer media that are more able to critically communicate in the culture in which we live. It was the sculptor Carl Andre who said why produce new objects when there are already too many, but if you can turn them into gold, and it doesn’t really matter what they look like, then why complain? (more…)
One of the more interesting works on view in the Neue Nationalgalerie was Mine, Ours, Everywhere II, 2008, by Isabel Lima. This consisted of a small square canvas (click image left) that carried various dirt marks on its surface which tied in extremely well with Thea Djordjadze’s enormous dirty window, which was one of the highpoints of the Neue Nationalgalerie aspect of the Berlin Biennial. One of the rather odd things about Mine, Ours, Everywhere II was that it was accompanied by a label. This was strange because none of the other works in the exhibition had labels. (more…)
There is a scene in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, 1999, when Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) says to Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) ’do you want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed?’ From the standpoint of an aesthetics of contemporary art this is actually quite a significant scene. (more…)
In the context of fine art the viewer means nothing. If a writer or filmmaker does not please the cultural consumer his or her work will fail. The same is true for music, design, architecture and the performing arts. There is no such economic imperative for the fine artist who only needs to please the art institution—a closed system with its own economic engine in the form of collectors, auction houses and state funded museums. What the average viewer thinks about art is irrelevant.
There are three main venues for the Berlin Biennial and in my last post I dealt with the main venue, the KW Institute. In this post I will attempt to tackle the work on exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie. However, my ability to do so is hindered by the fact that in this particular venue it was difficult to know who did what because there were no labels. Instead, the visitor is provided with a rather cryptic “map” in the Biennial leaflet. The map is populated by shapes that sometimes appeared unrelated to what was there; it is the worst mode of navigating an exhibition that I have experienced (click on thumbnail image left). (more…)
The most engaging works in the KW aspect of the 5th Berlin Biennial were predominently videos. I have already posted on the best of these and from the hits on YouTube you appear to agree with me that Ania Molska, is especially praiseworthy, and I would add Patricia Esquivias‘ Folklore #1 which becomes more significant (from a socio-aesthetic standpoint) the more I think about it. David Maljkovic’s video Lost Memories from These Days also deserves honourable mention, because it is a little social-critical gem, especially as we approach the fortieth anniversary of May 1968. (more…)
I found Manon De Boer’s contribution to the 5th Berlin Biennial Two Times 4′33″, 2007-8 significant not because I liked it—I thought it was tedious—but because it is an especially clear sign of the degeneration of conceptual art into pretentiousness, self-absorption, and repetition. This was not a work of art at all, it was a non-musical, non-performance with a banal attempt at art tacked on at the end. (more…)
In previous posts on the Biennial I have focused on video, in this post I will treat the work of Czech artist Katerina Šedá which was the best sculptural material on exhibition in the Biennial’s principal venue, the KW Institute. In addition, Šedá also had an apparently related grunge sculptural installation in the Skulpturenpark, which was accompanied by a document (see end of post) which suggested that it might have some kind of “social” aspect, although this was expressed in a very vague manner. (more…)
The most interesting works, in my opinion, at the KW institute—and indeed the Biennial as a whole—were videos and I have already posted on two. The next work I would like to treat is by Patricia Esquivias it is entitled Folklore #1, 2006. DVD 15min. This video is intriguing due to its mixture of anthropology, memory and absurdism. (more…)
Ania Molska’s two video projections W=F*s (work), 2008, and P=W:t (power), 2007-2008 were projected onto corner walls in the KW Institute so as to function as a single video installation. It was a very effective combination. (more…)
The sculpture and graphic work in the KW Institute aspect of the 5th Berlin Biennial was unimpressive, and I will demonstrate this with some images in a later post. But in these initial posts I will treat the more interesting aspects of what I saw at the Biennial. In the KW Institute the more involving work consisted mostly of video and photography. By photography I mean Kohei Yoshiyuki’s Park series taken between 1971-79, documenting sexual encounters in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi and Aoyama parks. (more…)
