Recently the German newspaper FAZ -hitherto regarded for their serious and well-informed coverage of art and culture- published an article about a TV show in which
Artistunderground is highly critical of what we believe to be a near complete and thus dangerous, absence of any serious discourse about art in ’The Media’. Instead a view and definition of art is promoted worldwide which is characterised by a total avoidance and sidelining of in-depth knowledge, art history and the unprecedented complexity of questions in the 21st century, while only one single standardised notion of excessively simple art is promoted and re-gurgitated globally.
Yet this alarming situation seems hidden in plain sight, visible and obvious to all, but -eerily- met with a near complete silence, most worryingly on part of the artists themselves.
On this page, the artistunderground live archive, we continuously survey and expose the manipulation of art and the public perception of what art is through the media. We aim, with the help of our readership worldwide, to survey events and newspapers globally.
We invite our readers to contribute -
simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
INFANTILISATION OF ART, ARTIST< AUDIENCE AND GALLERY SPACE
LEGITIMISED BY THE ART JOURNALIST
OCTOBER 3, 2017 by Rachel Spence
Here is our latest pick and example of how spectacularly stupid art journalism -this time in the Financial Times- legitimises the infantilisation of art, artist and audience, turning the gallery into a literal playground. The fact that the author of this article compares the metal bars around the swings with doorways in Hammershoi paintings, that she sees the stripes on the cosy carpet for the visitors to lie on as a subtle hint to sterling notes - and gets away with it - beggars belief. We are even told that '[...] the “collective power”used to set the swing in motion can “potentially change the world”.
Superflex's Hyundai commission in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall
[...] At intervals, the bars morph into doorway-like openings whose presence sounds a deeper note. From Renaissance Annunciations to the mysterious interiors of Danish 19th-century painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, thresholds in art always possess a numinous quality. Here, they remind me of lines by the American poet and activist Adrienne Rich, when she wrote: “The fact of a doorframe/means there is something to hold/on to with both hands” in a poem which goes on to lament the suffering of the dispossessed and powerless. [...] social conscience is the presiding anima of Superflex’s work.
“One Two Three Swing!” is more than just a playground. It is a metaphor for the collective endeavour that is essential if we are to build a happier, healthier world.
It’s no coincidence that the swings, though they do soar upwards if you are a sole rider, are designed for three people: a number which demands a genuine spirit of co-operation.
'The carpet’s joyful stripes are woven out of the same hues as those found on sterling notes. This mischievous nod to the UK’s isolationist tendency" [...] quiet insistence on the importance of joint effort. '
'[...] a gentler, more imaginative approach to social equilibrium, one that acknowledges our interdependency without turning it into a justification for the persecution of those who do not fit in, feels welcome.'
For me, however, the enduring memory will be of visiting Tate Modern the day before the commission officially opened. Standing on the bridge, I looked down to where workers in high-vis jackets were assembling the swings. But the lure of flight proved too strong. Several operatives were soaring up in the air with wide grins. Playground, social project or power station, Tate Modern promises to be a warming refuge in the winter to come. To April 2, tate.org.uk
"Cornelia Parker named as official artist of 2017 general election- Turner-nominated RA member, who will produce work of art about election, is first woman to take on role created in 2001"
Are we at artistunderground the only people who shudder at reading this? To quote Gerhard Richter: "Hostility to art is nothing new; it is, and has always been, part and parcel of all societies. If in Poland the Writer’s Union is banned, and artists - as in all dictatorships- are persecuted, this only represents the more brutal and direct side of the hostility that art has the capacity to provoke.
Our free democratic system has other ways of showing its hostility to art. Instead of banning art, the politicians and the state promote it on a gigantic scale, devoting vast resources to official art administration in museums, exhibition buildings, arts associations, giant exhibitions, festivals and congresses, and through an unconscionable deluge of publications - not to speak of the positively criminal subvention of the theatre. By these and countless other measures, art is warped, crippled, buried and murdered, replaced by mammoth quantities and mammoth sums of money.
