Monday, April 02, 2007

I've Seen the Future and It's Complicated (or Does "Good" Matter Anymore?)

This is likely to be a rambling mess of an argument, I can tell you, because I can barely keep it all connected in my head, but that's OK, because a vision of London as the art center (make that centre) of the world with potentially complicated subthemes is what's spurred me to attempt to tackle this topic. Of course, it might be merely my Monday morning, pre-caffeinated response to a promotional blurring of art and advertising, but to my mind, it has both positive and potentially negative implications. First the vision:
One of the reasons why London is considered the artistic hot spot of the world today is that its contemporary art scene has broken completely out of its box: artists make rock music; Tate collaborates with musicians; artists have become fashion icons and fashion makes use of art. London has managed to develop a contemporary art scene that is genuinely popular with all social groups; the class-divide between high and low culture has been overcome, without, however, the museums having to slum it with mindless populist exhibitions. The baffling pseudo-sacrality that has been the most the off-putting aspect of contemporary art for many people for so many decades is now rare in the British art scene. And the cross-over is also in the marketing, where the museums are getting as inventive as the commercial sector and the commercial sector is wising up to what art can do for it.
OK, so you ready for this brave new world?


[A]t the huge department store, Selfridges, where, to coincide with “Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design” at the Victoria & Albert Museum (until 22 July), a series of surrealist experiences has been created for a project called “This is not a shop” (reference: Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”). A huge eyeball (reference: Georges Bataille, Dali and Bunuel) protrudes from its façade, staring manically at the 123,000 people a day who walk down Oxford St, London’s mass shopping street.

Paris-based Dadadandy has created a fantasy palace in the neo-baroque Ultralounge with illusionary devices such as semi-transparent mirrors, distorted rooms, smoke machines and works of art inspired by the 1938 International Surrealists Exhibition (until 24 June).

All till receipts, from the delicatessen department to lingerie, include a surrealist poem at the bottom, a different one for every week of the exhibition. There is surrealist food, surrealist fashion, happenings of various sorts, and a specialist shop designed by the cult architectural practice F.A.T (fashion, architecture, taste) selling special surrealist produce.

Following on from Elsa Schiaparelli and Dali, who created shop windows in the 1930s, John Galliano, Viktor & Rolf, Maison Martin Margiela, Rolf Sachs and Moschino have been given a free hand by Selfridges to design its shop windows on Oxford St, so long as they express the spirit of Surrealism (until 29 April).

The person behind “This is not a shop”, is Alannah Weston (35), a member of the Canadian family that bought Selfridges in 2003, ex-journalist and then curator. The store already had a unique art programme, using its shop windows to show art, such as Sam Taylor-Wood in 2000, Frida Kahlo’s dresses during the show of the Mexican artist at Tate, Samuel Fossa during the Hayward Gallery’s African art show, but Ms Weston is taking it further.
What I find most complicated about this all is whether it's a natural progression from Warhol through Koons to a widely accepted sense that art is/should be everywhere, democratically integrated into our lives, and hence somewhat indistinguishable from advertising or at least the high-priced objects most advertising money is spent on convincing us we need or whether this article is simply a rather breathless endorsement of a somewhat cynical campaign to capitalize on the red hot art market. In other words, is this really a movement of sorts or simply a successful PR effort? After all, the goal in all this is not public education or betterment:

The target is its ABC1, high-spending clients, “similar to the Frieze-fair clients”. They have not done a visitor survey yet, but on anecdotal evidence, Ms Weston says that by now people have come to expect it of the store. The staff like learning and having something to talk to the customers about and the collaborations with museums are of mutual benefit as they cross-market to each others’ public.
More complicated yet is whether "art" in this brave new context is open to the same criticism it would be in a gallery or museum, or whether the spectacle/entertainment nature of it shields it from a thorough critique in the artist's mind? I suggest the notion that this effort at Selfridges falls into the category that's not to be seen as "mindless populist exhibitions" implies the work is open for critique, no? Or is whether art is "good" or not irrelevant in this context? Is the only measure of importance whether it's popular or not?

I can't provide a critique myself, not having seen the show (can I even call it a "show"?), but I will note the poems on the receipts are a lovely touch and the lounge sounds groovy (still, I thought the trippy lounge as installation art had run its course, no?) but as the
Financial Times points out, "This is Not a Shop" is, in fact, not true. It is a shop, and the sophisticated nature of the marketing is designed to serve that reality, no matter how entertaining it is to encounter a large inflatable eyeball on Oxford Street.