David Maljkovic’s video Lost Memories from These Days, 2006-2008 (6min loop)—exhibited in the KW Institute at the 5th Berlin Biennial, 2008—is quite a remarkable deconstruction of advertising spectacle. Like most quality art it is simple in conception. Instead of prostrating themselves in a state of orgasmic rapture on the cars in this particular advertisement-like mise-en-scene, the female models appear to be bored to death. (more…)
It is a little bit of a shock seeing the 5th Berlin Biennial’s so-called “sculpturepark” (click image left), and it has to be added immediately that there are things going on around the corner, a video about a woman who fell in love with the Berlin wall and a sound installation by Susan Hiller; one has to follow the Biennial map for the park. But this piece of wasteland is indeed a bona fide part of the 5th Berlin Biennial. As such, as visitors, we thought we would use the wasteland sculpturepark as an opportunity to make our own contributions to the Biennale: which I think is in the spirit of truly progressive contemporary art, view on: (more…)
This sculpture by Donald Judd (1928-1994) is a rather nice object. One could see it in the home or garden, perhaps, (if it is aluminium). But there is one problem, which is its price: around several hundred thousand dollars, some larger pieces go up to a million or even several million. That probably doesn’t seem strange, after all it is fine art. But Judd didn’t actually make his work, it was fabricated in a factory.
In a previous post I showed how painting began the process of its own elimination, or more exactly its transition from being one of the defining categories of artness, to becoming just one more colour on the artist’s palette. In this post I will outline the beginning of the end of sculpture as a defining category. The story begins with minimalism, or more precisely it begins with abstraction, which along with the Readymade was ultimately responsible for the subordination of painting as a defining category of what is or is not “art”. (more…)
Vicki Robertson kindly informed me of this remarkable situational intervention in Grand Central Station, New York. I cite it here as evidence that the ideas formulated by the Situationists in the 1950s and ’60s are still alive. (more…)
As we approach the fortieth anniversary of May ‘68 here is a relevant juxtaposition of image and text, a quotation from Sadie Plant’s The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age: “A staggering abundance of commodity choices is offered, and identification is demanded not with a single commodity but the commodity system itself: it is the spectacle as a whole which is advertised and desired. The lights, the opportunities, the shops, the excitement: the attraction of capitalist societies has always been their glamorous dynamism, the surfeit of commodities and the ubiquity of choice they offer. But in practice, anything can be chosen except the realm in which choice is possible. One can choose to be, think, and do anything, but as the roles, ideas, and lifestyles possible within capitalist society are allowed to appear only to the extent that they appear as commodities, the equivalence and homogeneity of commodities is inescapable in the most private aspects of life. The shops always carry everything except the thing one really wants; they are ‘full of things’.” (Plant 1992: 24). Andreas Gursky’s photographs average $100,000 a piece. (more…)
The 1960s was the period in which deconstructive art came into ascendency and painting lost its grip as the principal medium of fine art. But we can trace the evolution of this development further back. Certain individuals pursued the deconstructive turn in the 1950s, notably Robert Rauschenberg and Yves Klein. And, as always, we can trace the genealogy back further into early twentieth century art; specifically, to Cubist collage, Kurt Schwitters’ trash paintings, Dada’s philosophy of “anti-art”, the Dada and Surrealist concepts of chance, automatism, and montage, as well as the Duchampian Readymade. But, perhaps, the first icon for the mythic “end of painting” was created in 1915 when Kasimir Malevich produced his Black Square painting. (more…)
One of the stranger pieces exhibited in the Italian pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale was Mario Garcia Torres’ What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (In 36 Slides), 2004-2006. This work consists of 50 black-and-white slides which advance slowly into one another via a dissolve effect, the whole show lasting nine minutes. At Venice the projection was very dark which intensified the notion that these images had possibly been discovered in a shoebox.