Hosts of artists trained in this way work for a system wholly dedicated to administration and entertainment; it is they, more than anyone, who help to prevent and destroy art.”
Gerhard Richter, Notes, 1984 [!]
“Trying to make sense of his new surroundings, [the artist Do-Ho-Suh] attached GoPro cameras to his baby daughter’s stroller and filmed as he pushed her through the city’s parks. “We’re exploring the neighbourhood, and my daughter is exploring a whole new world.” Suh also filmed their walks on visits to his native Seoul, but it took him a few years to figure out how to turn the footage into an artwork. The solution was a three-channel video, ‘Passage/s: Pram Project.’”
It beggars belief that there is a need to point out that this kind of 'work' and the way the Financial Times journalist reports on it without even the faintest hint of cynicism or criticism is NOT ok. We are not surprised that it took the artist five years to work out how to turn the pram footage into an 'artwork' - it should have taken him an eternity as there simply is no ground and foundation from which to make anything. But this kind of work - desperate, vacuous, bored, stupid and infantile - buoyed by uncritical media coverage, is now part and parcel of the new norm of what art is, and is propagated in major galleries and museums worldwide. The critical silence is deafening.
As an example for particularly low-level example of art journalism we would like to especially point out Jonathan Jones, art critic, writing for The Guardian. We have decided to select only three examples of this extremely low-level art journalism, which represent the countless he has written in the past and will continue to write.
On Wednesday 12 April 2017 in The Guardian; ( the article can currently be accessed here:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2017/apr/12/jeff-koons-louis-vuitton-bags-fashion-fragonard-rubens-titian) Jonathan Jones writes under the heading
"Jeff Koons' Louis Vuitton bags: a joyous art history lesson" :
"High art needs all the friends it can get." [?! What exactly does this mean? 'High art' - presumably art of the past - being weak, consequently it needs support. Mr. Jones does not enlighten us as to how this apparent weakening of something in the past has occurred, nor does he suggest that something 'strong' should follow the 'high art'. Instead he suggest the effort must be put in to somehow recycle and prop up the art of the past. Next sentence:]"Museum attendance is dropping all over the world, and earnest attempts to court the young and identify with the new are clearly not working. " [The news that museum attendance is apparently dropping is something we read with a sense of hope - perhaps, after all, not everyone is willing to continue to buy what is sold to us as art? But somehow this is not what Mr Jones is aiming at. He also does not tell us what those 'earnest attempts' are and by whom. Any idea, anyone? So 'the young' seem to be flocking in smaller numbers to museums - which fills us again with some hope. But NO! Here is the correct response to this phenomenon: ]
"Something more eloquent is needed: unequivocal enthusiasm for great art in a language people in the 21st century understand.
['more eloquent' - than what?! Than 'high art' itself? So this weak 'high art' needs to be translated into an veeeery simple language as the 21st century audience is clearly deemed to be not very intelligent. Consequently:]
"How about a Louis Vuitton bag with RUBENS written on it in big gold letters over a reproduction of that 17th-century painter’s violent, exuberant and gorgeous work Tiger, Lion and the Leopard Hunt? I can’t think of a simpler way to put great art at the forefront of modern minds."
[Me neither! So, to sum up so far: the audience is presumed to have no questions or thoughts of their own, no knowledge of art history, nor any intelligence. Jones does not demand ambitious new art, but declares that best and only ambition is to keep contemporary art SIMPLE and as one-dimensional as possible, so that everybody can get it - i.e. buy it.]
[still ... nobody screams...]
"Koons has turned the old masters into fashion must-haves (if you can afford them – prices range up to $4,000).
[ Mrs Jones explicitly promotes the total emulation of art and fashion industry without the slightest hint of anything but enthusiasm.]
"These luxury objects look to me like heartfelt homages to great art. Koons clearly has an erudite and passionate love of oil painting [...] for while his bags touting the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s Wheat Field With Cypresses may be easy on our brains, he is also bravely educating us by insisting on the glamour of Rubens, Titian and Fragonard."
