Friday, 21 February 2014

Crumbs, it's another bit of art destruction

This is art – not rubbish
Contemporary art has taken a bit of a bashing this week. First there was the incident of an Ai Waiwai vase being smashed and now it seems that a cleaner at a gallery in Italy has mistaken an exhibit as rubbish and thrown it away.

Works that included pieces of newspaper and cardboard, and biscuit crumbs, as part of the Sala Murat gallery’s display went straight into the bin.

A spokesman for the cleaning firm said that the unnamed cleaner was “just doing her job” and added that his firm’s insurance would cover the costs, which amazingly were cited as being around €10,000 euros (£8,200).
I’d expect an awful lot of paper, cardboard and crumbs for that.
The cleaner had thought that it was rubbish left behind by workers who had been setting up the Mediating Landscape exhibition.
Such has been the cause célèbre that Antonio Maria Vasile, Bari’s ‘marketing commissioner’ felt compelled to comment, apologising and then adding: “But this is all about the artists who have been able to better interpret the meaning of contemporary art, which is to interact with the environment.”
Sniggering is permitted, I think.
Now I know that much contemporary installation art is supposed to act as a form of social comment, but when it’s so esoteric that those not in on the know thinks it’s rubbish – and not just in a critical way – then it begs the question of just who will ‘get it’ and whether it can be said to have a point.
By way of complete contrast, this week has seen the announcement by Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery that more than 123,300 have seen a retrospective of paintings by Jack Vettriano in its 23-week run – making it the museum’s most visited art exhibition there.
Dance Me to the End of Love, Jack Vettriano
Mind, many who would probably enjoy Ai’s vases or an exhibit of paper, cardboard and crumbs would have decidedly snobbish views of Vettriano.

The art establishment really doesn’t like him – probably not helped because he’s popular with the general public and makes a fortune from having his works reproduced on cards and posters.

And of course, that popularity has meant financial success too – although money doesn’t seem to stop the cognoscenti worshipping at the feet of Damien Hirst, which also means that it isn’t a matter of class, since both Hirst and Vettriano are from working-class backgrounds.

Now personally, I think Vettriano is technically excellent, but most of his works do little for me in terms of the subject matter, as they seem locked in a kind of odd, retro fantasy world.

And that’s not just the pictures of pre-1939 scenes.

Olympia, his portrait of Zara Phillips, seems reminiscent of the style of David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71).

Some of his erotic paintings are interesting, but are more than a little clichéd – they have none of the edge, for instance, of Walter Sickert’s Camden Town Nudes.

However, the point is that Vettriano is the opposite of those biscuit crumbs – and those crumbs are the perfect example of what puts people off contemporary art.

With the best will in the world, if you have a comment to make on the nature of the world and you think it’s worth making, why do it in a way that will be understood or appreciated by the smallest number of people possible and, quite possibly with some of them only ‘getting it’ as a pose?

There is a place for installation art – it’s not all bonkers – but why does it seem to have relegated painting, for instance, to the periphery of the contemporary art scene?

Given that art schools have, apparently stopped teaching drawing, perhaps it represents, in general terms, a dumbing down of what might be expected to be high-end art.

Crumbs indeed.

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