Monday, July 20, 2009

A Quick Thought on "National Art Hate Week"

Billy Childish, who couldn't be bothered to stick with Stuckism, is reportedly half-heartedly stirring up resentments and, so long as it doesn't lead to anything concrete, trying to agitate the establishment in the UK again. (I guess nothing moves things about as pointlessly as practiced ambivalence.) This time, though, he's actively advocating hate. (How charming in this day and age, no?) The Guardian has the story:
Today marks the first day of National Art Hate Week. A seething critical mass that sprang, initially at least, from the hands of Billy Childish, prolific painter, poet, punk and self-proclaimed hero of the British art resistance movement. Childish was also Tracey Emin's former lover and the founder – now ex-member – of Stuckism, a sizeable art movement best-known for protesting on the steps of Tate Modern to demand more contemporary figurative art; Childish left at the first hint of his idea manifesting itself into an actual, physical demonstration.

It's this concept of disorganised, ramshackle creativity that's key to National Art Hate Week: "I was making a series of new posters and just liked the way the words 'art' and 'hate' fitted together," Childish says, perhaps a mite disingenuously. The notion of turning the slogan into a national week apparently didn't occur until Steve Lowe, "chief engineer" of the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop gallery, and Jimmy Cauty, former half of art pop agitators the KLF, collaboratively spurred him on. [...]

Childish's Constructivist-leaning posters – filled with neatly-lined graphic blocks and pre-war propaganda motifs – are available for free download to distribute in the thousands outside local galleries. Lowe, who specialises in acerbic asides on what he terms "the business of culture", has mobilised the mailing lists of his gallery and the British Art Resistance (the trio's side project, fostering National Art Hate Week), to spread the message each day this week.

They believe their campaign of sustained hate will liberate the public and that National Art Hate Week will shatter the common consensus on artists such as Andy Warhol, Peter Doig, Pablo Picasso. "Galleries claim they're challenging us [the public] – we're challenging their challenge," says Lowe. Participants will be encouraged to be honest about work they find "boring and hateful", otherwise deemed stimulating and interesting by curators.
The main problem I have with Childish's highly conceptual project is how its obvious goal is press attention for himself. This, in and of itself, is merely clever (and I mean that in the New England sense). Where it becomes a bit too paradoxical to let pass without comment, though, is how it exploits the portion of the public that sincerely favors figurative art over other genres. Mobilizing the masses under such pretense is good for a laugh, I suppose, and if any element in the art world takes itself so seriously that it won't laugh along, well, it deserves the mockery. But just as he abandoned the movement he founded when, well, it tried to actually affect change, it's hard to imagine Childish won't move off to the side again, trying to take the spotlight with him, this time as well.

Indeed, the sort of conceptual shenanigans represented by this project, replete with appropriated poster imagery, plenty of intent escape hatches, and its self-serving, so-called anti-commercial statement (The Anti Art Hate League offers Artist Deluxe Collector's Edition copies of its "protest" posters for £31.13) are precisely the types of ironic gestures I imagine the sincere Stuckists are most sick and tired of. If only they had paid more attention to the artists rigorously refining conceptual art all these years, there wouldn't be any risk that they'd fall for this.

Labels: art criticism


Blogger George said...

But just as he abandoned the movement he founded when, well, it tried to actually affect change, it's hard to imagine Childish won't move off to the side again, trying taking the spotlight with him, this time as well.

I guess you could say that Stuckism isn't sticky?

I followed this oddity a bit after it started up and Childish wasn't the only one of the original group to leave. Like any populist expression, where just about anyone could join, it ended up attracting a lot of Tuesday painters. It is one thing to champion an opposing aesthetic position, but doomed to failure if the counter exemplary art isn't any good.

7/20/2009 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger jami said...

Looks like childish “shenanigans” to me, without the maturity to back it up. I can think of a lot of bad art worthy of such polemics, but to choose Andy Warhol, Peter Doig, and Pablo Picasso, he’s not even trying.

7/20/2009 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Who will the British James von Brunn prove to be? It's not impossible that someone will act out all this swastika-adorned hate with twisted seriousness. I hope the guards at the Tate have been issued body armor.

By the way, it was reported this morning that when an art professor once thanked von Brunn for his service in World War II, von Brunn responded, "I fought on the wrong side."


7/20/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Whoa Tom, don't take it all so seriously.

Billy Childish is a very interesting person. After all he was with Tracey Emin and if I was thirty again I wouldn't mind being with Tracey Emin.

I think it's all a hoot but not enough to buy a poster.

7/20/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Childish deserves his name.

Art for me is a love/hate relationship all the time. I don't need this.

Cedric Casp

7/20/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Childish is fighting windmills and knows it. And like slapstick, the prank has value as catharsis. C'mon, it's just for a week.


7/20/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Washington Post, June 16: "And now comes word of von Brunn's email exchange with a top Neo-Nazi lawyer in Germany in which von Brunn called hate "natural, normal and necessary."

