“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Accessory to the fact: art in American Psycho


Next year it will be 25 years since American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis; in that time various crimes have been exposed in the banking industry. So it seemed timely to reread.

But it’s not just about greed and Wall Street. It’s about fashion, food, designer goods and popular music. It’s hardly about art at all, but what little there is will amuse you. It’s a blackly funny yarn.

Patrick Bateman has a dubious gift for recognising labels and brands. The running joke of this 400 page book is that every last outfit is broken down, itemised and noted.

So here, art is just another commodity. In a friend’s house, he spots “spooky” photos by Cindy Sherman and a painting by Eric Fischl, which he doesn’t even bother describing. (pp.279-80)

And while running from police he recognises a Julian Schnabel painting in a lobby. (You were just waiting for one to appear). It’s how he realises he’s in the “wrong fucking building”. (p. 351)

But the artist who most speaks to or for Bateman is David Onica. He owns a painting which sounds to be the original version of Sunrise with Broken Plates. He discreetly boasts about its cost.

The painting is mentioned a number of times. A crack appears in the ceiling overhead. And before she meets her fate, a murder victim points out the work is hung upside down. A loopy sign.

After dispatching this girlfriend, Bateman sells one Onica painting and buys another. This time it is “a huge portrait of a graphic equaliser done in chrome and pastels”. A portrait of a thing? Right.

As if in response to its literary fame, the artist remade his Sunrise painting in 2004 and now sells a range of merchandise from mugs to iPhone cases. One wonders what became of the original.

It is chastening that the most evil and soulless of characters also owns a Frank Stella print and, in his office at Pierce & Pierce, a painting by George Stubbs, the location of which he muses about.

Just where does one place a sign of ‘old money’, amidst state of the art stereo equipment and a 1980s twilight blue colour scheme? It is just this conflict which has spawned a Bateman.

By the time the murder count is in double figures, the killer finds himself out with, among others, a one John Constable (p. 347). So much for pastoral romance. This book kills it stone dead.

Page numbers refer to Picador edition of American Pscyho (c) 1991. David Onica merchandise can be found here.

Photos: Museo Nacional de Escultura


A National Sculpture Museum is to be found in a small city, some 200 km north of Madrid. But don’t expect too much marble, bronze or mixed media here in Valladolid. During their golden age, Spain’s sculptors worked in wood.

intense wood

Presenting exhibit A: close up of a sizeable tiered seating arrangement for a church choir. Its makers really haven’t missed a trick, covering each surface with narrative carving and embellishing wherever possible. It’s overwhelming.


Most often they would paint their creations to make polychromes. Here are two sybils, perhaps dreaming of a future on a fairground ride or a carnival float. Polychromes are carried to the street during Holy Week here.


Levi, son of Jacob. My biblical knowledge is pretty inadequate, but since all his many brothers were all quite hirsute, he caught my eye. He looks like he’s getting riled by a refereeing decision, and somehow you feel his pain.


But I jest. They take their religion seriously in this part of the world. Here’s a flagellant getting down to business. I take back what I said about mixed-media. Those are real cords of rope. There’s very little heroic about polychromes.


Here’s the man behind the plan. I’ve not seen such a mannered crucifixion anywhere else. Just look at the tension in those feet. I think this is 15th century. Well before the German Expressionists, at any rate.


Contrast the delicate pillow with the flowing gore. This sculpture was perhaps the centrepiece of The Sacred Made Real at the National Gallery back in 2009. It’s by Gregorio Fernández, who we can call a wound fetishist.

ecce homo

This is by Pedro de Mena. Critics will argue that it is kitsch. And indeed, to be any more kitsch you would need to remake it with wax. But the seventeenth century’s most fiercely held beliefs reverberate throughout this museum.


This piece by Juan de Juni is pretty mannerist, but the forms have been compacted rather than stretched. This burly witness of Christ’s death has enough delicacy to show us a single murderous thorn. His expression is priceless.

san pedro

This Saint Peter, again by Fernández, offers a little light relief with his rosy cheeks and curly beard. It serves as an example to suggest that, as mediums go, wood carries less gravitas than stone or metal. I wonder why. Answers in the comments box, please . . .

Visit the Museum website and consider a tip to Valladolid: museoescultura.mcu.es

The Martin Creed Band @ Brighton Festival


Martin Creed has some good tunes. No, really. For the week following his gig in Brighton, there are still one or two which bounce around between the ears.

His lyrics are to the point. Highlight of the show was a rendition of the alphabet, from “a-a a a a-a-a-a” through to “z-z z z z-z-z-z”. Creed’s lively sense of fun is not news.

