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

Where culture sinks in: a look at Hull 2017

© Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums

At time of visit, the city of culture franchise was barely a month old and already the statistics were out in force. In the run up to 2017, Hull attracted £1 billion in terms of investment, with £100 million spent on cultural infrastructure. Job creation is up 12 percent since 2012. Those are just the measurables.

For each statistic there are countless moments in which locals encounter something new and feel better about the place they call home. Such experiences are largely invisible, but head to Victoria Square on any day of the week and you will see the culture-effect in effect. The audience for Hull 2017 can be found posing for photos with a 75-metre long fibre glass wind turbine blade.

Blade (2017) is an artwork by Nayan Kulkarni, which dissects the town centre at a height of some six or seven foot. With the shade of a white whale and the shape of a near-weightless wing, this piece cannot be ignored by even the most casual visitor. And, as a readymade B75 rotor blade, made here by the Humber Estuary, the installation sets the stage for renewable cultural energy.

Ferens Art Gallery is already seeing the audience figures go spinning round. Reopening after a £5.2 million refurbishment, 50,000 art lovers came through the doors in just two weeks. By comparison, January 2016, in its entirety, saw Ferens welcome just 10,000 to its dozen grandiose galleries. The new draw is a pair of contrasting exhibits: one which centres on an altarpiece from the early 14th century; the other which lines up five of Francis Bacon’s notorious screaming popes.

Neither showing would have been possible were it not for the refit, which has brought the humidity, heating, lighting and condensation up to acceptable standards. The altarpiece is an exquisite gold-ground panel painting by Pietro Lorenzetti which Ferens acquired for over £1 million. The gallery has put it on show together with loan works by Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio. Find yourself in this hallowed space and you are reminded that culture is a serious, non-mercantile business at heart.

Meanwhile, with his reputation for nihilism, the paintings by Bacon are also unlikely advertisements for economic regeneration. But this is a rare chance to see a number side by side, and a curatorial coup for a city of just a quarter of a million people. Whatever his views about cultural tourism, here is another serious artist. He threatened to destroy at least one of these portraits, and it was all his friends and patrons (Sir Robert and Lisa Sainsbury) could do to persuade him to save it.

In some ways he would be more at home in Humber Street Gallery alongside the scurrilous shows by Sarah Lucas and COUM Transmissions. This new contemporary space opened on February 3rd and converts an old fruit warehouse into a three storey visual arts hub that would be a fine addition to any of the UK’s larger cities. The designers have left the floors and fixtures in a rough and ready state, which befits the idea of culture as a commodity for import and export here on the dockside.

COUM were a performance art collective founded by Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti, who employed music, hallucinogens, participation, obscenity and street theatre to liven up Hull (and also further afield) in the late 1960s. COUM were so good at what they did that, on several occasions, police intervened, and a conservative MP stood up in Parliament to brand the group, “wreckers of civilisation”. So once pariahs, they are now famous locals. This is one of the most edgy shows you are likely to see in a publicly-funded art festival, so make the most of it.

In the ground floor space, walls are bright yellow for three sculptures by former yBa Lucas. The work was previously seen in the British Pavilion at Venice in 2013, so it’s a great opportunity for less travelled Brits to actually see it. Worth the wait, it is also worth the chance to compare and contrast with the show upstairs as it also features nudity and crude wit. Lucas has made plaster sculptures of women from the waist down, given the provocative poses upon unwanted pieces of furniture, and stuck unlit cigarettes into various orifices.

The bar at Humber Street Gallery also features a reclaimed and much loved local landmark. Dead Bod was a piece of graffiti which sprung up on a coal shed in the 1960s on the dockside. With the outline of an eponymous dead bird in paint over corrugated iron, it is not the prettiest example of early street art, but for several decades seafarers have relished the sight of it as they returned to the shore. When the coal shed was removed to make way for a Siemens factory, Dead Bod was much missed. So locals from all walks of life, will now have a familiar introduction to the often challenging waters of contemporary art.

Hull has also offered a show that unites lovers of contemporary and traditional art. At the University of Hull, Michelangelo was hung alongside Michael Landy, and visitors had the opportunity to get close to many of the great masters of classical and modern art, closer than paintings will usually allow. Lines of Thought was a show dedicated to drawing and, as drawing is an intimate medium, this wonderful exhibition offered instant familiarity with many greats who have never been shown in East Yorkshire before.

There is more to come. Before the end of 2017, Hull will host more public art and more exhibitions: these include Offshore, a major show about visual art and the sea, and, from September, the much talked-about Turner Prize. There will, of course, be many more visitors through these gallery doors, many more selfies next to monumental sculptures, and many more pounds rung through the tills of coffers of local hotels and restaurants. From the earliest of signs, the event is a success.

