Tag Archives: galleries

Who are we to judge?

“File:John Torode and Gregg Wallace Masterchef Live 2010.jpg” by Richard Gillin from St Albans, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I always wanted to be a reviewer, but I don’t really like to sit in judgement. Just consider Gregg Wallace, about whom more later.

Why do people read reviews? The answer, via Pierre Bourdieu, may be this: so they can gain cultural capital, a form of currency by which the dominant classes manage to confirm and consolidate their class position.

I had always assumed that galleries were benign places, that free admission levelled the social playing field. But come to think of it, the working classes don’t visit in huge, huge numbers; I haven’t carried out a survey, but I have read up a bit and they don’t, or at least they didn’t.

Bourdieu did carry out a survey, in the 1960s, in France, for his book The Love of Art (1969). Elsewhere, in Distinction (1984), the sociologist names the revealing quality of ‘habitus’: visible in dress, body language, accent and behaviour. Upbringing and schooling are evident in disposition and deportment.

Though many artists are working class, the wider audience appears to be middle class. Can we say that?

After visiting my first dozen shows I began to think of myself as a natural art lover. Embarrassing really, because the fact of the matter remains that my parents and teachers first encouraged me to visit exhibitions.

According to Bourdieu schools are no more innocent than museums and galleries. These institutions are all in service of the system and operate at various levels to consolidate many different class positions.

Which brings me to Gregg Wallace.

Wallace is a British television presenter who critiques cookery on a reality television show called Masterchef. Unlike me, he left school at 15 and went to work in a greengrocer’s warehouse. Soon working on a stall, he went into the grocery business , and success led to a presenting gig on Radio 4 show all about vegetables. His Masterchef role as a gastronome has made him a regular fixture on BBC screens since 2005.

Now I confess to chuckling at Gregg Wallace in my time – at the comic idea he lacked the refinement for his role as gourmet. All taste expresses class, and it appears from Distinction that the taste for various foods is even more fundamental than the taste for paintings. So the flak which Wallace draws from some quarters is an attempt to maintain the status quo: how dare a common grocer from Peckham pronounce on important matters of taste.

Gregg, if you’re reading, keep up the good work. It can be seen now that one man’s meat is another man’s painting, sculpture, performance piece or film.

Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock, The Captive (2014)

Installation view (detail)
Installation view (detail)

JCHP are a two-man art ‘team’, who have been accused of ‘nigh-on psychotic self-analysis’ (in their own catalogue to boot*). So where to start and what to add?

First, it’s a relief that Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock are in fact hard grafting artists Dave Smith and Thom Winterburn. Thankfully, they’re not just one horrendously posh bloke.

One of their chief interests is artistic labour. They spend a lot of time making reproductions of historic prints which they have in the past given away or exhibited unfinished.

They have been opposed to conventional exhibiting. Yet both were gallerists before joining forces as art producers, albeit artists whose practice includes exhibition making.

But now they’ve opted for a suck-it-and-see approach with a single drawing on display in a small but critical Brighton space, Neuefroth Kunstallle.

And they’ve gone all out to put their work on a notional pedestal. It is triple mounted and beautifully framed beneath spotlights. That’s some self-conscious over egging.

It might all be just good fun, were not the focus of all this attention being an 18th century print of a desperate prisoner: Sterne’s Captive by Joseph Wright of Derby.

Thus a Laurence Sterne novel, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, offers another frame (of reference) for this lugubrious and slavish copy.

Although in Sterne’s narrative the prisoner is released when guards realise he is the jester Yorick, a literary personage who would have seen the funny side of JCHP’s complex new artefact.

The artists put the seal on this exquisite work with the signatures of both the original artist and his engraver. Their own name appears below this, crisply embossed. The mediation is rich.

But since the exhibition is to be considered as a whole, it’s worth mentioning the dense sheet of A3 text which accompanies the copy, of the print, of the satirical novel.

Here is where the psychotic self-analysis comes into play. The notes are as prevaricating as Sterne himself could be. The language is formal, florid, only occasionally funny.

But for a minute the recollection of JCHP as a some anachronistic dandy comes strutting back into mind. And we might be stuck with the posh bloke. That after all is the art world for you.

The show can be viewed by appointment until December 13 or during a public viewing on Saturday 29 November 2014. See Neuefroth Kunsthalle.

* See Richard Birkett’s essay in Critical Decor: A Short Organum for Exhibition