But to say the Martin Creed Band were contenders for all time favourite musical act would be somewhat pretentious. Even buying a CD from the merch stand would seem strange.

Conceptual music is generally bad news. “Ideas, sugar, are not sexy,” to quote a character in a story by Amy Hempel. This holds true in music, surely. Possibly in art blogs too.

Art itself, by contrast, is a vast playground of ideas. And no one knows this better than Creed. Whether stacking objects according to size or turning a light on and off, the idea is all.

This systematic artist is the least likely musician. But you could argue that a few rock myths find their way in, that happily enough Creed loses a bit of control.

His angular powerpop seems like a matter of taste rather than deliberation. And one thinks of some of Creed’s Scottish compatriots, that whole Glasgow heritage.

In fact, the Pastels (named after an art material) once released an example of system pop worthy of Kraftwerk, the  Ramones, or anyone else to whom you’d want to compare Creed.

So, it is not hard to locate him in the tradition of bands who shambled into the indie charts three decades ago and learned just enough of their instruments to get up on stage.

But Creed is making things difficult for himself with both harmonica licks and guitar solos. If he is not careful he could get misled by his growing technical skills.

Whereas art has good ideas, music has a wealth of magic and pomp. You cannot strap on an electric guitar without buying into these. Creed even plays a chord midair at one point.

Or did my eyes deceive me? Certainly the visual element was strong, with this unorthodox frontman opting for tartan trousers and a garish tank top. He must have known.

So in contrast to the glam posturings of David Lemalas or Nice Style, from the early 70s, here is an artist who apparently sets out to reject the trappings of rock and roll.

The stage, however, owns him. Swapping guitars from a rack of three or introducing his band, Creed becomes every frontman in the history of rock. It’s a curious thing.

The Martin Creed Band played Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on 06 May 2014.

Tala Madani, Reading Light (2013)


At the risk of over analysing a good joke, it’s worth considering this painting by Tala Madani. It’s as funny as anything in her scurrilous UK survey in Nottingham.

The dude with the erect torch, well, in his mind he’s a sex god. He appears to think that red shaft is a part of his body. Or at least he’s happy for us to think so.

But what most amuses me are the two eager boffins. They come to him with an unfolded map, as if they realise they’re lost, or a blueprint, as if big plans are afoot.

There is nothing sexual about their enquiry at all, but they rely on a diffuse glow from a bigger man’s trousers. And don’t we all? Perhaps men are simply more prone to hero worship.

His actual sex remains a mystery. The torch is also a searchlight. But we cannot see what it has found. (Even if Madani is not averse to painting a cock or two when the occasion calls for it.)

Both the alpha type and the boffins are characters who crop up in other works here.  And as has been pointed out before, the Iranian artist tends to focus on masculinity.

I wanted to link this to her cultural background. If it be difficult to paint like this in present day Iran, be assured that Madani has enjoyed the relative safety of LA since a young age.

But see how this blogger has also bustled up close to the light with a mental map. Like the boffins in this piece, I want to orientate myself and to fix a position for the artist.

Perhaps, and this is a long shot, the paunchy one is not a man at all. Perhaps she is a fleshy stand in for the female artist complete with fetish (torch) and disguise (beard).

Yet the work remains as unknowable as the contents of those tented trousers. The phallus is at once presence and absence at the heart of a biting satire, a drama of gendered darkness and light.

Tala Madani: Rear Projection can be seen at Nottingham Contemporary until 23rd March 2014.

Work Programme at CAC

work programme

“Unfortunately, this being East Germany/Gert patriotically volunteered to be sent on a labour/Beautification course of the countryside north-west of Dresden/And never seen again.” *

There is something punitive about Work Programme at the gallery known as CAC. At time of writing we’re on edition 28, and more than 27 souls have already pitched in and given us shows. Work is on the tin; artists are expected to labour. And this is a Programme, a temporal and spatial structure which must be followed: fill a Brighton gallery in just six days and make it good.

But what results! Each one has been a triumph of the impossible. Rarely have so many, produced so much, in so little time and with so little cash. Hard graft has led to, I would say, miracles. And to arrive at a launch is always to see a familiar place rendered strange. Yet the next conscript moves in on the very next day. A Francis Alÿs piece comes to mind: Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing.

This important film, also called Paradox of Praxis, follows the Belgian artist as he pushes a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City. It takes an entire day for the sliding block of H2O to melt. So he is left with nothing (although of course he has a film). Work Programme also leads to nothing. But in both cases, nothing is not a failure but a good outcome.

