Category Archives: intervention

Adolf Krischanitz, Barhocker (1986)

With its dark, stained and somewhat splayed feet this stool looks solid enough. But it was still not clear that sitting there was permitted. It was, after all, part of an exhibition.

It had its own plaque on the wall and, indeed, I was reading the very details relating to this piece, when I turned and saw what first I took to be an astonishing sculpture.

Barhocker appeared to feature a hyper-realist old man with finely rendered grey hairs. It took a second to realise, this was in fact my gallery going companion.

My father accompanied me on a recent trip to Vienna. But he wasn’t much interested in the meta-discourse on white cube spaces at the city’s famous Secession gallery.

Instead he wanted to take the weight off his feet. And never mind the reference to Joseph Kosuth who is infamous for putting chairs into galleries.

“You can’t sit on the art!” I almost shouted, pointing out that particular chair was an idea rather than a piece of furniture.

Its designer is an Austrian architect who presumably made severeal Barhocker pieces to go with his rennovation of this world famous institution in 1986.

This stool would have been the perfect place to gaze at the newly restored columns in the Hauptraum. They were once again clad in chrome steel and brass.

Because in 1991, they were painted over for a show curated by Kosuth, whose best known work was a chair accompanied by a photo and a dictionary definition.

His was not the only conceptual piece from the 1960s to involve a chair. Had this been a reference to George Brecht’s Chair Events, sitting there would have been just dandy.

But that’s a lot of back story to explain to a weary relative why an inviting seat in a contemporary art show is probably a perverse conceit. It does sound foolish.

DIE FÜNFTE SÄULE was a group show at Secession between September 9 – November 20, 2011. See gallery website for more details.

James Turrell, Deer Shelter Skyspace (2006)

It was not a day you would think you might need protection. My recent visit here was on a mild Spring afternoon. But once inside the skyspace, the breeze up there carried the force of a roar.

The clouds or perhaps the Earth appeared to be moving twice as fast. It brought to mind footage which had been speeded up to make a disturbing point about the unstable climate.

Shelter is not necessarily the point of James Turrell’s work. In a number of similar skyscapes, it has been said the American artist is more keen to simply bring the cosmos closer.

But it happens that this piece of work is built into a listed 19th century fold for livestock belonging to the Bretton Park Estate in West Yorkshire. It has a certain historical purpose.

Now, as a restless wind skims overhead, the opening in the roof reveals how exposed we might have been as we wandered o’er nearby dale and distant city streets.

Stone benches tilt back to allow a perfect view of the elements. A square aperture helps accentuate the pictorial drama of the skies above, or at very least their infinite indifference.

This prospect of oblivion is troubling and Deer Shelter offers only limited physical cover. But for a moment or two of contemplation, existence does seem here at least as solid as the four walls.

There’s a PBS documentary featuring an interview with James Turrell available here. Deer Shelter meanwhile can be seen at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and further details including press at time of opening can be seen here.

Leo Fitzmaurice, Arcadia (2007)

This sign is at once ironic, illusory and completely superfluous. So it ticks a lot of boxes to signal that it really just labels itself. Arcadia is after all the name of this artwork.

More irony comes from the introduction of roadside signage into such a wild, mythical realm. A nearby motorway would kill the atmosphere. It would make shepherding a nightmare.

Then illusion comes from the fact that, lovely as this scene be, it is far from unspoiled nature. It is the heavily landscaped nature of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and it certainly isn’t Greece.

And thirdly, there is this sign’s lack of necessity. We can see this is an attractive view. So Leo Fitzmaurice’s artwork really just gets in the way. Culture is unavoidable like that.

It will always speak of the millions who have gone before us. So the heritage-brown sign reminds us Arcadia has been at times a battlefield, a historic industry and a ruin.

It also recalls that famous tomb painted by Nicolas Poussin. His signage reads: Et in Arcadia ego; an “I woz ere” by death.

Death in this case may come by road or industrialised sightseeing. There may be an environmental message here, and what are those any more if not momento mori?

The above work is one of a series Leo Fitzmaurice has installed around the idyllic grounds of YSP near Wakefield. This is by the visitor centre. For directions etc, see gallery website.

12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

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.

Preview: Otto Zitko and Louise Bourgeois – Me, Myself and I

Exhibition: Otto Zitko and Louise Bourgeois – Me, Myself and I, Arnolfini, Bristol, until July 4 2010

Born in 1911, Louise Bourgeois has been drawing for nearly a century. Her recent works are “about the marking of time while waiting for someone special to arrive”, according to the French artist herself.

Her series of 60 works on show at Arnolfini are collectively titled JE T’AIME and are said to be as personal as that would suggest. But hearts and flowers do not come into it.

An early drawing from 1946, shown alongside the meditative later works, depicts two figures engaged in an act of cannibalism.

Bourgeois’s interest in human relationships has drawn her to psychoanalysis, and her interest in the field finds her paired up here with Austrian interventionist Otto Zitko.

Whereas the sculptor is interested in the Object Relations school of thought, Zitko inhabits an inflantile world of total subjectivity.

With an unbroken, improvised line he covers gallery walls on three floors and takes his abstract scrawl into the foyer and other social spaces.

They do say opposites attract – in which case, it is of course possible Zitko is that special someone Bourgeois has been waiting so long for.

Written for Culture24.