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25 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

As you can see from the response to this post Edward, the people want chocolate!

4/02/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't blame the people for not responding to this convoluted scramble of ideas, Mark. Let's consider this a draft for a more thoughtful response.

Besides, I want chocolate as well...

4/02/2007 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous markcreegan said...

There is a related podcast interview with David Robbins up on Bad at Sports that touches on this a bit. Its interesting.

4/02/2007 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

I'm here! (which is not to say that I wouldn't like chocolate.) This particular situation sounds to me more like a PR exercise. But based on the New Yorker's recent article on Turner Prize mania in Britain, complete with incessant tabloid coverage and widespread betting, it does seem true that actual normal people are excited by and interested in contemporary art in London in a way that they are not here. It made me jealous, and inspired me to muse on how we could get more people interseted here...

You can't read the whole thing online, but here's the URL:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/19/070319fa_fact_thornton

4/02/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

The money is the message.

4/02/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous jordan - kolok gallery said...

This is unrelated but, you, or someone might be interested.

Open call to artists for International Juried Exhibition.
Printed Exhibition Catalog.
Open to all artists, 18 years or older.
Work must be original and executed since January 2006.

Juror: Hannah Blumenthal.

Submission deadline: June 22, 2007.

$25/1-3 entries; $10 each additional.
Online entry form and details:
http://www.kolokgallery.com/2007juried/

Kolok Gallery
(413) 664-7381, info@kolokgallery.com
Located in North Adams, MA just 4 blocks from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
(Mass MoCA). http://www.kolokgallery.com .

4/02/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art in Dept. Stores, art fairs in hotels, Starbucks in museums, curators as personal shoppers...

What's next?

mls

4/02/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

In the states we get to exhibit at Costco!
http://farm1.static.flickr.com/171/440893749_6142cc6b6d_b.jpg

4/02/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What's next?

Well, I'd like to think it's something along the lines of what This Broad notes is the case in London: "actual normal people are excited by and interested in contemporary art."

I'm not entirely sure I agree with the assessment offered in this article (i.e., that the roadblock to this is the "baffling pseudo-sacrality that has been the most ... off-putting aspect of contemporary art for many people for so many decades").

That's a fairly obscure assessment, actually. Less "sacred" in what sense? Subject matter being less serious? Sensationalism/spectacle being introduced? Or, as I suspect, does this mean to imply the work is less intellectually demanding?

None of that seems to be the case to me. I suspect it's merely that some of the better London artists are working on multiple layers, ensuring one layer is accessible to a wide range of viewers? Ofili is certainly dealing with themes of sacralty, and Hirst couldn't be exploring more heady topics if he tried.

I don't see important artists today intentionally dumbing down their work or considering what they do as less valuable than previous generations as what's led to London art's increase in popularity. Actually, I see an investment to simply market the art better. Perhaps half the battle is simply getting folks in to see the art and perhaps London's doing that better than other cities. Not living there at the moment, I can't say exactly, but I would hate to see, again, popularity replace quality for the serious measure of what should be treasured. Popularity wanes...quality doesn't.

4/02/2007 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

you didn't see the future, you had your buttons pushed by marketers referencing the avant-garde of seventy years ago.

"without museums having to slum it with mindless populist exhibitions"... aren't there slides in turbine hall?

art exhibitions in department stores are common in japan, most of the big department stores have "museums" on their top floors... i have seen so many unbelievable shows up there.

saw the first superflat show at parco department store in shibuya... first saw darger in shiseido's basement gallery space in ginza... first so so many artists that have become international at a very small gallery within a bookstore called nadiff, in omote-sando.

4/02/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Actually, I see an investment to simply market the art better.
Yes, Saatchi comes to mind.

Perhaps half the battle is simply getting folks in to see the art and perhaps London's doing that better than other cities.
I think this is true, it appears that the UK has decided that art is good for the economy.

I’m not sure that the connection with the Surrealism exhibit is much more than a brilliant marketing strategy on the part of the department store, it’s an upscale approach with a bit of cache. I do find it interesting that the Turner prize generates so much local interest.

