Thursday, October 05, 2006

Money for old rope: a polemic on modern art

Modern art was long ago shoved under ‘bollocks’ in my cerebral filing cabinet (alongside Bono) and ignored. I make no bones about being a philistine and possibly just too dense to appreciate the less immediately obvious concepts allegedly conveyed by a chair dressed in a tutu. I ignore modern art. I put up with it in silence, as one does when the stranger next to you on a train lets one rip. UNTIL that is, one of the charlatans masquerading as artists is selected to win the annual Turner Prize and with it 25,000 quid.

The Turner Prize for those of you fortunate enough to be in blissful ignorance of its existence is an annual event when six idiots art critics award this huge sum of cash to a British artist under 50 for an “outstanding exhibition or presentation.” As far as I can tell, the degree to which the work of art is considered “outstanding” is inversely proportionate to the degree of effort put into it by its creator. But don’t take my word for it, consider the following crap proffered up for this year’s competition. (I have chosen the two which most made me lose the will to live.)

They tell me this is art

1. Phil Collins ‘They Shoot Horses’ [people working in an office]

First of all no it’s not bald Phil ‘Against All Odds’ Collins, but rather some bloke who has transferred a production company and its staff to an art gallery, and got them answering phones, sending emails and generally doing stuff people do in offices. The idea is that saddos who have taken part in reality TV (Big Brother and its ilk) and got burnt by the experience ring up this production company and tell all. According to the Turner Prize website [prepare yourself, bollocks ahead] “Phil Collins’ art investigates our ambivalent relationship with the camera as both an instrument of attraction and manipulation, of revelation and shame.” Right. I saw him interviewed on TV, and the interviewer asked him what the final piece of art actually was; the reconstruction of an office, or the testimonies of the losers who call in? Collins the pseudo intellectual twat said (with this knowing “I really have duped these morons” smirk) “I dunno…what do you think is the final piece of art?” Goddamit.

And what’s more how dare he appropriate the title of a great, great book (by Horace McCoy. Read it people) for his stupid meaningless nonsense.

No this isn't something the cat coughed up, this is art

2. Rebecca Warren [clay sculptures that look like bits of poo]

This woman is an absolute genius. She is the art equivalent of conmen who dupe pensioners into investing their life savings into pyramid schemes. Except that the pensioners on the Turner Prize Committee think that she’s hot stuff. What is particularly impressive about Warren is that she does not even attempt to disguise the fact that she is passing off glass as diamonds. Our friends at the Turner website tell us that “she re-works and intentionally misappropriates existing images by the accepted masters of figurative sculpture, including Degas, Picasso and Rodin blah blah blah”
Isn’t misappropriation a synonym for theft?

Wait it gets better. This is how she made her masterpieces: “After receiving the clay originals back from the foundry, bashed and misshapen from the casting process, Warren revised and added to them before returning them for recasting. Repetitions can be detected between works as well as traces of rubber from their extraction from the moulds, thus showing disregard for the traditional connotations of the material.”
And surely also showing complete disregard for the intelligence of those who look at these objects. For the love of God, ‘traces of rubber?!?’ It took all my powers of self-restraint not to put my foot through the television when I saw these monstrosities. She has basically taken a lump of clay, or poo, or whatever it is, smacked it about a few times to make an amorphous mess, baked it, seen that it is still an amorphous mess, and thought to herself “hmm…how can I pull one over on the tossers on the Turner Prize Committee and win me some green… I know! I’ll put a nipple on it!” And that is indeed what she did, for the Turner website proclaims that “ideas of self-expression, gender and the nature and purpose of sculptural form converge in Warren’s work.”

So what if I moon the Turner Committee? Doesn’t that combine ideas of self-expression, gender and the nature and purpose of sculptural form? Uffffff indeed.

To anyone who chooses to wheel out the tired old argument that art is whatever the artist terms art, I respectfully say bollocks. Double bollocks. There has to be a degree of objectivity here surely, in the same way that it is possible for a broad consensus to exist about the merits or otherwise of a film. The problem is that since most modern art is quite literally a load of rubbish it has no objective value; neither in terms of the material used nor the skill employed to create it. It is the Nike shoe of the art world; produced for 50p and sold for 100 quid. While Nike relies on marketing (oh demon craft), modern art employs middlemen to convince us that by playing white noise on a radio in an empty room the artist is conveying the complexity of life – and should be paid 500,000 big ones for his trouble.

And no, it is not enough that a piece of art generates controversy, or that people rail against it on blogs - it's still no substitute for ability and genuine creativity. Just because I am shocked by the fat woman in pink spandex leggings lap dancing on the bus, don't make her an artist.

I honestly did give modern art a chance once. I went to Tate Britain when it first opened (free entry obviously, like I’d pay). I was impressed by the architecture of the building itself, which is pretty spectacular – shame it’s being used for something so rubbish. It all went downhill pretty soon after I went in obviously, and I wandered forlornly from room to room looking at televisions showing a man running on the spot, and giant clothes hangers etc. I eventually went into the final room, which was cordoned off and filled with painting and decorating materials. Obviously not ready yet I thought, until my heart sank when I saw a small card in the corner on which was written ‘in this work the artist Haraamy McFraud explores the ease with which it is possible to take the piss out of the general public by convincing them that what looks like their living room when it is being redecorated, can in fact constitute art.’ Clearly some pretentious old rubbish was written rather than that, and when I read it I immediately ran outside and threw myself in the Thames.


hebe said...

i concur heartily , modern art is a load of twat . you should check out the stuckists website .

Amnesiac said...

Thanks for that Hebe, interesting. I notice that the Stuckism movement was created following a critical remark made by Tracey Emin - which provides an indication that there may be some merit in Stuckism given that Emin personifies all that is crap about modern art (see: her unmade bed exhibit).

Anonymous said...

Another smashing post Amne! I've been working in the arts field for a few years now as a development consultant and from firsthand experience I can say that the bullshit attached to contemporary artistic practices is stacked so high you can hardly see where it ends and where the bull's ass begins. All I've managed to conclude is this, today's art is big on the conceptual dimension which is to say that there is almost a complete lack of regard to form (unless it can deviantly serve the concept!) and an almost narcissistic obsession with extracting meaning. This allows for infinite possibilities as any masturbatory excercise can be labled art if a critic can provide a theoreticaly relevant context. what's funny is while there is a complete diregard for the value of art and personal expression in a place like Egypt, and a mad obsession for it in Europe and the US (the leading contemporary art markets), the result on a personal level is almost always a natural repulsion to the B.S.

Amnesiac said...

Hehe yes absolutely right concept has apparently replaced the need for art, or at least something resembling art. Bonkers.

Reformed Cynic said...

Have you read the inimitably bitchy Lynn Barber's article about her experience judging the Turner Prize, 'How I suffered for art's sake'? You must, you must!,,1884681,00.html

Absolute favourite line:
'I did once see Keanu Reeves in Vyner Street admiring an artwork in the Modern Art gallery, a blue, plastic rectangle, I seem to recall, that looked like a Formica offcut and cost 20 grand. Reeves described it as 'almost Kleinian', which is artspeak for blue.'

Amnesiac said...

Hehehehe very funny, thanks for sending that.

Tony said...

Witty, incisive and so, so true. Every word of it. I agree that art can only be judged art if it has certain qualities and one of those qualities should surely be an element of skill in its making. Declaring 'this is art,' does not make it so. Most often it seems it just declares the declarer as being a fraud, an intellectual bankrupt and an utter, utter tosspot.

Amnesiac said...

lol, yes.