SEMINAR—Framing Art—Institutional Critique

Today I made a short presentation to the Framing Art course that I’m on, based around two texts linked to the practice of Institutional Critique, one by Daniel Buren1 and one by Adrian Piper2. The question to which this is the response was:

During the seminar, students will give a short presentation of their chosen artists’ writings. This analysis must not give an overview of all the arguments contained in the two texts, it must instead be based on a single comparable argument extracted from each text and presented within a contextual framework.

The presentations must concentrate on how your chosen artist has addressed the museum.

I’ve posted the notes from which I did the talk, as well as a recording.3.

I didn’t realise I said ‘erm’ quite so much. How embarrassing. I’ve asked about presentation coaching so hopefully I will be able to improve on this.

  1. Buren, D. (1971). Function of the Museum. In McShine, K. ed., The Museum as Muse, Artists Reflect. New York: MOMA, 1999.
  2. Piper, A. (1980). Some Thoughts on the Political Character of This Situation. In McShine, K. ed., The Museum as Muse, Artists Reflect. New York: MOMA, 1999.
  3. Every few minutes you’ll hear the hard drive of the iPod spin up and down again. Although noisy, it’s still possible to hear what I’m saying.

WRITING—The Idea in Art

Picking up on another subject from the previous post, touched on in this quote:

. . . the [late nineteenth-century] avant-garde saw the necessity of an escape from ideas, which were infecting the arts with the ideological struggles of society.1

What’s interesting to me, upon re-reading that passage, is the denigration of ideas as ‘infecting the arts with the ideological struggles of society’, which is precisely (it seems to me) where certain strands of conceptual art took art in the late ’60’s – looking particularly at Adrian Piper.

On the course we are looking at Greenberg along with Clive Bell’s The Aesthetic Hypothesis (1914) and Roger Fry’s An Essay in Aesthetics (1909) as the developers of formalism in art theory in the early twentieth-century. So I reviewed the texts we are reading by them for other instances of the subordination of ideas, but it seems that for Bell and Fry it goes without saying and so there are only oblique references to it.

Clive Bell:

. . . for the purposes of aesthetics we have no right, neither is there any necessity, to pry behind the object, into the state of mind of him who made it.

For to appreciate a work of art we need bring nothing from life, no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions. Art transports us from the works of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation.

To appreciate a work of art we need bring nothing but a sense of form and colour and a knowledge of three-dimensional space.

But if in the artist an inclination to play upon the emotions of life is often the sign of a flickering inspiration, in the spectator a tendency to seek, behind form, the emotions of life is a sign of defective sensibility always.2

Roger Fry:

It is only when an object exists in our lives for no other purpose than to be seen that we really look at it . . . and towards such even the most normal person adopts to some extent the artistic attitude of pure vision abstracted from necessity.

We must therefore give up the attempt to judge the work of art by its reaction on life, and consider it as an expression of emotions regarded as ends in themselves.3

Being prior to the development of conceptual art, Fry and Bell’s judgments are historically tied to an understanding of art as object based, so their concept of ‘idea’ seems to be one of subject-matter. Conceptual art on the other hand conceived of the idea as something that isn’t necessarily represented, so the return of the idea, post-Greenberg, was not a return to a previous practice, but a new way of doing art.

  1. Greenberg, C.(1940). Towards a Newer Laocoon. In Frascina F., eds. Pollock and After: The Critical Debate. London: Routledge, 1985.
  2. Bell, C.(1914). The Aesthetic Hypothesis. In Frascina F. and Harrison C., eds. Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, 1982.
  3. Fry, R.(1909). An Essay in Aesthetics. In Frascina F. and Harrison C., eds. Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, 1982.

WRITING—The Self-Critical Tendency in Art

Conceptual art’s move beyond Modernism’s implicit self-criticism to one of overt self-criticism.

In 1965, Clement Greenberg was continuing to promote the Modernist ‘project,’ stressing the internal nature of the self-critical tendency in art:

I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost the exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency.

The Enlightenment criticized from the outside, the way criticism in its more accepted sense does; Modernism criticizes from the inside, through the procedures themselves of that which is being criticized.

It should also be understood that the self-criticism of Modernist art has never been carried on in any but a spontaneous and subliminal way. It has been altogether a question of practice, immanent to practice and never a topic of theory.1

Whereas, at the same moment artists were already examining this process and deliberately exploiting it for it’s own ends. Adrian Piper, as an early practitioner of what came to be called Conceptual art, describes her own rationalisation of the process thus:

. . . I coined the term meta-art in 1972 to describe a kind of writing an artist may do about her work that examines its processes and clarifies its sociopolitical context and conceptual presuppositions from the first-person perspective . . . this brand of art criticism is incompatible with the myth that the critic may impersonally efface herself and her subjectivity in order more accurately to deliver objectively valid pronouncements about the criticized object.2

And Conceptual art’s emphasis on the idea mirrors Greenberg’s historicisation of Abstract art’s move to the rejection of ideas for forms:

. . . the [late nineteenth-century] avant-garde saw the necessity of an escape from ideas, which were infecting the arts with the ideological struggles of society. Ideas came to mean subject matter in general. (Subject matter as distinguished from content: in the sense that every work of art must have content, but that subject matter is something the artist does or does not have in mind when he is actually at work.) This meant a new and greater emphasis upon form . . .3

Which leads him on to the development of his theory of the medium as the determining factor in abstract art, the ‘idea’ is not mentioned again, but it’s interesting to see how it has become subordinated in Greenberg’s account.

