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    conceptual art, Iraq, Jeremy Deller

    Jeremy Deller, It Is What It Is (2009)

    August 18, 2010

    Jeremy Deller, It Is What It Is (2009). Image courtesy IWM London.

    Not many objects could be juxtaposed with an entire country. But touring the US with the wreckage from a car bomb in a Baghdad market has surely done so.

    You would think the crumpled car would prove as unwelcome as an early readymade sculpture in a museum of fine art. But it seems Americans are nothing if not open and the vehicle is reported to have drawn more interest than antagonism during its three week trip from New York to LA.

    An artist was behind the project, but the object was not signed and it was not intended as a work of art. That would have got in the way of a first hand encounter with an effect of the recent war. If you wanted to know more, there were Iraq experts on hand to talk about the situation on the ground.

    But the minimal presentation, the simplicity of the project, and its documentation could all still be called art. The gesture itself, to trace an imaginary scar across America, is nothing else but.

    Perhaps an educator or an activist might have wanted to undertake this project, had they thought of it first and been daring enough. Perhaps Jeremy Deller is a bit of both. He, at least, knew enough to let the car, more or less, speak for itself.

    From 9 September the car will go on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum London as Baghdad, 5 March 2007.

    20th century, Figurative painting

    Alice Neel, Frank O’Hara No.2 (1960)

    August 15, 2010

    Frank O’Hara, No. 2 1960, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 61 cm, Estate of Alice Neel

    The face of Frank O’Hara in this portrait by Alice Neel is in its way shocking. With his bad teeth, sharp nose and wild eyes the New York poet appears ugly at first, even repellent.

    There is no composure in this likeness and his expression is raw. But with all its imperfections, his face is also vulnerable. It is this which makes it difficult to look at, which makes it burdensome.

    For all the laughter, O’Hara appears unguarded here and we cannot turn away from such nudity. It must have been a face like this which philosopher Emmanuel Levinas had in mind when he spoke about the concept as follows: “The relation to the face is a relation to the absolutely weak, to what is absolutely exposed, naked and destitute.”

    Levinas also said the face was not to be confused with a portrait, but there are surely portraits and portraits. Neel does not immortalise her subjects, indeed quite the opposite. If anyone could prise away the mask and put us face to face with another human being, she could.

    Elsewhere it has been written that this portrait shows something bordering on dislike, which can coexist with pity; read a review by Adrian Searle in the Guardian here. Neel is the subject of a major show at Whitechapel at the moment and there is a review by Robin Blake in the FT, here, and one by Laura McClean-Ferris in The Independent here.

    Alice Neel – Painted Truths is currently at Whitechapel Gallery until September 17.

    20th century, abstract expressionism, conceptual, contemporary, intervention, outdoor sculpture, painting, performance, ready made, surrealism

    12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

    August 10, 2010

    From the 20th century onwards, the beauty of much art is it has no need for the eye of a beholder. Conceptual works, in theory, place as much importance on the idea as the finished visual object. And while lots can be said about the dozen pieces below, the kernel of each is a thought of no more than 140 characters.

    This is not to assume that simple ideas are the best. But it is possible that in a time of information overload, and web-based attention spans, they are the ones that travel best. If these artworks translate into tweets, it is only a sign of their power.

    1. Benjamin Peret, Insulting a Priest (1926):
      “A black and white photo of a surrealist poet harranguing a man of the cloth, as featured in a 1926 manifesto for the liberation of desire”
    2. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953):
      “After six weeks of careful erasing a heavily worked drawing by Willem de Kooning becomes a gold-framed piece of near blank paper”
    3. Marcel Broodthaers, Femur of a Belgian Man and Femur of a French Woman (1964-5):
      “Two human bones, one from Belgian man, one from a French woman, each painted in the colours of the flags of their respective nations”
    4. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965):
      “A folding wooden chair, a photo of the same (not by the artist) and a blown up definition of the word chair to be displayed as one piece”
    5. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969):
      “A white-walled Rome gallery became a temporary stable for 12 quite mucky and fairly noisy live horses”
    6. John Baldessari, The Commissioned Paintings (1969-70):
      “Out on a walk, the artist took close up pics of a friend pointing at interesting things, then asked 14 sunday painters to paint the photos”
    7. Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City (1970):
      “The artist wears blindfold and gloves and pays a visit to a New York bar where the art world generally go to see and be seen”
    8. Jørgen Nash, Decapitated Little Mermaid (1972):
      “The head of Copenhagen’s most famous statue is cut off by (it is said) the Second Situationist International. The artist is a member”
    9. Hans Haacke, Manet-PROJEKT 74 (1974):
      “A proposal that a Manet painting be displayed next to panels giving details of all the work’s previous owners and their business activities”
    10. Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974):
      “A suburban house is cut down the middle and undermined causing it to split and thereby open a rift in the social fabric”
    11. Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991:
      “For his degree show, the artist leaves nothing in his studio but a blue plaque with the words: Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989-1991”
    12. Sherrie Levine, Fountain (1991):
      “Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal readymade has been recast in bronze to give it, at last, some respectability”

