Friday, July 07, 2006

Survival Test for Art

Jonathan Jones offers an amusing idea on the Guardian's art blog, Culture Vulture. He notes how distracting the installation of Howard Hodgkin's work at the Tate Britian is (each room's walls are painted a different, apparently unpleasant color):

What is most distracting is the variety. If the entire show were hung against black walls, you would get used to it. The constant variation in background hue implies a running commentary - you wonder why the particular section you're in is one colour rather than another.
But despite the distraction, Jones notes, the Hodgkins hold their own. This leads him to the aforementioned amusing idea:

Those sumptuous painted oval panels that look like they should be in a decaying stately home above a marble mantelpiece are exhibited in a setting as bizarrely inappropriate as if they were propped in the street. And they survive. The vulgar treatment reveals a core of scintillating imagination in Hodgkin's sensual smears that convinced me, who arrived a sceptic, that here is a real painter.

So perhaps curators should deliberately subject artists to the most unhelpful display they can think of, just to see if the art can stand it. Video art should be shown in brightly lit galleries, or on primetime television before Dr Who. Drawings by Michelangelo should be exhibited at the White Cube gallery in London. Damien Hirst should show at the RA summer exhibition. Let chaos rule and quality glisten like a diamond in the morass.
A reader pricks Jones' balloon a bit in the comments:

It might be worth commenting that painting the walls of the gallery is Hodgkin's own request-cum-custom that first began when he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984 - imperative to 'compliment' his paintings.
But his conclusion is still light enough fare to make me wonder on a sunny Friday. Given an informed audience, would your average art video hold its own against primetime television? Would a contemporary drawing disappear among the masterpieces hanging in the Grande Galerie in the Louvre? Or is this just a silly idea?


Blogger carla said...

I regularly "test" my work by viewing it with thrift store paintings. If it can hold my attention when placed beside my Carmen Miranda find...

7/07/2006 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Heather Lowe said...

Some work is extremely fine and
sophisticated. To place it beside a trash dump won't work. It is the same as sitting in a restaurant, having a sumptuous feast and trying to carry on an intelligent conversation.Then some loud mouths sit next to you and begin laughing
outloud, being obnoxious,etc. that you cannot hear one another or even think.

7/07/2006 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Would a conemporary drawing disappear among the masterpieces hanging in the Grande Galerie in the Louvre?

That's what it's ultimately all about

7/07/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger carla said...

It's a checking device for physical presence in a work. A large percentage of the thrift work have great visual interest. I want to know how even my most subtle paintings work as real world objects.

7/07/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

A work shouldn't have to compete with anything but it's intended purpose. Creating the perfect environment for it's exhibit is expected.

7/07/2006 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I generally drive my work out to the desert and leave it by the side of the road. The pieces that find their way back to the studio are the true survivors.

7/07/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous nolan simon said...

Don't a lot of German artists do this kind of stuff to their work all the time? I'm thinking of Krebber and Kippenberger in particular; doing anything they can to shoot themselves in the foot. Georg Baselitz showing paintings upside down, Krebber draping posters and garland over paintings, and Kippenberger crushing a sculpture to fit it into the gallery. I know this is all things done to the work itself, but it seemed pertinent when I started writing.

7/07/2006 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

The trasition from Matthew Barney to Doctor Who might not even be perceptible!

7/07/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger rb said...

The Doctor, Romana and Duggan rush frantically back to the Tardis to try to reach the Jaggeroth ship before the Count. As they reach the gallery the Tardis is being contemplated by two art critics, played by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron:

CLEESE: For me the most curious thing about the piece is its wonderful a-functionalism.

BRON: Yes -- I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a work of art, its structure of line and colour is obviously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.

CLEESE: And since it has no call to be here the art lies in the fact that it is here.

The Doctor and his companions rush past them and enter the Tardis. The door closes and, with the critics still contemplating it, the Tardis dematerialises.

BRON: (now staring at the empty gallery space left by the vanished Tardis): Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.

Cleese nods sagely in agreement, and with a gesture signifies "superb."

-- Douglas Adams and Graham Williams Doctor Who "City of Death" Part Four


7/07/2006 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger serena said...

would your average art video hold its own against primetime television? Would a contemporary drawing disappear among the masterpieces hanging in the Grande Galerie in the Louvre? Or is this just a silly idea?