But let us offer some balance, in the words of poet Philip Larkin, who worked as a librarian at the University here for 30 years. In an early letter from his new home, he wrote: “I’m settling down in Hull all right. Each day I sink a little further.” It’s a nice bon mot, but Hull 2017 should attract both visitors and settlers. If you come here and sink a little, it’s only because the city has depth.

Hull is UK City of Culture 2017. For full listings and event details please see the festival website


Jean Tinguely, Study for an End of the World No.2 (1962)

In these end times, it is worth remembering we have been here before. We have had more than 70 years to get used to the idea of nuclear weapons. In 1962 the psychic shock was fairly raw.

As in rock music, fast food and situation comedies, the USA led the rest of the world, the deserts in its Southern states serving as a blank canvas for numerous spectacular tests.

In the interests of public entertainment, if not safety, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce saw fit to publish a calendar of detonations and a list of the best viewing sites.

And in that sense they beat this artist to the punch. Tinguely’s first staging of the end of the world was brought about in the early sixties; his earlier Study, No.1, took place in 1960.

How do you follow a mushroom cloud with a piece of fine art? Tinguely’s answer was to step up his interest in kinetic and self-destructive mechanical junk sculpture.

Together with his partner (French artist Niki de Saint Phalle must get some credit) he scoured a remote junk yard for components. It seems anything was fair game: toys, a toilet bowl, a trolley.

In metal hardhat and goggles, Tinguely was arguably as keen to control his own image as that of his soon-to-be explosive artwork. Now both artist and creation were ready for broadcast on NBC.

Were it not for the televisual audience there would have been few witnesses. There were shelters for camera crew and press; the sculpture was too dangerous for the public.

It was also dangerous for TV execs. The sight of a configuration of functionless objects, which spring into pointless life for an 18 minute performance must have had serious commercial fallout.

And then the fuses were lit. The sketchy YouTube footage is linked above. Better footage can be seen in Tinguely’s largest ever retrospective right now. And yet we fail to get a sense of it.

The camera lingers on a burning armchair. But safe in their all-American homes, we may never know how many viewers felt the heat of this detail, as noted in the catalogue.

It was just a study, mind you. As the end of the world continues to unfold in a way that looks quite different to that of 1962, we are reminded of Tinguely’s words.

“You can’t expect the world to end the way you want it to,” said the anarchic sculptor. We can only speculate about the piece of avant garde software code that could form Study No.3.

Jean Tinguely, Machine Spectacle, can be seen at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until March 5 2017. My visit was at the invite of the museum and the airline KLM, whose informative new art history page can be found here.


Diary: a flying visit to Amsterdam

Since Amsterdam is most famous for narco-tourism and legal sex work, it is the perfect city to get high on art and get in bed with a famous airline in return for a 24-hour trip there.

KLM had got in touch to publicise a new art history primer which sits quite comfortably on the pages of their website, devoted to the charms of a destination which they call a “cultural giant”.

Fourteen painters are featured here together with a readable introduction to the Golden Age and a gentle canal ride, which brings a Google streetview-like experience to the waterways.

My trip was at a higher pace. I flew one morning from Heathrow and back the following afternoon. My hotel was in the Canal District and my smartphone led me to the museum district.

Trams in Amsterdam are pretty straightforward and many locals will be only too happy to break out their fantastic English language skills and direct you around this manageable city.

But with only three hours until closing time I faced a tough choice, as readers may no doubt imagine: the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum or the Stedelijk? Each worth a day or more.

But since I had a free ticket to the latter, I went with this modern art space and was thrilled by a pair of exhibitions of Jean Tinguely and Jordan Wolfson. Review of the former to follow soon.

There was too, too much to see at the Stedelijk and their permanent collection is notably well curated, in a series of just-so rooms according to style, or school, or reputation.

Stedelijk has a wealth of paintings by Malevich and, since we are in the land of De Stijl, allows you to draw the obvious comparisons between the Russian painter and Piet Mondrian.

The Netherlands also have a stake in the Abstract Expressionist movement. Also on show at the Stedelijk are some fine De Koonings, one getting lots of attention from a giggling/stoned couple.

Since alcohol is my drug of choice, it was nice to get to the bar in my hotel. But slightly alarming that the bottle I ordered was eight percent proof. To be mopped up with a meal at a nearby cafe.

Checking out early the next day offered the chance for some more culture. On a recommendation from @hindmezaina, my first stop was photo museum Foam. Hiroshi Sugimoto has a show there.

By shooting waxworks of historical personages and dioramas of stuffed animals, Sugimoto plays with photography’s truth claims. And everyone must see his interiors of art deco cinemas.

Perhaps it was a planning failure, but I left the Rijksmuseum until last. My schedule gave me just an hour here. But given the calibre of painting from the Dutch Golden Age, a little goes a long way.