I don’t see how any of these things would necessarily result in the dumb-de-dumb-dumbing down of art, at least to any degree than what already occurs naturally. It may reflect a knee-jerk response to the elitist, pseudo-conceptual approaches found in art of the latter part of the last century. On the other hand, ‘sensationalism’ seems like it would be a natural sub-part of the widely expanded art market, not the only approach, but a plausible one.

Maybe I don’t understand the question.

4/02/2007 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

I was mulling that Selfridge's thing last week when three other art-meets-luxury emporia datapoints flitted across my radar.

First, that the Poznan, Poland opening of the GK collection promoted in E-Flux was part of the opening of perhaps the largest shopping center in Poland, named "Stary Browar The Centre for Art and Business."

Second, from the artforum.com's international news digest <BAD MARKS FOR MOSCOW [BIENNIAL]"Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Samuel Herzog seems particularly unimpressed by "USA: American Video Art at the Beginning of the Third Millennium," curated by Daniel Birnbaum, Gunnar B. Kvaran, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist and installed inside the high-end department store TsUM. "The video work of more than thirty artists is presented on monitors and projection screens in one large area only—without any partition walls," writes Herzog. One problem is that the images compete with one another. "A far greater problem would be the mixture of the sound tracks. 'Would be'—because someone decided simply to show most of the videos without any sound. A pragmatic solution, for sure. However, it leads to the fact that art here becomes degraded to pure decoration. One could have actually presented the films in other places in the department store, between the Diesel Jeans or the L'Oréal lipsticks."

Third came Holland Cotter's "Leaving Room for the Troublemakers" NY Times essay last week, citing "Andy Warhol’s canny prediction that all museums will become department stores."

So what does it all mean? We journalists joke: "Two's a trend, three's a movement." So this must be a seismic shift. ( ;-)}

4/02/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Art in Dept. Stores, art fairs in hotels, Starbucks in museums, curators as personal shoppers... What's next?

Starbucks in your living room. Curators as personal barristas.

4/02/2007 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous cnonymous said...

This reminds me of what happened to SoHo - artists came first, then galleries, then boutiques, the artists left, then chain stores, then galleries left. We work in the opposite direction most effectively.

And why leave when the crowds arrive? Looky-loos with snide comments upsetting the hoyty toyty gallery staff. (Not you, Edward, but you know what I'm talking about.) Intellectuals and artists in this country DON'T WANT to talk to those who are ignorant.

4/02/2007 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

UCL lunchtime talks this march included:
Professor Bill Hillier (UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)

”Cities seem to come in two kinds: the organic, with their irregular patterns of space; and the geometric, with their regular grids. The former we take to be the bottom-up products of everyday life, the latter the top-down constructs of rational minds. But which actually works best? New kinds of spatial analysis developed at UCL show that organic cities have their own kind of ‘probabilistic’ geometry, which is also imposed by human minds, though in a step-by-step way, and which leads to emergent forms in many ways better than regular grids at doing what cities do.”

Anyone know, or is there a typical 'background' to the artist who rises from, say a London scene, and can we find out anything worthwhile comparing a London rising star to a NY one?
Is any of the above information useful when thinking in terms of dynamic systems, and/or dynamic artists? And, if there are different dynamics, how might these effect an overall dynamism--in the smaller, larger, or wider scheme of things?

Kind of loaded questions, but...?

4/02/2007 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real stuff/art won't be for sale. The real stuff will be curated and seen in cyberspace.

You could buy a/some kind of "Art" in galleries like you buy a LV bag in Macy's but the art of the future and the one making History of Art is going to be made with computers or be computer friendly and interactive-smart.

Most old art is becoming irrelevant as we speak. It represents values we don't care about anymore.

Artists are going to make a living by selling ads in their pages or digital copies or the amount of hits to their shows.

This is a future not far away. Many already are doing it. Are most artists ready?

This new real art we will take into space. Painting finally would be dead.

mls

4/03/2007 12:34:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Painting finally would be dead.

Again? Goddammit. I've run out of black suits to wear, and given the same people will surely show up at this (what, 7th?) funeral, I refuse to be seen in the same suit I wore last time. I mean, I guess I could wear a bright enough tie that it distracts folks from the fact I'm in the same two-piece, but really...enough already with this dying sh*t...how are we supposed to drudge up the energy to sound sincere when we toast "She was a grand medium...I'll miss her so much..." knowing some young turk out there is preparing to resurrect the old seductress (thinking it was all his idea), even as we speak. Seriously, can't we simply skip the funeral this time and stop pretending such ceremony is anything more than an elaborate, seemingly perennial homage to the arrogance and misplaced excitement of youth... it's all just too much.