[ this last part of the sentence has to repeated to be fully appreciated: "may be easy on our brains", [which is sidelined as a minor inconvenience] "but he is also bravely educating us by insisting on the glamour of Rubens, Titian and Fragonard."
[Where does the bravery come in exactly? And 'educating'? "Insisting on glamour" is the "education" we need in the 21st century?!?? [Glamour is hailed as the last link that contemporary art can make to the great history of art. This does read like a description of the apocalypse.]
"Koons has put his sensual painterly genius [!???!!!] into the heart of the fashion world with a bag decorated with his 1770 painting Girl With a Dog,[!], [...] his appetite for blurring the line between art and pornography. Notice this, and you see Jeff Koons in a different way.
[Just WHAT is he saying?! ??? One can indeed see that all of this is obscene]
"This is an artist who looks at – and thinks about – art from the past, [ How impressive!] and finds his most brilliant ideas there. The 18th-century rococo and the strange genius of Fragonard is not something he discovered yesterday. He has been drawing on the rococo for his sculptures for a long time.
[Ahaaa. The artist being impressed by something for longer than a day is clearly a sign of quality, emphasis on 'sign'].
Similarly, his flamboyant super-pop paintings are nothing less than attempts to revive the energy of Rubens.
[ Rubens, every time someone reads this, is turning in his grave. Perhaps even screaming.]
A subtle passion for art is concealed by his apparent belief in banality.
[Jones emphasises with all his might that simply to reproduce art from the past makes this reproduction itself art. The banality, the complete absence of its own content, other than the single intent to SELL an expensive luxury item called 'art' is apparently 'subtle']
"Now Koons is sharing the art he most loves [...] It is an artist’s meditation on the masters, in handbag form." [There really is no trace of cynicsm here.]
"Picasso copied and reworked great paintings in his later years." [Another justification]. Koons is offering a different kind of art lesson,
[the "lesson": how to become richer and richer by being promoted by the Jonathan Jones's worldwide. The recipe to do this really is simple and artists worldwide follow it successfully] and it is a joy." [Clearly. So the Guardian art critic continues:
"I want to see the names FRAGONARD and RUBENS glowing on Oxford Street, on Fifth Avenue, their masterpieces walking out of the museum into modern lives."
[Are Koons and Vuitton paying Jonathan Jones?! ]
It is deeply disturbing and worrying that Jonathan Jones is given so much space in The Guardian, and given the platform to make his shallow, beyond low-level assessment of contemporary art mainstream, promoting what is in essence nothing but rampant capitalism, devoid of any meaning or actual contribution to the history of art. This kind of journalism has profoundly damaging effects on the public perception of what art is; it smothers and increasingly sidelines the kind of public debate about the nature of art in the 21st century which is urgently needed.
Worryingly, on top of this, Jonathan Jones gives so-called 'Masterclasses of Art Appreciation', promoted by The Guardian, where for £99 per person he tells his largely unprofessional audience how to best become the perfect consumer of contemporary art.
'God help us all.'
Here is a photograph announcing another sample of Jonathan Jones' art appreciation:
4 October 2017, The Guardian:
Do we really need to comment?
Do we really even need to read the article?
Under the heading 'The-five-best-new-exhibitions" Jonathan Jones at The Guardian writes in a completely approving uncritical manner:
"Martin Creed- His games of chance and pursuit of next to nothing have established Creed as a 21st-century answer to Marcel Duchamp. One of his subversions is to mess up the cult of the artist by adopting an increasingly eccentric public persona, and opening his latest exhibition in deepest Somerset goes well with his anti-cool. On the other hand, this is a branch of one of the world’s most successful art galleries, so it’s a bit like going glamping in a well-appointed yurt.