  1. Greenberg, C.(1965). Modernist Painting. In Frascina F. and Harrison C., eds. Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, 1982.
  2. Piper, A.(1997). Introduction: Some Very FORWARD Remarks. In Piper, A., Out of Order, Out of Sight Vol 1: Selected Writings in Meta-Art 1968–1992. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1997.
  3. Greenberg, C.(1940). Towards a Newer Laocoon. In Frascina F., eds. Pollock and After: The Critical Debate. London: Routledge, 1985.

GALLERY—Daniel Buren—Intervention II—Modern Art Oxford

Daniel Buren, Modern Art Oxford

Daniel Buren, Modern Art Oxford

Originally uploaded by escdotdot.

Intervention II
Daniel Buren
Modern Art Oxford
Oxford

Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the gallery, so I could only take these shots where the piece interfaced with the outside world.

The photos show part of the piece in the main gallery space. As well as the coloured gels on the windows themselves, it’s made up of a sequence of aluminium frames taking their shape from the windows, with the same coloured panels, projected back into the gallery space. There are about five or six sets of these three panels (one for each window) hanging from each of the metal rafters in the ceiling.

There are two other rooms with pieces. In the smaller connecting room, Buren has again placed coloured gels on the windows and hung more aluminium frames reflecting the shape of these windows, but this time the frames are not hung into the space but slightly away from each wall, with a spotlight projecting shadows from them onto the walls.

The last room’s walls are painted with a coloured checkerboard pattern with more aluminium panels with coloured sections. In this case the panels are set into runners flush with the wall that allows them to be move backwards and forwards over the painted walls to create various colour combinations.

PERFORMANCE—Martin Creed—tate Modern

I feel used.

And I can’t decide if Martin Creed is a ******1 or a genius. Possibly both.

I’ve left off posting till now about his tour of the Idea and Object wing of tate Modern last night, as I felt very angry about it last night and wanted to give myself time to settle down and reflect. They say you should sleep on things for a more balanced perspective, so I did, and although I think I can see why he did what he did, I still think that it was a very manipulative way to have treated his audience.

The event was announced in the following way:

Martin Creed is well known for grappling with the language of Minimalism to produce art installations that are witty and deadpan. Taking his own piece the whole world + the work = the whole world 2000 as a starting point, this talk is an audiovisual journey through the Idea and Object wing.

Which sounded interesting. I have no experience of Martin Creed as a person, but was always very excited by his work. My first experience of it was when I was doing my BA, possibly in 1993, Bernhard Starkmann put on a show of works from his (possibly the company’s) art collection in the offices in London, and he had a number of Creed’s masking tape cubes stuck to the wall along one corridor. The slight nature of these pieces just amused me, I think. They were very subtle, potentially labour intensive, objects that just sat there doing what they did best, i.e. sticking.

Since then I remember seeing the piece (Work #227: The lights going on and off) with which he won the Turner Prize in 2001 on various outraged news reports, although I was out of art at that point so didn’t realise he’d won until now.

I had also seen illustrations of Work #232: the whole world + the work = the whole world as well as seen part of it as I went up the escalators in tate Modern. And outside the room this was in was where the tour started.

The tate knew something special was about to happen because it laid on two cameras, one on a wheeled tripod and one roving through the audience as the tour progressed. Martin began his talk very hesitatingly, apparently not really knowing or having much to say to us, fidgeting a lot and generally making the audience very uncomfortable.

At least he made me very uncomfortable, maybe everyone else knew what to expect? In situations like that I get extremely nervous on behalf of the other person, it happens a lot in seminars or lectures at college if the speaker is looking for a response and not getting one, I feel almost obliged to say something.

So I, along with some other people, began to ask questions. To which Martin gave some good answers. And then suggested we move into the gallery and charged off. At that point I thought he’d had enough and run off, but I was mistaken, as he had stopped in the room with Sarah Lucas yellow urinal (The Old In Out 1998) and Jeff Koons floating basketballs (Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) 1985), whereupon he talked some more, took some more questions, didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.

Some time later, a lady from the audience came over, unwrapped a bouquet of flowers she had been holding and gave them to Martin, who looked bemused, but continued to talk about whatever he was talking about. She then moved to stand behind him.

As Martin carried on talking about his art, and why he did it, it became apparent that she was mimicking his movements. And as we moved from there to the large room with all the minimal sculptures, she was there over to one side following whatever he did.

Once I realised this was happening, I stopped asking questions. I lost any feeling of empathy with Martin as he was obviously completely in control of the situation and his apparent awkwardness was pretty much an act to encourage people to participate, at which point he could introduce this new character into the proceedings.