NO, it's not a silly idea at all, and I believe this rarification and preciousness of 'fine art' context is what gives a lot of art its (deservedly) small audience. It strikes me that a great many artists, particularly 'new genres' artists (although traditional genre artists are definitely not exempt) make a fetish of their own ignorance and lack of technical skill. I have seen (or walked out on) tons of 'art' video footage that could not hold a candle to a car commercial, in any sense--not technically, not conceptually, not compositionally.

I don't believe in subjecting all art to deliberately assaultive circumstances. The proper context plays an overarching role in how art is perceived. But sometimes the context is literally all there is to the art, and when that happens, art itself collapses.

7/07/2006 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Edward, what an evocative post!

The Museum of Contemporary art in La Jolla has this gallery with a fantastic view of La Jolla Cove and the pacific ocean. I have seen work that took on this great view, that was totally overshadowed by the view, and that totally blew the view out of the water.

Everything is relative. It was great to have a barometer of some kind of magnificence and power right there.

7/07/2006 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Re. Serena's comment: getting into an argument about what is or is not art is an express ticket to argumentative oblivion, and consequently it's easier to say that anything presented as art is art, now let's talk about how good it is. But in the case she brings up, the one in which the art has nothing but a favorable context, I have to wonder whether that's such a great concession. I think it's fair to make these comparisons, to similar art, to dissimilar art, to non-art. Not all the comparisons will make sense, which is itself valuable information. I believe in the exercise of taste and judgment. Compare away.

7/07/2006 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous bradc said...

Susan Hitch interviewed Howard Hodgkin on BBC Radio 3's "Night Waves" - they talked some of Hodgkin's very particular choice of wall color. Unfortunately it was on the 15-June and BBC radio only keeps podcasts on for 7 days. I listened only in passing and unfortunately no longer have it.

7/08/2006 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Why not place strobe lights around the paintings? Random flashes. Or how about showing sculpure in a pitch black room. Cover the floor with marbles and tie everyone's hands before they enter.

The British can be obstinately disagreeable about anything at all. That might be what produces such trends as the YBAs. Negative mind set as a cultural imperative. Consider it a warning, youngsters.

(I just 'celebrated' my 50th, so I can say that)

7/08/2006 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous sconstanse said...

It seems to me that the question here is how much environment affects the viewing of art.

What if art was shown in spaces that included comfy chairs and hot tea?

7/08/2006 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Susan's on to something. The white wall laboratory approach makes it easier to see what the art is in its most clinical sense, its materials, its physicality, formal aspects, etc. I even built a white-walled room to test-drive my work.

But in another sense the white wall laboratory always seemed wrong to me, like trying to understand an animal by removing it from its natural environment, placing it in a wire cage and staring at it from all angles.

Even in the white wall lab, other viewers, artworks in the distance, light from nearby windows, temperature, humidity and, hell, the mood I brought with me, all factor in to the experience of the work.

In authentic circumstances, art both competes against and communicates with aspects of its environment. I find this validating of art's relevance and importance, and I find it interesting to see the way environment shapes art's message.

I am interested in seeing art presented in a likely setting, although I realize that arranging this could very well be a strategic nightmare. What, after all, might constitute a likely setting?

Or is likely a bad word in this context, and should it instead be a provocative setting?

7/08/2006 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lime green interior ought to be the standard for painting. Video obviously needs a crimson wall. I'm very clear on that!

7/09/2006 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

It's a standard joke among film students that if your short film doesn't get into Sundance or any of the other festivals, you can try to pitch it to museums as video art. Of course, these are folks who secretly daydream about making the next blockbuster popcorn movie.

7/10/2006 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

When I was in cinema (I studied both art and cinema) I would present a video installation sometimes but the people there clearly didn't have a clue what I was doing or why I was doing it.
Of course these people never had seen a film by Sokourov or Bela Tarr so the environment was quite boring (for a school reputated in the matter).

But it's true that I cringe sometimes as how much crap videos are shown in galleries and sold for expensive bucks. There is this resurgency of video art that
are in fact short narrative films or animations presented as video art and I find this trend irritating and pretentious. I mean..the fact that they are presented in a loop in a gallery but you get credits each time the thing ends..come on, give me a break. Even Matthew Barney knows when to use a cinema room.

Cedric Caspesyan

PS: on the topic of comparing I say, yes, why not, try it.

7/10/2006 12:46:00 PM  

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