Guys, I do understand the prank nature of Art Hate's swastikas and hate speech. My point is that guys like von Brunn don't. Maybe the context of all this, in Britain, is such that no nut job could possibly take it seriously. Let's hope so.

When did hate speech become an okay thing in art? Speech that covers itself, from the beginning, with semi-seriousness so it's blameless no matter what happens?

Really, as a first-generation American son of a Polish father who spent six years in a German prisoner-of-war camp, and a Polish mother who spent six years in a German forced labor camp, I find the semi-serious use of swastikas and hate speech extremely offensive. It's no joke for some of us, and I hope you'll understand that guys. Thanks.

7/20/2009 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's no joke for some of us, and I hope you'll understand that guys.

I would hope it's clear that this blog would never tolerate anyone who argued otherwise, Tom. I didn't mention the swastikas because it wasn't at all clear to me how they're being used by Childish, etc. I don't believe in making symbols of any sort sacred though. I understand their power, and for ones used to symbolize an evil the likes of Hitler's Germany, I understand the wish that they not be used lightly, but just as Mel Brooks or others have successfully deflated the power of Nazi symbolism through mockery, I'm not sure banning their use in any context makes sense either. Again, it's not clear to me how Childish is using them, so I didn't mention it.

7/20/2009 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Ed, I didn't mean your post. Sorry for not being more specific. I thought your comments "... he's actively advocating hate ... plenty of intent escape hatches ..." were dead on. I think the the difference between "Springtime For Hitler" and Art Hate Week is: the former is entirely comic (mocking), and the latter is semi-serious (in a convoluted way that deliberately can't be held to account).

Honestly, I'm offended by Art Hate Week's use of swastikas and hate speech, but I'm not upset with ANYONE here. I like all you guys. (Yeah, I admit it, even Zip.) And please don't think I've lost my sense of humor - or my ability to laugh at myself. In fact, I even thought up a joke this morning, right after my last post.

What did the Polish painter say when he finished his self-portrait? "I don't know who that's supposed to be but I know he's no artist." :-)

7/20/2009 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, very lazy journalism,(not you Ed)the Guardian, as always some lazy
arts correspondent needs a story, picks up the phone to the same old faces.
Seriously, no one cares about Billy Childish. Being able to play two chords on the guitar and hacking away at a piece of wood with his penknife, while grooming a 18th century moustache does not constitute being anti establishment.
And for those who know Tracey Emin’s work, Billy Childish wasn't the only person she has slept with.

7/20/2009 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous qi peng said...

For me, Stuckism is a conceptual art form that isn't conceptual in nature. It's self-promotion and hides the codes of neo-conservative under a radical veneer.

Conceptual art is thoughtful and for me, Stuckism is more like fearmongering in the art world. I don't buy the agenda.

7/20/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

The Swastika was a great symbol before it became hitlerian. I'm trying to not let nazism own it. If a see a neo-nazi, I'm always
thinking "boy don't you have any idea what you're on about".

Cedric Casp

7/20/2009 09:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I don't know how you disqualify Childish without also disqualifying William Powhida, who is also working for attention, albeit from a different segment of the art audience.

I felt a moment of sympathy for the Stuckists that passed once I laid eyes on their work.

7/20/2009 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I was in the 4th sub basement of an office building the other day, full of deaccessioned fax machines and it was far weirder than any art installation I've seen recently. I often think art installation is for people who rarely leave affluent neighborhoods or take the subway - a way to achieve thrills without danger or discomfort.

SO yes, I hate art sometimes. I saw some rock star types pulling that "I don't like anonymous crowds" bullshit - if I'd thought about it I'd have flipped them the bird, but I was just happy to be seeing a live band, period. Privilege. It's a disease (class envy is a natural high).

Billy Childish makes good music to my ears or did, I haven't listened to him in a while. But he has talent, regardless of your taste. I'd tell him to play "cocaine" and flip him the bird.

But if we're going for hippocracy and self negating art - look at Barbara Kreuger who's work never had real teeth, no bite, and probably no lower jaw (it came
unhinged after Damien bought his own skull). Preaching to the converted comes as no surprise.

7/21/2009 12:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reacting as they do, the Stuckists actually grant more validity to the Turner Prize. If they really want to say "bollocks" to the award, why don't they just ignore it or work to institute an award of equal merit with a different aesthetic in mind.

In the end, I can't name even one stuckist artist worth acknowledging in a footnote to art history, but no one will forget Damien Hirst. More importantly, I can't find too many artists that have pushed the boundaries of contemporary art as far as many of the Turner Prize winners. (Whiteread, Gormley, and Tyson are among some of the finest artists working today.

Long live the Turner Prize!
We in America should follow suit and offer such a challenging award.


7/21/2009 12:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the sentiment about hating art. However, whatever moves me to such ridiculous heights of emotion usually ends up giving me something more to engage in the long run. I don't have to fall in love with art to admire and respect what it does to me intellectually.

Some of my favorite art is art that I don't necessarily like, but I just can't forget it. If you don't know who Josh Smith is...take a look. He infuriates me as a painter, but I can't get past his devotion to the absurd images that he produces. There is something there- beneath the work there is the potential for so much emotion and that is what fascinates me.