The tour ended in the room with his Work #232. By now he had introduced the lady as his friend Jude (if I remember correctly). I can’t remember what prompted it but I asked how he felt the event had gone, he seemed to think it had gone well. He then took the flowers he had been holding all this time and whacked them on the floor in front of us, leaving just the stems lying there.

And then we had drinks.

This obviously makes you very unsure about what was real and what was performance.

I don’t claim to have any special insight, but I think it would be pointless for anything that happened to be anything other than for real – the nervousness, the lady, the flowers – Martin’s work is just about what it is.

During his talk he spoke about the paring down of the work to just the essential, at that point he was referring to his crumpled ball of paper I think (I’ll have to check this when the recording goes on the tate site), but it should equally apply to this event. By that I mean that I think he really is nervous, doesn’t really have a lot to say unless drawn by questions, at which point he can be quite eloquent about his work. The lady was just copying his movements, repeating him, recreating an artist presenting themselves. Smashing the flowers on the floor was just what it was.

It’s not about explaining himself either, it’s pared down to the point where the explanations are removed as extraneous. And meaning too, earlier on in the talk he was quite insistent on the artist having no control over the meanings of works, they’re created by the audience.

Aah, but it left me feeling used. I don’t like to think that my empathy has been abused. But, given what I said above, I guess I shouldn’t feel that, as it wasn’t really. I was just an integral part of the process. The piece was whatever naturally happened in the allotted time. So I shouldn’t feel bad.

  1. I just can’t bring myself to swear in public. But you get the idea.

GALLERY—Jerwood Space—tate Modern

Somehow I’ve got myself on the mailing list for the Jerwood Space – I’m not sure how, I must have been in a form filling mood when I visited their website. So information about their latest show came through a few weeks ago and as I was going to the tate Modern last night for an event I was able to pop in.

The show is Blurred Certainty:

. . . eight international photographers whose work resonates between the boundaries of constructed imagery and direct representations of the visual world.

Some of the pieces are obviously digitally manipulated, while others are more about the physical manipulation of the scenes represented, and for some it could be either.

With the exception of Aliki Barine’s work, all the pieces in both these shows were printed in ultra-large format. Big glossy prints that I guess are designed to suck you in and isolate you from the gallery surroundings.

With these large prints there is a play-off between their size and the quality of the original photo. A problem for a number of prints was that when blown up to this size they can look fuzzy and lacking in detail. The manipulation also become more evident at this size and although this could be seen as a feature rather than a failing, I felt that it distracted your attention in some cases.

The floating islands in the background of Untitled-1 by Sandra Senn suffered in this way, it looked like a case of poor Photoshop work where the islands in the background interfaced with the sea. The other three in the series of photos were superb however, they seemed to have just the right balance of uncertainty over whether they are real or created.

Simon Tyszko’s landscapes were an example where the low quality of the original photo didn’t affect the outcome, indeed the blotchiness added to the atmosphere of them.

The suggestion that the pieces on display involved themselves with some kind of manipulation was a good way of forcing you to look at the pictures with a sceptical mind. Although it could have become some kind of puzzle-solving exercise—spot the unnatural changes in the picture—it also served to create a feeling of unreality for the show. Nothing could be looked at innocently anymore.

There seems to be an assumption now that photographs have to be printed very large. This may have been perpetuated by the well-known works by artists such as Andreas Gursky or Thomas Ruff. I mention them as they were in the show Photography from the UBS Collection at tate Modern.

The UBS Art Collection focuses on works of museum quality that represent the defining trends in European and American contemporary art from the second half of the twentieth century.

What attracted my eye in this statement was “museum quality”. This seems to be a self-fulfilling statement as “the firm [UBS] has developed long-term partnerships with leading organisations worldwide. Such relationships have enabled us to realise our vision of sharing works from the UBS Art Collection.” Maybe I’m being unfair to UBS, after all it is very generous of them to let us see the works in their collection.

Tate and UBS share a vision to open up art.

hmm. And the best way to do this is to buy up a load of art, and then loan it out making sure that your logo graces every piece of collateral? That’s not exactly altruistic. OK, I realise that this is how the world works, and bitching about it isn’t going to make any difference. I think what I really object to is the sycophantic text of the leaflet, it’s kind of shameful of the tate to allow that to go into print.

Anyway, getting back to my original point, I think the only pictures in a small format that I saw at tate were the Agglomerations by Fischli and Weiss. This set of 6 prints worked well at this size, really forcing you to get close to examine the scenes. But overall it seems to me that everyone is going for large formats and not really investigating a more intimate engagement with the viewer that smaller prints like Fischli and Weiss’s could create.

  • Blurred Certainty
    Aliki Braine, Etienne Clément, Diana Lui, Calanit Schachner, Sandra Senn, Simon Tyszko, Nicky Willcock and Duncan Caratacus Clark
    Jerwood Space
    171 Union Street, London SE1 0LN