In 2001 the Scottish artist Martin Creed won the prestigious Turner Prize for his work Work No. 227, The Lights Going On and Off, 2000. The award was greeted by a furore of protest in the British press, and not only the tabloid press. One wonders why we are still surprised by works such as The Lights Going On and Off. (more…)
Willie Doherty’s Non-Specific Threat, 2004, is a simple and powerful single channel, video projection. The camera moves in a circular tracking shot around a tough looking baldheaded man with a gold chain around his neck and a denim jacket. The mise-en-scène appears to be a derelict warehouse. It’s the kind of place which might be chosen for the purposes of torture and/or murder. As the camera tracks slowly around this threatening presence a male voiceover, disembodied from the central figure, makes a series of cryptic statements punctuated by pregnant pauses. For example: (more…)
Ever is All Over, 1997, consists of two overlapping video projections (2 min 38 sec). I saw this at the Beyond Cinema exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof Gallery in Berlin in 2007. There are two aspects of the video on the left there is a landscape with rolling green fields populated with an exotic flower popularly known as the Redhot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria). This idyllic landscape, with its connotations of paradise, is projected at an angle to create some anamorphic distension that contributes to its dreaminess as does a lyrical, musical soundtrack provided in collaboration with Anders Guggisberg. (more…)
Video can quite effectively create a highly immersive effect when it takes on a sculptural dimension. Take for instance Ergin Cavusoglu’s Point of Departure, 2005, a multi-screen video installation with an array of screens designed to allow the viewer to ‘walk into the picture’. (more…)
In 1990 Tom Friedman took a container of red eraser shavings and scattered them on the floor in the shape of a soft-edged circle. How do we understand this gesture as art? One of the things that we can do is look for precedents. Below is a typical target painting by Kenneth Noland on the right of it a painting by Mark Rothko. (more…)
Tom Friedman’s work has the ability to fascinate due to its conflation of simplicity with complexity, the mundane with the metaphysical. This aspect of his work is particularly evident in Untitled (Total), 2000, which was made by cutting up nine identical cereal packets into small squares which where then matched up against each other as if one were putting together nine identical jigsaw puzzles, but in three dimensions, creating a considerable spatial problem. In an interview Friedman noted: “It took me a while to figure out how to do this, but it’s based on matrices.” (in Cooper 2001: 27). This statement is informative because it indicates a significant understanding of mathematics, in particular the application of matrices to geometric transformations.
Ceal Floyer’s work takes the Readymade aesthetic to its logical conclusion. For Nail Biting Performance, 2001, she walked onto the stage at Birmingham Symphony Hall immediately prior to the beginning of a concert and bit off her fingernails into the microphone. This performance was hosted by the Ikon Gallery Birmingham (England) and an Ikon Gallery text reports: “Her ‘nail biting performance’ took stage-fright as its subject, the artist, bit her fingernails into a microphone for five minutes. The sight of her alone amongst the musicians’ empty chairs, accompanied by the amplified sound of nervousness, was affecting and tense.” (Ikon). (more…)
Isa Genzken’s installation for the German pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007, was a tour de force in the genre of grunge chic. One had an intimation of this even at the doorway of the pavilion courtesy of a massive pile of German Vogue magazine offprints of an article on Genzken’s show. (more…)
This post is a critical analysis of an Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (England) publication From Arkhipov to Zittel: Selected Ikon Off-Site Projects 2000 — 2001. I think that it is a particularly interesting document because it cites numerous instances that operate at the edge of art, and some that, in my opinion, teeter over the brink into the oblivion of non-art.