Needless to say, in these austere times, Work Programme doesn’t pay. In this respect it is worse than sewing mail bags. But, if only for one week, free labour does allow artists to opt out from the dominant economy, with its hedge funds and its property ladders. It gives participants and audience, alike, access to another non-monetary system, that of the gift.

Anthropologists are not the only ones to have an interest in the gift-giving feast of potlatch. Found in North West Canada and some parts of the States, this competitive event is a non-lethal act of war. It asks which indigenous tribe can give away the most. Things get out of hand, buildings are burnt and possessions thrown in rivers.

Meanwhile back at CAC, shows open on saturday evening; on sunday they close. The spotlight lasts less than 24 hours. Work is removed, and often destroyed, before the weekend is out. This moves us away from the commodification of art and, in the subterranean space at CAC, we find a community of artists and friends surely tapping into something a little more primal.

And just as cells (correctional and/or monastic) are the most ambient of spaces. The architecture at 31 Queens Road are by now well charged with hard work, anxiety and at times, clearly, wild flights of inspiration. CAC might be the engine room of the Brighton art scene, making other gallery models look cumbersome.

But are they cumbersome, or merely humane? As demonstrated, this is a punishing model for art production. If it suggests a gulag or a camp, that would suit our provincial setting at the end of the A23. And by the way, a certain Mark E Smith (singer with The Fall) once described Brighton as a “cultural prison”**. To the best of my knowledge he has never been to Work Programme, but he would recognize it for what it is.

The first Work Programme of 2014 opens (and closes) on Saturday 18/01 at 7pm at Community Arts Centre, 31 Queens Road. The artist in residence is Sam Ayres.

*The Fall, Athlete Cured (from the 1988 album, The Frenz Experiment).

**Mark E Smith, Renegade (Penguin 2008), p.150

Richard Serra, Courtauld Transparency #4 (2013)



What’s behind a painting or drawing, literally? The reverse of a canvas is a necessary mystery, with its potential for jottings, classifications, signatures and in some cases failed attempts.

In terms of drawing, Serra knows enough about failure. The 14 works made for the Courtauld are to some degree beyond his control. So the rejects “far outweigh” the successes*.

Still, he presents us here with the hint of a reverse side, a see-though,’ canvas’. This is the first time a museum has shown his drawings on transparent Mylar.

You soon realise that behind a contemporary drawing by Serra, you will find only more drawing. Litho crayon sticks to both sides of his material, as it floats in its frame.

They are something to get your head around. The American artist will coat two sheets of Mylar with crayon and then sandwich another sheet between them.

As he applies pressure to the topmost sheet, his ink adheres to both sides of the filling. So when he takes away the outer layers, it reveals an image he may or may not like.

Hard to say what Serra looks for. But on the evidence here it is: density, dirt, and a lack of gestalt forms. It’s as if he comes to the Courtauld Institute to put another full stop on art history.

The artist has hoped these works will leave you feeling hollow to the pit of your stomach. But what this blogger reports is a panicky failure to grasp the process at once, a frustration.

You want to pull apart these frames and see both sides. You want to see the process at work. You want to see the rejects. Despite the transparency of his materials, the mystery is increased.

*According to a fine catalogue essay by Barnaby Wright, which also has interesting things to say about Cezanne’s influence on Serra.

Read on: Time Out saw more menace than mystery in the show. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian likens the work to a black sun.

Richard Serra: Drawings for the Courtauld can be seen at The Courtauld Gallery, London, until 12 January 2014

Found Objects 05/11/13

Apologies for sporadic posting of late, anyhow I’m back on the trail:

  • It’s the “art find of the century” (consequently the best Found Object ever). Hyperallergic reports on the discovery of 1,500 degenerate art works in the flat of an eightysomething hoarder
  • Mordovia sounds like the complete opposite of a holiday destination. BBC News explores the worrying whereabouts of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot (h/t @kristoncapps)
  • Pedro Velez (@PDRVelez) calls this a universal MUST READ. Critic Philip Kennicott and artist Alex Rivera debate the usefulness of the term Latino in any discussion on art
  • Here’s a #longread grizzly enough to keep your attention to the very end. NY Times reports on football related ultra-violence in Brazil
  • Robert Atkins does an invaluable service compiling dictionaries of art speak. But Robin Cembalest does an even more sterling job picking the least ignorable terms
  • It is fair to say that artist Ron Throop doesn’t care much for artist Robert Zimmerman. Much worse than going electric, Dylan is still making paintings
  • Only up until Nov 8th: sit back and endure a 50 minute film by Ryan Trecartin (as seen in Venice this year). Hysterical, in all senses.
  • Since Tapas is for sharing, perhaps we can get away with this slick presentation on Spanish food design. A feast for the eyes, etc
  • These Impressionist Zombies are turning up late for Halloween, but you won’t want to miss them if you haven’t already checked out Animal NY
  • Remember remember this day in November. Since it’s bonfire night, I’m linking to an appropriate ditty from Magic Markers. Catchy.

