Perhaps all art has ever done is provide visual enjoyment, depsite the questionable values inherent in traditional, modern or contemporary subject matter. Fiona Banner’s latest commission at Tate Britain is indeed problematic, but without question it is still enjoyable.
The London-based artist has installed two decommissioned fighter planes in the neoclassical Duveens Gallery. One, upside down, has been stripped of paint and now has a mirror-like finish. The other hangs from its tail fin and has been painted with feathers.
Some will complain you can get a comparable thrill at an air show, which may be true. Does that mean Banner’s work is not art at all, or could it mean that art can be found at air shows, or even at arms fairs, should they stimulate the sight in a pleasurable way?
The artist herself insists these two planes are objects of beauty, but the same could be said for any number of industrial products. But of paramount importance here is the gallery context or the role of the artist. (Banner after all has a track record of looking at fighter jets from an aesthetic point of view, in a way most air show directors probably do not.)
So given the wider picture, art does more than give pleasure. It also offers the chance to reflect upon the experience. That may be the greatest thrill of all.
Fiona Banner, Harrier and Jaguar, is on show in the Duveens Gallery at Tate Britain until 3 January 2011