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

Drawing the line somewhere: writing for free about art

untitled blog

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.


Bedwyr Williams, Strafed (2012)

strafed

Strafing is the military practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons ranging from machine guns to auto cannons or rotary cannons.”

Armed with this knowledge, if not this hardware, we can safely say that Williams’ picnic suite appears to be the worse for an encounter with an airborne machine gun. In an English garden.

This piece can now be seen in the garage of a semi detached house on the fringes of Luton. Were it not for the swiss cheese look, this table and chairs would invite you to sit down for a lemonade.

But your aspirations have been punctured 1001 times with a drill bit (I would guess 8mm). A pair of cheerful sunseekers here would have been riddled with lead and each sprung a hundred leaks.

Such violence is out of proportion to a harmless pretension: the Great British pursuit of fresh air, conspicuous ownership of a small lawn, and proximity to the prize begonias. Or is the strike justified?

How many wars have been fought on behalf of people in suburban gardens, who enjoy peace and quiet, even as young combatants fall and families much like theirs become collateral damage?

Something about these stackable white chairs enrages artists. In 1990, it was Damien Hirst who called down a plague upon our twee seasonal dining arrangements, and I wrote about it here.

Of course, the 90s were innocent times. No one could foresee the creeping outbreak of a long war in which our guns, our planes, and even our sanctions would bring so much death to the Gulf.

That said, this mise-en-scène reads like friendly fire, a trigger happy over-reaction by a Spitfire ace. The destruction wrought in Strafed is out of time, out of place, out of hand.

You might ask: how could the neighbours have been so unlucky? And you might reflect: I could be next. After all, we are living through the ultimate SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up).

Strafed could be seen in Sunridge Avenue Projects, Luton, as one of 11 works on show in the parental home of artist Dominic from Luton. It runs until June 4, by appointment.