June 21, 2008

Green Drops and Moonsquirters

Months ago in this blog (more than once) I lamented the state of the English public gallery curating, specifically, as an example I mentioned how it was literally impossible to get into Manchester Art Gallery Asia Triennial video installation because there were so many playing toddlers and crying babies. The Gallery has now gone one step further with its latest offering: Green Drops and Moonsquirters


Of course, because success in the UK galleries is measured by numbers of visitors rather than the artistic quality of exhibitions, this is already a huge hit. But for anyone with any interest in the arts it is truly desperate - the galleries of the City Art Gallery must be hellish. In Manchester, the powers that be are constantly exercised with the notion that the city aspires to being 'world-class'. Every international visitor I have had, visiting the City Gallery can't understand it. Manchester is a great place to live, but without a world class gallery you wonder how it can aspire to be a world-class city; moreover, with a programme like this it is questionable whether the City Gallery is actually an Art Gallery. Maybe the logic of endless years of New Labour cultural pejoration are generating a category of museum practice that at the moment is nameless but is actually an anathema to art itself. In a lot of ways, it is close to the Victorian paternalist notion of the museum as a mechanism for worker's education and betterment. After all, virtually from the cradle citizens are given performance targets. It is frequently noticeable that even young artists, arts development and curatorial staffs have this conditioning which has removed the capacity for free thought. The state managerial approach to public mobilisation through intravenous outputs and outcomes with objectives set in advance means that many young artists dont know how to experiment or challenge themselves without knowing what the result of the experiment will be in advance. State funded galleries are as much part of this cultural ecology - I used "cultural ecology" ironically there because that is the latest jargon bollocks being used by the Arts Bureaucracies. It has been a long running idea in theatre that exposing children and young people to drama you are creating the audiences of the future. But the implementation of this has been didactic theatre endlessly addressing 'issues' of bullying, sex education, "citizenship", etc. So rather than creating the audience of the future, this model is creating citizens who think that is what theatre is. The same is happening in galleries. Children visit galleries either in school parties or with parents. So the school visit teaches them that all art has to be explained and that you have to do worksheets when you visit a gallery/museum. When visiting with parents, you play, dress up and do activities, which teaches you that the gallery is an indoor play centre. This sort of thinking is what has led to some libraries now to be called "ideas stores". So what should we call this thing instead of "Art Gallery"?

June 14, 2008

Twilight Readings

Just before my recent travels, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park sent me a copy of Simon Armitage’s YSP published book – The Twilight Readings http://www.ysp.co.uk/view.aspx?id=460. According to the introduction, to celebrate the park’s 30th anniversary, Armitage was offered a residency. Armitage asked to be described as visiting artist rather than visiting poet. “I imagined working with the physicality of language – seeing poetry as a fashioned and fabricated substance, sculpted from words…”

Not actually capable of that, Armitage ended up writing two types of poems:
“The first anecdotal, prose-looking things, like stories… The second were translations from the Wakefield Mystery Plays, the cycle of mediaeval religious pageants which are closely associated with the region… I chose five dramatic monologues, each one having some relationship with the intended setting, and translated them form the original Middle English into contemporary [sic] (but still colloquial) verse.” This passage is near enough a statement of Armitage’s practice in general. The first poem in the book is not by him, but by Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken. In this context, the ‘poet’ is so uncritical he doesn’t recognise that the last 3 lines are actually an ironic indictment of the rest of the writing:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The first Armitage poem is “My Camellias”. It is enough to describe it as he does – an anecdotal, prose-looking thing, like a story. It is pretty poor even by Armitage’s standards, but the shambolic typography is really worth a mention. If you have seen 50 Heads
http://www.tonytrehy.com/poet_1.html you will know that I have a particular penchant for blocked poetic texts, the way beginning and end lines work across and down the block. I hadn’t realised that it could be done so badly. Taking no account of any of these possibilities, Armitage may well have put the final look of this “poem” in the hands of the book designer, which is not an acceptable excuse for the erratic dissolute kernelling. I can’t really replicate the layout here. Maybe, again, the last 3 lines indict:

he looks are me with a wounding expression, one which suggests that in his all-seeing, all-knowing eyes I am little more than a complete and undisguised and irreversible dandelion.

To give a flavour of the second type of poem: Third Torturer

Look out yourselves and mind your bones
for I come hurtling all at once
and damn near broke both bollock stones
so fast hurried I hither.