I came upon this image in a student’s essay, no year was given but it is a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, the title is also uncertain, perhaps it is “Do you love me? Do you love me?” because that is carved on the sculpture’s base. The significance of the work, for me, lies in a quotation related to the work which the student found and which, I believe, raises an interesting issue. (more…)
The video footage provided below consists of an extract from a major presentation given by Toshio Iwai at Ars Electronica: Simplicity the Art of Complexity, in 2006. In this segment he gives insight into the inspiration for his remarkable visual-musical interfaces such as his gallery-based interactive visual music installations, his compilation of such ideas into Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS and his invention of a new visual based musical instrument the Tenori-On, which Iwai developed in conjunction with Yamaha (link 1 [uk] link 2 [global]). (more…)
Where do we draw the distinction between vision and sound? To those of us not endowed with the gift of synaesthesia (although more, or even all, of us may have aspects of this talent at the level of unconscious cognition) that question might seem easy to answer but the distinction is becoming blurred. Note how some of the most outstanding pieces of “sculpture” at the Munster Sculpture Project 07 were actually sound pieces. I refer to Suchan Kinoshita’s Chinese Whispers installation and Susan Philipsz’s The Lost Reflection. (more…)
Pablo Valbuena’s Augmented Sculpture v. 1.2 is a remarkable synthesis of modernist-minimalist sculpture and video projection. Strangely this fascinating piece was not shown at the main Ars Electronica 2007 exhibition space in the OK Centrum Gallery but was instead relegated to a rather decrepit building on the streets of Linz. Fortunately we wandered around the town long enough to stumble upon it. (more…)
The German-Venezuelan musician Niobe’s (Yvonne Cornelius) performance at Ars Electronica in 2006 was a voluptuous combination of electronic music, video projection and soulful vocal prowess. The videoscape painted a sin city collage with casino signs and high rise buildings drifting by as one drove through the nightscape yearning for the next sensual fix. Niobe was a powerful presence on stage and pushed the theme of potentially fatal sensuality extremely well, dressed in black with an extravagant headdress that was reflected in the videoscape in the recurrent image of a silhouetted female dancer. (more…)
In another post I wrote about the “Documenta 12 effect” deploying a Baudrillard-like methodology of pessimistic futurology. The endpoint of the fictional Documenta 12 effect is a Pruitt Igoe-like demolition of the institution of fine art: which from an anti-capitalist standpoint may not be such a bad thing. (more…)
Hu Xiaoyuan’s installation A keepsake I cannot give away, 2005, (photo-detail on left by Michael J. Hussman) was given a great deal of prominence in Documenta 12 and for good reason, she is a genuine discovery. The only previous exhibition I can find for her is in 2005: Mahjong–Chinesische Gegenwartskunst (Chinese Contemporary Art) at the Kunstmuseum Bern (Artfacts). I have criticised the curation of Documenta 12 because a lot of work on exhibition either wasn’t very visually inspiring or was presented with such minimal labelling that crucial contextual information was kept from the audience. This was not really the case for Hu Xiaoyuan’s work although, given that she was a new name, a little more context than the no frills–name, title, date, medium, size–label would have been welcome. (more…)
In another post I referred to the “Documenta 12 effect” which refers to the manner in which the artistic director of Documenta 12, Roger Buergel, attempted a transvaluation of fine art by focusing on work that was visually uninteresting. The pieces exhibited by Alejandra Riera and Ueinzz at Documenta 12 fit into this category. Yet they are of great value because they point to a possible end to the erosion of category “art” initiated by the viral impact of the Duchampian Readymade; due to the fact that they indicate a point at which we can justifiably state “this is not art”. (more…)
Yoshimasa Kato and Yuichi Ito received honourable mention in the category interactive art for their work White Lives on Speaker, at Ars Electronica 2007. Remarkably the artists responsible for this fascinating work are 25 and 24 years old respectively. As the video (VIDEO CLIP) demonstrates the work entails hooking up a member of the audience to an electroencephalograph and feeding the subject’s brain waves into software (Max/Msp) that transposes them into audio frequency output that can power a heavy-duty loudspeaker.