    By now you should be convinced, some of the most important works of modern and contemporary art lose little from a lot of distillation. They might even work as tweets, albeit ones with plenty more to say.

    More details on the 12 artworks can be found in Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey (published by Phaidon), which contains hundreds more like them all discussed in considerably more depth.

    conceptual, contemporary, performance

    Giorgio Sadotti, Went To America Didn’t Say A Word (1999)

    August 6, 2010

    A 24-hour recording of ambient city noise is, on the face of it, boring. Few people will ever sit through all of the 1999 Giorgio Sadotti piece currently on show at Milton Keynes Gallery.

    Behind the soundtrack, however, is an amazing story. Sadotti flew from London to New York, stayed overnight, and came home the next day without speaking to anyone. And that has the makings of an urban legend.

    Now simply by hearing about the artwork, you can experience it. It can be easily shared, at no cost, between friends, over a drink. Never mind the lengthy audio documentation. The anecdote, surely, is just as much the artwork, as the tapes from across the Atlantic.

    You may wonder how it was possible, logistically, to do such a thing. In its invisible way, the piece is as remarkable as a tromp l’oeil ceiling or an ornate manuscript. It must have been solitary, dogged work to produce.

    The next question is what he might have said. The title implies withheld judgement or perhaps a kept secret. It draws attention to what Sadotti was thinking and the recording offers no clue. This gives the piece an essential and age old mystique.

    In an attempt to demystify Went To America Didn’t Say A Word, I went to my local shop for a pint of milk and maintained a strict silence. Here is the documentation. You won’t find it in a gallery: Went To The Cornershop Didn’t Say A Word.wma

    The The Things Is (For 3) is at Milton Keynes Gallery until 12 September

    computer generated, contemporary, public art

    Interview: John Gerrard

    August 5, 2010
    John Gerrard, Oil Stick Work, (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas), 2008, Realtime 3. © the artist and Art on the Underground. Production: Werner Poetzelberger. Modelling: Daniel Fellsner. Programming: Helmut Bressler. Additional programming: Matthias Strohmaier. Model: Angelo Martinez

    Canary Wharf underground station offers the best and the worst opportunity an artist could hope for.

    “There are 45 million people who will travel through that station per annum, which is extraordinary. There’s no gallery in the world which could even boast a fraction of that kind of potential audience,” says John Gerrard.

    “But of course, it’s not a receptive audience. It’s a hurrying, blind audience in a way.”

    Gerrard is responsible for a vast projection on the far wall of atrium, which requires nothing if not patience. The computer generated simulation unfolds in real time, day by day, with a narrative scheduled to last for 30 years.

    Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas) is set in a Kansas landscape dominated by a grain silo. Dawn breaks about noon British Summer Time and the scene fades to darkness at around 2am.

    Between those times, a lone figure sets to work painting the building black. He paints one square metre each day with an artist’s crayon. By the time he completes his task, in 2038, US oil supplies are projected to run dry.

    Art on the Underground will be showing the astonishing time based work for 12 months, and Gerrard hopes that in that time a “fraction” of the audience will notice the work’s progression.

    The tempo of his art is a far cry from the pace of nearby life. The Jubilee Line station serves some of the world’s busiest banks. “I think the banking context is a very good foil for the work, for the slow build of the work,” says the Irish artist.

    He also expresses amazement at the latest forms of (high frequency and algorithmic) trading. “It’s almost become quite anarchic what’s happening in those environments,” he says.

    “You’ve got people basically spending billions to gain in microseconds on somebody else in terms of speculation.”

    The central theme in Oil Stick Work, intensive farming, is clearly not unrelated. In the 1930s, oil-powered agriculture caused catastrophe when the prairies succumbed to the worst dust storms ever seen in America.