Alex Hoda, Schliere (Streak), 2012

alex hoda 2

This sculpture makes a meal of a piece of gum. It may be marble, but it was once a remnant piece of a habit-forming chew. And now it is the size of a torso.

Visitors may be struck at the muscularity, which marble will always suggest. There is a body trapped in here, perhaps a Michaelangelesque dying slave.

These sinews may be rock hard. But you may still want to chew over the results of this fleshy piece of work, at the risk of breaking a tooth.

The stone comes from the maestro’s onetime favourite quarry at Carrara in Tuscany. I was told it has been chiselled with high pressure water from a 3D map scaled to 0.1 of a micron.

Were the artist to use said technology to render a figure from myth, it might be horribly ernest. Gum reassures us that he is insouciant enough to make contemporary art.

But we can still admire the stone along with the concept. The veins and luminosity are just beautiful. You want to stroke it, but isn’t chewed gum as tactile as it is repellent.

This piece has been splatted on the wall, as if the classical world never happened. Certainly, machine technologies have cut all the traditional craftsmanship out of the equation.

Gum may seem too ephemeral for a lasting statement. But evidence suggests we have been chewing bark, etc, for 5,000 years: a pillar of civilisation. More ancient than the Ancient World.

Schliere (Streak) can be seen in Alex Hoda: D-Construction at Edel Assanti, London, until 26 October 2013.

Found Objects 19/08/13

Some great links this week, a few of which I hope you’re tempted to click on:

  • William Powhida and Jade Townsend have devised a scarily detailed map of the art world as a number of warring tribes, including an encampment for Critical Refugees.
  • Lego has released an architects’ studio. Hundreds of white or clear bricks for you to style up your own modernist pavilion. This may even make up for their Harry Potter alliance.
  • Aymann Ismail has an astonishing tale to tell and the photos to prove it. This is a story from troubled Egypt by Animal NY. How to beat an angry mob….
  • Well, it looks like this time next year audio cassettes will be back in vogue. You’ll have to get that box down from the loft. Vice reports on their growing appeal #longread
  • If you’ve got 40 minutes (go on) you could do much worse than settle in for this lecture by Mark Leckey. Cinema in the Round is now on Ubuweb.
  • Here’s something more immediate: a collection of nature gifs. Not sure we should be treating animals this way, but hell, my favourite is the crocodiles.
  • John Cooper Clarke makes it into the National Curriculum and the wordy folk at Pipe have paid tribute to him. The pigeonhole ‘punk poet’ may no longer do justice.
  • Asheq Akhtar has made a beautiful film in derelict asylum, Severalls, in Colchester. This had added resonance for me because I grew up in the town and it cast a shadow..
  • Meanwhile here are ten of the best 20th century poems to be inspired by paintings with introductions by Fisun Guner. Plus one surprise from this side of the millennium.
  • The Walt Disney Family Museum may not promise much with a name like that. But this show of 102-year-old Bambi mood setter Tyrus Wong sounds magic enough.

Jeff Koons, Encased – Four Rows (1983-93)

(c) Jeff Koons

(c) Jeff Koons

There are worse crimes than misnomers. But after he arranged these shop-bought basketballs all that Jeff Koons had to do was name them. How could he get it so wrong?

Alert readers will by now realise there are in fact four columns and six rows. Koons is no doubt aware of his slip. So it shows something of a contempt for language.

That’s not a good look for a serious artist, let alone one who strives for perfection in the way his technicians execute each new painting and sculpture.

Or has he gone with the title to admit that, hey, he has feet of clay after all. It could be a way of appearing before us as naked as he did for the Made in Heaven series.

Either way, it bugs me. Nothing for it but to enjoy the product. Forced to read the packaging, you could for a moment imagine slam dunking one or two . . .

. . . if that’s something you’ve ever been able to do. But in Koonsland anything seems possible. It seems possible to live without shame, for example, but it is not.

If this sculpture were not tactile enough, the copy on the boxes advises you of their amazing grip. It is palpable. Surely you could bounce one? No not even that

To unpack would be to destroy it, in the same way as Koons’ vacuum cleaners are not to be switched on. He points towards a perfect world and then he seals it off.

This keeps collectors hungry for the next empty promise. To paraphrase a stunt by Damien Hirst, the work is beautiful inside the head forever. Now that I guess was a title.

Jeff Koons (ARTIST ROOMS) can be seen at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until September 8 2013