Monday, November 13, 2006

Art Surgery

Yesterday the spookily perceptive Ms Baroque wrote about the purpose of art being to exhilarate. You forget, or rather I forget. It’s sometimes too easy for me to get immersed in what the stupid people who run and own everything are doing and trying to get us to do, I lose sight of the fact that there is so much fundamental decency and normalcy going on outside of the power artifice.

As Ms B was composing, Mr T was treating me to a day of art and food, a most winning combination. We began at the Turner Prize show at Tate Britain. To hear 33 year old Luton artist Mark Titchner talk about his work reminds me of just how much I have bought into the entire Government bleak speak of young people growing up uninterested in anything but sending each other txt msgs in order to arrange the production of unwanted babies or mass theft of iPods as a binge drinking finale.

Titchner talks, in a distinctly working class accent, about his early interest in art being sparked by comics and colouring-in books. He talks about the power of words and how we internalise language and use it as the raw material for thoughts. Where is he getting this stuff you wonder, surely not from GCSE art – it makes far too much sense. His mixed media installation contains a piece called ‘How to change behaviour’ One element is a wooden structure into which you are invited to step and ‘contribute psychic potential’. I did so willingly and with far more trust than I would ever extend to some idiotic civil servant inviting me to participate in a neighbourhood committee.

Sincerity is so easily recognised and rewarded. I forget. It made such a stunning mockery of Government’s ridiculous and perpetually failing attempts at ‘inclusiveness’. As if to demonstrate just how simple a matter it is to assemble a coalition of the willing, Titchner explains that the work is ‘inclusive - it needs you to take part in it in order to succeed.’

Rebecca Warren’s clay and bronze sculptures literally made me feel good inside. I mean physically good inside. I found myself being glad someone had made them. They radiated goodwill and trust. It’s really not that difficult to reach me. When it comes to finding hope in the world, I’m a sucker for an open hand. I don’t know much about art but what I do know conveniently returns whenever it finds a suitable context. I’m so glad I grew up in an era where the education system didn’t think its duty was to protect me from all prior knowledge. Warren’s sculptures reference Rodin and Degas. Her ‘vitrines’ (found objects arranged in boxes), were assembled from rubbish lying around in her Hackney Wick studio and from the road outside. I might have walked past that rubbish (although certainly not dropped it). I found the juxtaposition irresistibly heartening. Now that is what I call recycling.

Tomma Abts’s paintings are uniform and ordered and recall both Picasso and Escher, and probably lots of others I don’t know about. I found them less engaging than the work of Warren and Titchner but not displeasing. They are decorative and elegant in a geometric kind of way.

I never really get video installations. I usually think – why didn’t you just make a proper film? Phil Collins’s, (not to be confused with the balding ex-drummer and serial monogamist), mock doc about people whose lives have been ruined by appearing in reality TV shows was interesting only insofar as the individuals’ stories were a curiosity. As entertainment value it wasn’t a patch on the preliminary rounds of X-Factor. His fake office, Shady Lane Productions may have suffered from it being a Saturday and therefore devoid of workers. The begged question for me is ‘do artworks get weekends off?’ I’d like to see either Warren or Titchner win it.

From the Tate it was on to the National Gallery for the Velásquez exhibition, an impressive array of half the great Spanish artist’s surviving works. Velásquez was Dalí’s favourite painter and the father of Spanish realism, for which he has been paid great homage by the impressionists and the surrealists. As a portraitist, Velásquez is as skilled an interlocutor as da Vinci in my view, using tenderness as the main conduit for conversation. His allegories, histories and life scenes could be moments in a play that is taking place right now. We are lucky in London that the National Gallery owns a couple of his best paintings including his only surviving nude The Toilet of Venus (also known as the Rokeby Venus) and one of my favourites Philip IV hunting Wild Boar), which anticipates surrealism by three centuries.

Art is preventive medicine. It’s probably more important for kids than the five sodding pieces of fruit and vege a day that the tossers at Millbank are always trying to shove down our throats. I was thrilled to see so many young children at both galleries – looking like they were enjoying themselves immensely. I hope they all got crisps and coke too. It was like a slap in the face with a golden glove to see ten year olds crouching on the floor sketching The Rokeby Venus. I celebrate that our art galleries are free (although neither of these exhibitions were, I hasten to add). I love that Tate Modern’s turbine hall exhibition is always something that will appeal to kids. We do some stuff so well. I’ll try not to forget that in future. Thanks Mr T.

Picture apology - I downloaded this ages ago and couldn't find it again so my apologies for lack of credit.


Anonymous said...

Next time you're in a museum can you please ask the parents of kids enjoying the experience how do they make his happen please. I just wish I could get my kids interested in art.

fringepoet said...

Not all of us are lucky enough to live near major galleries. My children were interested in art and I supplemented their interest with books from the library. One of them became a professional artist so it can be done.

Groucho said...

Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.

Harpo said...

Deep, deep