How is this contemporary? This is the most damning criticism of the Armitage poetic project (shared by all the mainstream poets – Carol Ann Duffy, etc) – modern poetry didn’t actually happen. This is not simply the legitimate reassessment of earlier sources; it is the erasure of 20th Century poetry. For anyone who knows my position on the British mainstream my response to this piss poor book will not be a surprise, and it is not actually the book that has provoked me to write about it. It is instead the initial decision of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to employ Armitage in the first place. YSP is not the only visual arts agency/gallery to employ such poets. And it is really unacceptable for visual arts directors/curators clearly knowing nothing about contemporary poetry to blunder around in the artform. It is interesting to compare how in contemporary art the imperative is towards innovation and the new, whereas poetry is treated as immutably frozen in a pre-modern moment. Galleries and other visual arts agencies think engagement with poetry represents them as more catholic when their choice of poets exposes them as ignorant.

June 13, 2008

Dreamer? Are we the only ones?

Visiting an infant/primary school to discuss possibly curating a community-based commission, I waited in the corridor outside the Headteacher's office before the meeting. On the wall, presumably contributing to the development of young minds that use the corridor, there was a poster with a close-up of a young teenager (wearing make-up) slightly smiling, looking directly out of the picture at the viewer. The caption read:

but you're not the only one.
achieve economic wellbeing"

June 07, 2008

Art Basel

The rail trip from Stuttgart to Basel takes about 2 hours and is straight forward except for the dashing change at Karlsruhe. In Basel I stayed with the excellent Swiss artist and Director of the Institute of Curatorship and Education, Marianne Eigenheer http://cms.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/exhibitions-abroad/bk/kunstraum-deutschland/marianne-eigenheer/type/98/ . Shortly after I arrived Frank Hettig and Ed Beardsley (from Bonhams in Los Angeles) arrived. Upon which we set off for the first big opening Art Unlimited http://www.artbasel.com/go/id/elj/ at which invited international galleries show one artist only. We met up with Patrick Panetta one of the curatorial partnership of KP in Berlin (www.kimura-panetta.de) – we had been set up to meet to discuss a possible show for me at their space. Standing in the sunshine, drinking champagne is part of the scene of meeting old and new friends, new contacts, new projects, and of course being seen. I had a most interesting conversation with Eva & Adele, http://www.evaadele.com/INTRO.HTM who are an artist collaboration gender persona who have recently shown at KP.

Inside Art Unlimited itself there was little of interest. The only work that stood out was a beautifully lyrical video piece called Morakot (Emerald) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand
http://artforum.com/print.php?id=20205&pn=picks&action=print . While the most striking thing was a whole railway carriage shipped all the way from China containing an installation (which I didn’t queue for). It was striking more for the exaggeration of its presence in the hall, which counterpointed the problem with the majority of the exhibits: the hall itself; in this very difficult spatial context, galleries had individual display areas but these areas were predominantly the temporary trade fair display set up, which meant that even works that could have been interesting seemed out of place, not really there. As with much of Art Basel, this doesn’t seem to matter because the most important thing is the gallery/artist having achieved the status/value to have made the selection.

Then we walked a few blocks to Liste.
http://www.liste.ch/ .This was 4 floors of gallerists, showing young artists from all over the world – it was like a giant degree show, really, with not much standing out. I was pleased to meet David Thorpe at long last – he is currently working on the new contemporary programme for the Royal Academy in London.
The only artist who stood out at Liste was Dean Hughes
http://www.artfacts.net/index.php/pageType/artistInfo/artist/45960 - which is ironic since he was born in Bury, had a work in the Text Festival and has just shown at the Cube in Manchester. The Liste crowd was generally younger than Art Unlimited, overall production values were lower and less curatorially experienced, but it had the energy that you’d expect when you fill a 4 storey building with many hundreds of young artists trying to attract attention and at the same time have a good time.

At the end of the evening I finally hooked up with Patrick Panetta. We had an interesting conversation about my recent installations (Reykjavik:
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SiA_UGC8DNw/Rt26dvgB2XI/AAAAAAAAADA/_us5ILoeOpE/s1600-h/Reykjavik+3.JPG ) and he talked about the KP space in Berlin. Their concern is the notion of relevant questions for the current moment in the situation of Berlin and its art scene of maybe 500 spaces; what and how does a gallery/artist address a world which has so many other voices speaking at the same time? So far the ‘shows’ have been shows about the nature and experience of shows, their parties, their conventions, non-happenings. Patrick is rigorously committed to working with artists at the edge of the essence of their practice as artists. We are beginning a developmental conversation leading somewhere.

The Art Fair proper:
http://www.artbasel.com/go/id/ss/lang/eng/ The crowd at the VIP opening, as the name suggests, was quite different from the other two openings – very wealthy collectors, movie stars, international curators and artists, and conspicuously beautiful well-dressed women. Unexpectedly I didn’t get to dive straight into the ‘art’. I had arranged to meet a German artist, Christoph Dalhausen who took me up to the coolly designed VIP lounge, where young assistants in fashioned uniforms served double expressos on demand. We talked for some time after which I rejoined Marianne Eigenheer to begin the marathon of walking around the endless avenues of contemporary art displays, most of which sell to collectors and dealers for 6 figure sums, contacts are made and met, business cards are exchanged. The credit crunch and economic downturn has apparently slowed the sales activity since last year, but a lot of business is done after the Fair so you can’t really tell on the ground how it is going. I recall Alan Charlton telling me that some gallerists put red dots beside works to give the impression of rampant demand and therefore the urgency to buy, buy, buy.