4/03/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It's likely that there's more art being made, pound for pound, than at any time in history, so it's bound to start spilling out into storefronts and the proverbial street and the like. Good matters. The question is: how good do you want your art to be? So good it makes you cry, or good enough to make you smirk for a moment? Most of the poundage tops out at the latter, and that goes for the stuff in the galleries as well as elsewhere.

4/03/2007 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

>>Back at the tail-end of the millennium painting was nothing but an old bus with a broken axle running out of gas with the same tumbleweeds rolling on past. They were the dry years. The deserts' storms would choke you with the same old rhetoric running past, 'painting is dead, never-mind it lives on'. Well it wasn't exactly at twelve midnight that it happened, that I remember, but slowly painting started to let go of that mournful cry...<<

4/03/2007 08:52:00 AM  
Anonymous D. said...

It seems to me that the boundaries defining how and where we experience art need not be so extravagant.

For example, nearly ten years ago, Harrell Fletcher, Jon Rubin and Larry Sultan opened a store, "People in Real Life", in a neighborhood mall. It was really interesting.

http://www.jonrubin.net/work.php?x=66
http://www.harrellfletcher.com/index3b.html (scroll down Projects)

4/03/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

--but one must note that this particular 'bus' has become the epitome of travel. in today's world of 'teleporters' the bus is seemingly obsolete, but it is truly no less effective in reaching the destination. many a mechanic have worked on this bus throughout its life; however the last drivers ran out of gas, lost the bumper, shot the tires And the spare decided to abandon it on the side of the road, provoking passers-by to opt for the immediacy of the teleporter rather than put forth the effort to get the bus back to the city for the care it requires and deserves. of course there comes a time in any invention's evolution where it reaches the peak of its potential what with its 'state of the age' components, but this is never reason to abandon an effective creation. perhaps all it'll take is some one to turn the bus into a road side attraction...a task which i proudly take upon myself even if it proves i am alone in this vision.

. . . s r w

4/09/2007 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

grrr...

srw, if this is meant to be some sort of surrealistic comment, it's lost on me...I deleted it once, but you've added it again, so clearly you intend it to communciate something (one assumes something other than an ignition of annoyance). Spell it out or leave it out, please.

If you're the product of one of the comment-bot programs, then all I can hope is your creator finds a mate soon, because clearly you've got wa-a-a-a-a-y too much time on your hands.

4/09/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

edward:

i never meant to confuse, offend, and least of all annoy, so please allow me to apologize for achieving failure in all these directions. i was merely replying to concrete phone's comment in which he initiated a metaphor involving a bus, so as such i decided to use the same in order to express my opinion as precisely and concisely as possible. i see now i should have made this clearer in the first place.. i believe i was trying to say that though other means to producing art have appeared, painting should/will remain the mainstay of fine art, as it has evolved into a perfectly effective medium over many years. i've heard the argument that in painting there is no more new to be done; just one reason to indulge in digital creation. rather than abandon the staple of fine art, i believe it is neccessary to change how we view painting in order to discover new directions in its use, keeping the public interested in its existence; and that i for one am not afraid to explore the possibilities, ignoring the hype of its 'hoplessness.' not much new to add to the conversation, but i suppose i got caught up in the moment..

as for the reposting, agian i am sorry. this being my first post i have been looking forward to a response. when i found it had disappeared with no trace, even nothing as to say it has been deleted, i naturally assumed i had done something wrong. so i attempted to retype it to the best of my memory in hopes that someone might get something from it.


. . . s r w

4/09/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I beg your pardon srw.

two things you should know.

1) you can avoid confusion by addressing someone specifically or quoting the part of the comment you're refering to
2) your comment read very much like a series of comments that seem to be being added to blogs via some spambot. I apologize for mistaking it for one, but the context was so unclear to me, and I've been deleting so many of those darned things, that I moved too quickly.

please do feel free to comment here...again, I'm sorry for the mistunderstanding

4/09/2007 08:25:00 PM  
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6/19/2008 06:29:00 AM  

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