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[Nettime-ro] For your attention
bory on Tue, 17 Dec 2002 10:51:31 +0100 (CET)


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[Nettime-ro] For your attention


Bory spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should see it.

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Note from Bory:

diverse consideratziuni despre arta in anul 2002, in Guardian.
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To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk

'Conceptual bullshit!' 
Rows blazed over contemporary art, Picasso and Matisse went toe to toe, and 13 monkeys took supper. Adrian Searle on 2002
Adrian Searle
Monday December 16 2002
The Guardian


This year, art wore Andy Warhol's wig and Barnett Newman's suit, and had Steve McQueen's OBE pinned to its lapel. It swore like Gilbert and George, talked dirty like Fiona Banner. It went to the movies a lot: it watched funny Finnish angst by Eija-Liisa Ahtila and the Cremaster cycle by Matthew Barney, perhaps to get away from the squalor of the crumbly old apartment that it rented from Lucian Freud. 

In any case, two uninvited guests - Ivan Massow, the now deposed chairman of the ICA, and Kim Howells, minister for culture - had taken the place over, like characters in an early Harold Pinter play. Their conversation started full of menace, but both ended up sounding like the decrepit old priest in Father Ted. "Conceptual bullshit!" shouted Howells about the Turner prize. "Up its own arse!" yelled Massow, apropos of everything and nothing. Massow and Howells were talking about nasty British concept art, Turner prize fodder, things that don't need brushes and chisels to make.  

These sort of reactions to contemporary British art seem positively antediluvian nowadays. Arguing about conceptualism versus painting, sculpture versus video, is pointless. However, it is much more attention-grabbing than working out what makes one work by an artist better than another, or the affinities and differences, say, between Picasso and Matisse, which John Golding tried to do in his head-to-head exhibition of the artists at Tate Modern. And if Massow and Howells were so interested in the revival of old-fashioned craft skills and in becoming art critics, why didn't they praise Chris Ofili's tremendous painting show at Victoria Miro Gallery? The work called The Upper Room - 13 paintings of monkeys, displayed as a sort of simian Last Supper in a chapel-like space specially designed by architect David Adjaye - was particularly impressive.  

Then there were Jake and Dinos Chapman's wood carvings at White Cube, which were also displayed theatrically (in darkened spaces, with the works dramatically spotlit). They looked like nothing so much as ancient tribal carvings, but they also made sly references to McDonald's burgers, fries and other scrumptious items from the fast-food menu. Ofili's monkeys, on the other hand, were in part derived from early Andy Warhol drawings. None of this means that either the Chapmans or Ofili suffer an originality deficit, or that the references make the works one-liners, or that ideas are separable from execution, or indeed that any art can be boiled down to a single, takeaway meaning.  

Worrying about accessibility is probably what led the revamped Manchester Art Gallery to pepper its collection with pathetic little postcard-sized cartoons, as visual captions to the works, and to set up one of those stupid hands-on displays that try to make art look both educational and fun. Who said art should be either of these things? The Baltic in Gateshead, which opened in July, has no such truck with these misguided and patronising sops, and is enormously popular. The place is bustling, and visitors keep coming back for the ambitious programme of international exhibitions.  

Over on the west coast, the second Liverpool Biennial in September seemed to whimper, and I was never sure what the curators were trying to do. Jorge Pardo's outdoor project wasn't finished, and Jason Rhoades's work at Tate Liverpool was peculiarly inconsequential. Only   Japanese artist Tatsurou Bashi's work, which encased the statue of Queen Victoria that stands in Derby Square in a temporary hotel room that visitors could book, rose to the occasion.  

Manifesta, another international showcase of new art, which moves from country to country, was in Frankfurt this year. This was even less memorable than Liverpool's effort, as if the curators had gone out of their way to find the unremarkable. Everywhere wants a biennale nowadays, but the most important international contemporary art circus is held every five years - in Kassel, also in Germany. The 11th Documenta was as thought-provoking as it was uneven, a huge sprawl of individual projects from all over the world, spread across the city. The film and video work was the strongest - and the most time-consuming. No one, except a few sunken-eyed curators, could possibly have seen it all.  

One of the strongest contributions to Documenta - among the Inuit documentaries, the Palestinian and Iranian artists, the comic stuff, rare film seasons, the harrowing, the personal and the poetic (and the plain dumb) - was Steve McQueen's two film installations. Later these came to Britain, courtesy of Artangel, to the gutted concrete tank that was once the Lumière Cinema in London. McQueen's films - Carib's Leap and Western Deep - took us from mass suicides in Grenada to a gold mine in South Africa, where conditions have barely changed since the apartheid era.  

Artangel also brought to London the now completed Cremaster project by Matthew Barney. Barney's cycle of five films, eight years in the making, is a truly mystifying work, as operatic in scale as Wagner's Ring and no more comprehensible. Celtic myth and mist, exotic locations (from the Isle of Man to Prague, from the Giant's Causeway to the Chrysler building) combine with cameos by Ursula Andress and sculptor Richard Serra. The cycle features the recurring motif of tons and tons of Vaseline; Cremaster's meaning is as slippery as all that petroleum jelly.  

There were other complaints this year. Where was the peasantry in Gainsborough's paintings at Tate Britain? And the native Americans in the exhibition the American Sublime? Where, too, were the visitors at Tate Britain? Lucian Freud's retrospective here was a popular success, though it doesn't mean that the public are exactly clamouring for old-style artistic values. Only, it seems, for the lurid and bloody, as in the Royal Academy's Aztecs show, the only real blockbuster of the year. What really counts are individual works and shows that get under your skin, either changing the way you think or firing the imagination. For me, it was the room of "disaster paintings" at the Warhol retrospective at Tate Modern; Eva Hesse's drawings, also there; and the deceptively slight exhibition of On Kawara, now at Birmingham's Ikon. Thomas Schütte's etchings at Frith Street Gallery were tremendous, and McQueen's Western Deep still rumbles through my head. No concept art? All concept !
art, whatever that might mean. Just add Vaseline. 

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
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