Naturally the Night Watch by Rembrandt was a spectacle. Naturally the Vermeers were luminous. But newish to me was Jan Steen who paints with a Hogarth-like sense of narrative and comedy.

So that’s where my own Amsterdam narrative ends. The trip home was uneventful and the art memories will stay with me. So, thanks KLM. I have no criticismisms of this trip.


What’s left for art in 2017?

Credit: Notions Capital (Flickr/CC 2.0)

Credit: Notions Capital (Flickr/CC 2.0)

The vital importance of visual art, in this emerging plutocracy, is without doubt. Even though, for most politically engaged artists, it can seem like swimming against the popular tide.

But the cultural reversals of 2016 are, in fact, just a reaction against the false promise of aesthetics. They are anti-art, anti-intellectual, anti-fashion, and opposed to all forms of sophistication.

What went wrong? We enjoyed eight years of the most presentable US President in history. And no matter how little you liked Cameron and/or Blair, their smooth brands offered a certain surety.

Well, I don’t believe that BrexTrump had much to do with political realities. Nothing does, when you live in a corporate owned mediascape. It was rather a rejection of a certain bad look.

Please don’t ascribe authenticity to these populist politicians. Their deceptions are numerous and notorious. They have done away with political craft, the actual honesty of rhetoric and oratory.

In short, they have killed statesmanship or statespersonship. They have killed the gravity which art, via countless portraits and busts, has so often ascribed to the powerful: to popes, kings, gentry.

Who can maintain gravity, as the world spins faster and faster? Who can pretend to pre-eminence when already several billion are a click away? What matters if the context for any action is chaos?

It would be ridiculous to think that art could restore politics, on either side of the Atlantic, to former glories. Since the glorious few have led us to this, it would be neither possible nor desirable.

But the shallow figures who dominate world politics now have ushered in real 21st century fascists. Wherever they were all hiding, there is certainly a role for art in the fight against this.

They may have their baseball hats and their double breasted blazers, but underneath the trappings of normality, Trump, Farage, and their ilk are naked. They do not yet have their Leni Riefenstahl.

So in a world where perception is everything (and hasn’t it always been everything?) visual art is the most potent creative endeavour in which we can engage. Artists can dress power up, or down.

And when you throw in ceremonial drama (performance), when you throw in a few flags (pop), and some party political ads (video) you realise that in fact there can be no power without art.

This must be why an event such as the Turner Prize will always fuel tabloid ire. The political relations bodied forth by a quiet Helen Marten installation are surely antipathetic to shitty gold elevators.

In short, contemporary art has never had a clearer challenge. It is time to accede to the visual realm, to make it new, to make it more powerful than the guys writing the cheques for it.

Because seriously, plutocrats will always be the like the uninteresting patrons who paid to appear on their knees in renaissance altarpieces. Let art ensure history pities our new leaders, rather than fears them.


Drawing the line somewhere: writing for free about art

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Art Rules was a shortlived online experiment from the ICA and in 2013 I was one of many people asked for some wisdom. “Don’t plan on getting paid or laid,” I wrote. “The work is its own reward.”

Well, Lucky pdf, an arts collective who are much cooler than me, wrote “Don’t work for free”.  But I would contend we both have a point. The work is its own reward, yet has monetary value.

That is in essence the beauty of both writing and art. Surely nothing worthwhile is ever made with a price tag in mind. And so the art world is as full of freebies as it is full of art fairs and auctions.

We need hardly enumerate the perks of engaging with this system: free admission to galleries, free wine at openings, free press releases, free selfie opportunities and free reviews online.

Then a middle tier: blockbuster shows cost up to £20; catalogues can cost even more; editions will set you back three figures. But all of the above augment a pleasant middle class lifestyle.

The gateway comes next: work by ‘name’ artists costs between the price of a car and a house; at auction, you could spend millions; if accepted as a collector you’ll become an art world VIP.

At this point you may want to loan one of your works to a museum, thus increasing its value. Or you may want to bequeath all your art to a provincial gallery, ensuring immortality: a good trade.

Artists themselves meanwhile have to speculate to accumulate. At the very least they will need to buy materials. At worst, for their pockets, they’ll manage to rent a studio or hire assistants.

Journos can get by with a laptop, a pad and a pen, and a voice recorder. Utilised to our advantage these will gain enviable invitations to press launches and press trips.

After that point, whether visual artist or art writer, you will want to sell work. This is as difficult as it sounds. We are legion and there are always pre-validated colleagues out there with more talent.

So I found myself coming back to that pearl of wisdom from Lucky pdf. It struck me as quite an important principle. Giving away art or giving away writing does no one any favours, surely.

And yet we have social practice, a genre of art which thrives off what is freely given. And yet we have blogs like this one, which never make a bean.  And on social media, every darn thing is free.