    Today the same landscapes are dominated by ominous and anonymous buildings such as the grain silo above or the grow finish units used to farm and slaughter pigs. People are few and far between, but with one notable exception.

    Angelo Martinez is the name of a New York builder who auditioned as a stand-in for a worker who told Gerrard to stop taking photos of one of the installations in Kansas. Now with virtually remodelled features, the artist says it “really is a portrait of him.”

    The unreal localities which inspired Oil Stick Work are well suited to 3D simulations. “I’m slightly on my own with the medium which is curious,” notes the artist.

    “There is an established arena of game art which is in existence, but this particular kind of static approach, which I think has a lot of potential, I don’t think there’s anybody working like this at the moment.”

    That medium, according to Gerrard, “was effectively born in a military context,” and for his next work his is taking the form back to its roots.

    “The new work I’m doing at the moment is actually remaking a historical scene which is from the Iran-Iraq war, the first Iraq war from the 1980s, and in it there is a soldier figure…who is enacting a kind of impossible performance.”

    This will be the first time the artist has used military training technology to recreate a military training exercise. “I’ll see how that goes. I mean, it’s a bit of a risk,” he says.

    But despite the outward calm of a piece like Oil Stick Work, organised aggression is already very much a theme.

    “Those grow finish units on the American landscape are in and of themselves a type of horror story of gargantuan proportions,” he suggests. “I don’t think there are many games that would reach that level of…what is it? You know, the implicit violence in those scenes.”

    From Kansas to Canary Wharf, what you cannot see is what can shock the most.

    Written for Culture24.

    contemporary, installation, photography

    The The Thing Is (For 3)/Harry Hammond/Luna Park/August must-sees/Top 10 art attractions for kids

    August 5, 2010

    Here’s a round up of work for Culture24 in the last week or so. Feel free to peruse:

    contemporary, installation

    Tamoko Takahashi, Clockwork at De La Warr Pavilion (1998-2010)

    August 1, 2010

    This installation is an open invitation to skeptics. The materials are literally rubbish. There is no apparent order to the display. If this work was collected up and put in a skip we would walk past without a second glance.

    So Takahashi’s work can seem a byword for mischief. She takes the world’s least valuable things, waste paper, damaged clocks, unwanted tools, and turns them into ingredients of the world’s most valuable commodity, art.

    But she works at it. We know the items have been selected with care because recurring themes emerge. Care has also been taken to spread them around in a balanced way. Some objects are fixed together or stood on end and the scene is not as chaotic as it first appears. It has aesthetic appeal.

    Takahashi snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, or art from the realms of oblivion. We need a way to deal with rubbish, on an emotional level. Clockwork suggests we can indeed process it, along with death, decay and disorder. It should give rise to courage, not skepticism.

    Why not read what other people had to say about Tamoko Takahashi? Here is a good profile of the artist by Andrew Graham-Dixon. Here is an intelligent review of a show from 1998 in Frieze. And here is a scathing attack on her 2005 show at Serpentine by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.

    Introspective Retrospective by Tomoko Takahashi is at De La Warr Pavilion until 12 September.

    contemporary, public art, sculpture

    Antony Gormley, Critical Mass (1995-2010)

    July 30, 2010

    Fifteen years after its inception, Antony Gormley has revived the piece Critical Mass for the roof of De La Warr Pavilion. Since then his life-size casts of the human form have conquered London, New York and even Crosby Beach near Liverpool. They are contemporary icons.

    An inestimable number of people have seen these works first hand. So it must be said Gormley has created the most immediate, visible art of the age. The Angel of the North, his vast monumental sculpture outside Newcastle, surely puts that beyond doubt.

    Now 60 of his trademark figures are scattered on a modernist rooftop by the sea in Bexhill. And their message is surely a vital one. These bodies, arranged in 12 different positions, none which look comfortable, are after all a sign of the times.

    If they tell us anything then, it seems humankind is, whatever the pose, all the same. They are solid, gloomy replicas of each other and indeed of Gormley himself. They are featureless and archetypal, by implication any one of them could be any one of us.

    But this vision of bland conformity to be resisted. “Tout autre est tout autre,” as Jacques Derrida once put it: every other is completely other. In the visitor notes, Gormley describes his work as a deconstruction of the body, so it seemed worth quoting the man who coined the term.

    And the one person modelled again, and again, happens to be a fit, adult, caucasian male. The artist has missed a chance to create a new Vetruvian man (or woman). That really would be deconstructive.

    Critical Mass is at De La Warr Pavilion until the end of August.