Of course the problem with so much art is that very quickly you can’t see it. The only memorable piece for me was a large Sol leWitt. I also found photo texts by Lalla Essaydi (Morroco) interesting, and Marianne introduced me to the work of Lothar Baumgarten, which I liked. After a pleasant lunch across the street with Frank and Ed, we had the pleasure of meeting my friend Maurizio Nannucci,
http://www.maurizionannucci.it/ a real excitement after a gap of 3 years. We had a short conversation and agreed his involvement in the Text Festival next year.

After that, another weary session of touring round and then back for a nap before the late European premier of Lawrence Weiner’s ‘porn-film’ MILK IN WATER EXISTS. It was amusing queuing with the art crowd to get into a porn cinema, no doubt a joke LW intended. The wipe-able seats were wide with movable arms and plenty of leg room resonating the cinema’s more regular salivating clientele. This crowd was mainly young.

The film was an edited sex orgy in a gallery involving soapy-smooth young art students, with occasional overlaid Weiner phrases, fragments of his/their conversation about architecture and structure, and passing epigrams from him. I found the piece problematic. I have seen earlier Weiner films with similar use of naked bodies and it seemed locked into a previous time, and certainly a time before AIDS. This aspect was made more questionable by the only black male participant being the only one wearing a condom. IS THIS REALITY GENERAL OR SPECIFIC was frequently asked in the film; the ‘actors’ answered ‘general’; I felt that the condom (and the gum they were chewing, strangely) made it specific. You could see that Weiner was relating ideas of structure and materiality to the biological human reality, but it needed serious editing.

Next day, we were too exhausted to return for Weiner’s public conversation so I don’t know whether these issues were discussed. Having seen the manifestations of Art Basel I had come to see, I set off to the Kunsthalle Basel, which had a very dull show not worth discussing and the Basel Architekturmuseum which was not dull. I nearly didn’t go in as it had a show titled “re-sampling ornament”, but it was really excellent
http://www.sam-basel.org/index.php?page=ornament_e Then I went across to the Basel Kunstmuseum – a massive collection to walk round. Legs got tired. High points for me were the Giacomettis and a surprising Albers piece called Fugue. Both fired me up for the Canon poems. By this time I was tiring fast so I found somewhere that looked nice for lunch but was ordinary Then I returned to base. Done.
After a good nap, I got back into the Canon meaning to start Albers or Giacometti but instead finished Tal’s Best Games.

On my last day, Marianne and I went to the Schaulager
http://www.schaulager.org/ - “Schaulager is the home for the works in the collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation that are not currently on exhibition. It is a new kind of space for art. It is neither museum nor a traditional warehouse. Schaulager is first and foremost a response to the old and new needs for the storage of works of the visual arts. It dispenses with box storage and transforms the foyers of the exhibition halls into autonomous facilities, independent of any museum, with specific qualities and functions.” A great concept, a great space, great architecture (Herzog & de Meuron) and great art. The exhibitions by Monika Sosnowska and Andrea Zittel excellent and reason enough on their own for the trip to Basel.

June 01, 2008

Waiblingen, Germany

I'm in Waiblingen on the outskirts of Stuttgart at the moment, http://www.stuttgart-tourist.de/ENG/city/waiblingen.htm - guest of the local authority; as Bury is loaning about 70 Turner prints for the opening exhibition of their new gallery. http://waiblingen.de/sixcms/detail.php?id=14920. Conceived and guided to completion by my friend and long-time curatorial collaborator, Dr Helmut Herbst. I've taken loads of photos but not got the connection to load them from here - maybe when I get back to Manchester. As is often the case with this sort of opening, you can't really appreciate the gallery just now because most of the views of the architecture are cluttered with marques for the celebratory activities, concerts, etc. The German politicians and the accompanying academics that come out of the wood work on these occasions have a particular penchant for very long speeches - which seem interminable especially when you can't understand German. Sadly, as is the way of the world, the politicians are most excited by the new art school building beside the gallery, which you can already see will distort the policy towards artless education agendas lacking the art that could give the whole some meaning and forward impetus. Together, these two new buildings could be great spaces with the old 17th Century museum building forming a triangle – we can only hope that art that got Waiblingen this far survives.


On Monday, I move on to Basel for the Art Fair.