I guess that moving forward, the approach should be: don’t give away more than you earn. Be you an artist, writer or curator, you should try and come out of your professional activities in the black.

With that in mind, it’s worth considering a new phenomenon: the crowdsourced gallery guide. Back in August I was invited by one of these to volunteer some commentary for a current London show.

The email, from a Michael Bouhanna from Untitled, captured my imagination because the featured artist was Jeff Koons and the gallery was Damien Hirst’s. I have written on both, but who hasn’t?

It can’t even be said that the request came from either of the two great men. This untitled gallery guide was positioning itself as a public service, as a kind of digital intervention.

This was supposedly in response to the lack of clear interpretation which goes along with some of the work in Hirst’s personal £100 million collection of art shown in his purpose built gallery.

But no matter how frequently I have worked for free, to promote myself or support an artist, I would never for a moment think that the Murderme collection or Newport Street Gallery needed my help.

In return Bouhanna offered the chance to join  a community of ‘passionate’ art enthusiasts who may or may not attain VIP status at future shows or art fairs. That doesn’t really appeal.

Indeed I found more community belonging on my Facebook wall where, being a blogger of the passive aggressive variety, I eventually cropped up to share my dismay at this cheeky request.

Writer Ben Street and artist Paul Brandford, who are both already VIPs to me, soon reported having similar experiences with Untitled. Bouhanna clearly spread his net far and wide.

The guide itself later arrived. One wonders if he paid the designer. Punters might be better off reading a broadsheet review and/or Mr Koons’ Wikipedia page.

The episode just threw into relief a truth about the market in which art finds itself. The rich get richer and sometimes it gets rich off studio assistants, interns and on occasion art bloggers.

But the wonderful thing about blogging is this: you can pick or choose what you write about. I hope Michael if you are reading, you will understand why I chose not to write for you.


Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964-1999 AD (2015)

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We can tell a number of things about Mark Leckey from this autobiographical film. So, the Merseysider grew up in the shadow of the Beatles, the A-bomb and the 1999 solar eclipse.

Dream English Kid is a life story made with footage found online. So we also pick up on memories of motorways, pylons, football crowds, nightclubs, London squats and sex shops.

One presumes, the national grid has found its way here through the phenomenon of nomative determinism. ‘Lecky’, a homonym for the artist’s name, is of course slang for electricity.

To underline this, he compiles shots of MANWEB stores (the Merseyside And North Wales Electricity Board). Plus a sheet of paper with ‘lekke’ scrawled in childish hand.

As any Freudian will tell you it is precisely this type of slippery play which characterises the dream. And so the artist relates to YouTube as any good analysand would relate to his/her unconscious.

Both dreamer and fetishist, Leckey offers us several moments with a Hitchcockesque blonde in a corset; she teases out her hair as we focus on the mechanics of her stockings.

What is Leckey telling us here? Or when the camera pans across several shelves of blue movies in Soho? And was he aware of the traditional dangers of auto erotic dreaming?

From Saint Augustine to Alex Portnoy, sexual fantasy has been a central part of mental life. Though for a visual artist, blindness would be catastrophic, ‘watching’ the eclipse doubly dangerous.

Light and shade provide an equally dangerous contrast in a sequence of footage captured in Eric’s nightclub in Liverpool in 1979, on a night legendary band Joy Division came to town.

Epileptic singer Ian Curtis can be seen risking a fit as he winds his arms up and down in the midst of a frenzy of strobe and cacophonous post punk rumble. Leckey was at the gig.

So the 23-minute film is as much a bildungsroman as a therapeutic confessional. Stark images of a sleeping bag on a lonely mattress in a bare room have the quality of a cocoon.

The artist pupates. Some more professional nightclub footage (1980s, big hair, with Cinzano Rosso as tipple of choice) pre-echoes his 1999 film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (another autobiography).

For me the most intriguing shot was the hands flicking through a record rack at Black Market Records in Soho. An album by The Shadows plays with the notion of chiaroscuro.

We also find Joy Division (Eric’s!), Kraftwerk (motorways!), and the Beatles (hometown!). I seem to remember it was A Hard Day’s Night, whose famous opening chord is sampled elsewhere twice.

Most spooky is a comedy LP by Kenneth Williams called On Pleasure Bent. It was the title Leckey borrowed for his first monograph and a 2013 film which may have been a prototype for this one.

Of all the racks in all the lands, the artist came across this one. This is dream logic at someone else’s fingertips, as the unconscious works through the dark, vinyl-like grooves of the mind.

Dream English Kid can be seen at Camp & Furnace throughout the 2016 Liverpool Biennial (July 9 – October 16).


Accessory to the fact: art in American Psycho

AmericanPsychoBook

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

courtyard

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.

sybills

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

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.

flagellant

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.

crucifixion

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.

catafalque

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.

thorn

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

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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)

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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.