Maybe this concept of hate (with regard to art)is OK as long as it fosters a transformation... an understanding and ultimately an acceptance of that which challenges your understanding.

Desmond Grey

7/21/2009 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I'm trying hard to understand this stuff, but maybe Childish is more sophisticated then I grant him credit for: Reading their comments, it struck me how I couldn't tell who they were referring to , the big bad art establishment or themselves.

"Now, the public are robotically complicit with a manipulative elite who make culture homogenous and hateful."

"Participants will be encouraged to be honest about work they find "boring and hateful",

So maybe - really just maybe- maybe Childish and Cauty are exploring art as a placebo and mirroring up to the participants, just how easily it is to be duped by an art elite into hatred. (the elite being the artists themselves)

Trouble is, even though koans may be like a slap on the head, to deliberately mislead an art audience into misunderstanding is actually a slap in the face. Work such as this might mirror events in Rawanda and elsewhere in their inciting hatred and genocide, but this moves quickly beyond the realm of art into reality.

Which might explain Childish's tendancy to disown his own art when it actually does become a movement in its own right. Play with fire and get burned?

Art seems to let the viewer stand outside of the insight to better come to terms with it, by dumping the viewer directly into the insight their remains little space for the viewer to reflect upon the insight- they are simply carried away in its momentuum.

7/21/2009 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

I spent a few hours yesterday really studying the Stuckists - for the first time.

The conclusion I've come to is that the movement is a fake. (Though its followers around the world are probably genuine in their beliefs.)

Nothing about the movement is serious. Not the opposition to establishment art; not the championing of figurative art; not the paintings of the core Stuckists; not Billy Childish "leaving" the movement. It's all a prank.

Sometime in the future, the core Stuckists will announce that the movement was a joke - the biggest joke ever played on the art world. They will then sell a wide variety of items that document and commemorate the joke.

To sum it up: art world anarchists. Dada on a scale the first Dadaists never dreamed of. Not just anti-art, or anti-anti-art (the stance the movement pretends to take), but anti-anti-anti-art.

I still find their National Art Hate Week materials highly offensive. But I understand now that they're supposed to be highly offensive - for no good reason. Just twisted fun. As evidenced by their own "Smash The Art Hate / Anti Art Hate League" campaign.

Finally, I've rethought the possibility of a British James von Brunn. There is indeed a context, in Britain, that makes it unlikely.

7/21/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous JL said...

Haven't looked at the new project, but starting silly things and then abandoning them is what Billy Childish does, it's sort of odd to criticize him for it. I like this, from the music page of his website: "Every 5 years or so Billy Childish is sited by a current top band as the embodiment of rock 'n' roll integrity, and every 5 years or so Billy splits his group up and starts again from scratch." I think five years is actually an overstatement. I really like his guitar playing, though, especially with Thee Headcoatees.

7/21/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I harp on Childish's penchant for not finishing what he starts merely for fun (why should he have it all?), but my real objection to this project is how it exploits a group of art viewers and makers he's pretending to identify with. It's grotesque.

7/21/2009 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Ed is right. The movement exploits a sincere group of people: those who feel figurative art is largely overlooked today. The kind of harm it does to these people - or will ultimately do to these people - is anyone's guess. I just know, personally, that the movement's antics can cause moments of real pain - uselessly. Hearing someone shrug the whole thing off as "that's just what they do" doesn't exactly help.

7/21/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I wonder if Billy Childish has ever watched the post apocalyptic TV show "Jericho." Let a little family values into your heart bro!

What is it about low self esteem coupled with self loathing and misanthropy that intoxicates so?

7/21/2009 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"The movement exploits a sincere group of people"

I could say the same thing about the "star system" in art - ultimately there just isn't room for everyone in the top 100, and yet how many people go deeply into debt to get an MFA? SOmeone needs to stop the madness.

At the least Billy Childish is venting, which serves a valuable social function.

More leadership = fewer sheeple.

7/21/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I could say the same thing about the "star system" in art

so two wrongs equal what?

7/21/2009 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous JL said...

If Childish is taken seriously, I'd tend to agree that it seems like there's a certain amount of bad faith involved on his part, which isn't attractive. I don't think his art world pranks have generally found the right register, which draws attention to the sort of problem you identify and makes them less successful as jokes. That said, art world jokes that do find the right tone to resonate with their audience often contain a touch of cruelty or bad faith--that's in the nature of pranks, after all. Part of Childish's problem is not having the right feel for the room. That said, Sisters of Suave is a comp well worth owning.

7/21/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I think it's call agitprop ed, but I'm a relative neophyte. The KLF burned money - that's definitely pure agitprop.


I think there is a definite ideological slant - the question is how to re-frame the argument so that it continues to have traction. You may disagree with the tactics, but the battle is real for many people (I;m a nihilist, pretty much, so that = not serious I guess , though, again, neophyte.)

Go green!

7/21/2009 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Kirsty Hall said...

I've always found Childish unspeakably tedious.

7/25/2009 10:37:00 PM  

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