Combing through my photo-documentation Documenta 12 I stumbled upon the work of Hito Steyerl. I did not know anything about her when I encountered her work at Documenta 12, but researching for this post I now think Steyerl is one of the few gems in that extremely flawed exhibition. But when I saw the work she exhibited at Documenta 12 it did not make a big impression, and I did not spend too much time with it. This is not especially surprising, however, due to the fact that her video projection was exhibited in an atrium. In retrospect, it is almost mind-numbing to think how a curator (in this case Roger M. Buergel) could throw away one of the small number of potentially interesting works in his show by positioning it so badly. (more…)
I am revisiting my folder of photographs and videos taken at Documenta 12 in order to begin an archaeological investigation of why such a major exhibition failed. One of the theories evident in the reception of Documenta 12 is that many of the artists were unknown. One can take this at face value, but there were artists in the exhibition who are well known and some who, although less known, have acquired a significant degree of recognition within the Euro-American art system, one such is the Indian documentary filmmaker and artist Amar Kanwar. (more…)
Susan Philipsz’s The Lost Reflection, 2007, is a sound installation under the Tormin Bridge (Torminbruecke) on Lake Aa that was commissioned by the Munster Sculpture Project 07. It was one of the most outstanding contributions to the 2007 Sculpture Project. The fact that another sound work by Suchan Kinochita, was also outstanding indicates that sculptural installation is beginning to lose its grip after over fifteen years of sharing aesthetic ascendancy with video art. Some of the weakest pieces in Munster this year were fag ends of endless sculptural installation variations on the Readymade theme. (more…)
Rebecca Horn’s Der Zwinger was a rerun of a site-specific, immersive installation Horn had contributed to a previous Munster Sculpture Project and which was resurrected for the 2007 Sculpture Project. The venue was an historic building and part of the documentation accompanying the exhibition included a photograph of the building from the Nazi era, the caption for the photograph draws the viewer’s attention to the swastika in the front window. (more…)
Annette Wehrmann’s contribution to Munster Sculpture Project 07, Aaspa: Wellness am See (AaSpa Wellness by the Lake) consisted of a simulated building site. Her work can be understood as a symptom of a more general aesthetic zeitgeist in which artists express a desire to be socially useful and immediately deconstruct this outrageous yearning. (more…)
Minimalism just won’t go away, in spite of the surge of grunge that accompanied art of the 1990s. The Swedish artist Jacob Dahlgren (b. 1970) shows just how minimalism can be revitalised by leveraging the power of ‘interactivity’ .
Rudolf Stingel’s, Untitled, 2003 was a massive pseudo-minimalist attempt at an interactive installation installed at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. The installation consisted of covering the walls of a small ante-room and a vast main gallery with aluminium foil-coated insulating material punctuated by pseudo-minimalist wall reliefs created by Stingel out of Styrofoam sheets. But, ostensibly, the principal purpose of this work is not to demonstrate the artist’s genius but rather give the viewer a go. The question can be posed, however, as to what exactly the viewer was given a go at. (more…)
Rivane Neuenschwander’s […], 2004, graced the Arsenale on the occasion of the 51st Venice Biennale. The work is of considerable interest due to it being one of the rare attempts when a fine artist tries to break down the barrier between the audience and the work of art. (more…)
In previous posts I have been very critical of the curator of Documenta 12, Roger Buergel, but in this post I would like to stand back from any sense of personal annoyance and look at Documenta 12 with as much objectivity that I can muster.
I have been trying to sort out the hundreds of photographs I took at the Venice Biennale in 2005 and I came across Maria de Corral’s curatorial statement for the Italian pavilion. (more…)
Michal Rovner’s, Against Order? Against Disorder?, 2003, filled the Israeli pavilion in the Venice Biennale of 2003 providing a highly effective, multi-faceted and thought provoking immersive installation.
Regina José Galindo’s performance Who Can Erase the Traces?, 2003, was shown in video form at the Venice Biennale in 2005, where she won a Golden Lion award in the category “artists under 30″ for the works she exhibited which also included Himenoplastia: a video of an operation she underwent to reconstruct her hymen. Regarding her use of her body as an art form Galindo has stated: “My body not like an individual body, but a social body, a collective body, a global body. To be, or to reflect, through me, her, his, their experience; because all of us, we are at the same time ourselves and others.” (Aucklandtriennial). (more…)