Hauser & Wirth, Somerset
excerpt from: Jonathan Jones
Pursuit of next to nothing indeed. In fact, this phrase is an accurate shorthand formula for most of contemporary art, if only it was intended to be critical. There isn't even the faintest hint of cynicism when Jones describes the exhibition in 'one of the world’s most successful art galleries' as 'glamping in a well-appointed yurt' - which, again, is a very good description of the level of seriousness and professionalism that artist and gallery pursue - except it is not meant to expose, but is uttered with approval and singled out as one of 'the ten best'. Neither the exhibit, nor the gallery are actually focussed on art. Content is irrelevant. Underpants strung up on a line and the like will do! The language Mr Jones employs here is lazy and superficial. To announce that Creed's work is "a 21st century answer to Marcel Duchamp"would again be a very good statement - if only it was meant as a criticism and not as endorsement.
Pursuit of next to nothing as the 21st century answer to Duchamp - surely this must express some form of desire to escape. The artist of today is unwilling and unable to deal with the complexities of the work of the past, and with the complexities of our time. The contemporary artist flees and retreats from the complexity into infantile play, and is offered refuge in the 'world's most successful' galleries in a setting for which 'glamping' is an appropriate term: the art activity is now some form of cool 'getting-away-from-it-all' holiday far away from the issues in art and the world that actually matter.
One more example by Jonathan Jones, this time endorsing work by Douglas Gordon - showing a photograph of the artist with his face distorted by sello tape - a work J. Jones recommends as one of the 'Top 10 art exhibitions in 2016':
"I loved this gothic romp through modern Scottish art [just what does this mean?] that managed to put today’s feted [!] artists, including Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland, alongside sculpture and painting going right back to 1945, on the provocative basis that they all share a taste for the dark stuff. The city of Burke and Hare and Robert Louis Stevenson is full of evidence of Scotland’s cultural obsession with evil and madness.[?!] Here, close to the atmospheric depths of Edinburgh’s Old Town, Gordon turned himself into a monster with Sellotape, Borland spookily filmed a robot baby, and the late great Ian Hamilton Finley mused disconcertingly on the god Pan’s connection with Panzer tanks. Unreasonably good fun. "[emphasis on 'fun']
Just why is there no outrage at this utter stupidity?! Strangely in the same article Jones also writes: "I have a confession. I would rather visit an old museum or stately home and explore its shadowy paintings than queue for most hot-ticket exhibitions." Also, elsewhere, occasionally, he is lucid in his criticism of the contemporary art world and art market (see: 'rare voices of dissent' page). Or does he perhaps portray himself as a lover of art of the past as part of a strategy to give himself the air of a real connoisseur? At The Guardian he is under pressure to churn out weekly articles under headings like 'the top ten'- a ridiculous concept in itself that must inevitably lead to a point where there simply isn't anything to report on but the column must nevertheless be filled.
As in the article discussed above, this piece on the artist selling a book with photos of himself in nature pretending to paint the patterns on his jumper there and then, again promotes the stupidity and emptiness in contemporary art as a response to great works of the past. The artist openly admits to being overwhelmed, and consequently seeks to break away by shunning all ambition and resorting to explicitly stupid work for which - very worryingly - there appears to be a real demand. Artist, art journalist, publishers and consumers conspire to perpetuate the exchange of nothing but emptiness and money.
In the following article from 02/2017 the successful artist -making stupid work- is giving advice to others on 'how it is done' with his deep insights published in a book, reported on on the Guardian 'Culture' page:
"So you want to be an artist? Then let the pros show you how it's done:
DBC Pierre wrote in a fever, Frank Turner dabbled in thrash and Nikki Amuka-Bird jumped off a cliff. Artists reveal how they got to the top – and how you can too"
So here is the secret to being really successful (numbering by AU):
1. "[…] Read all the art magazines.
Nobody enjoys this, but it’s part of the job. Actually, it can become enjoyable once there’s a possibility that you’ll be mentioned. If that’s the case, though, it will have ceased to be something you really need to do. Go to private views, too. These look like social gatherings, but are in fact a sort of professional speed-dating in which residencies, teaching jobs and exhibitions are brokered."
2. "Always say the show is amazing – this carries a small risk, because others may not agree.
But the greater risk is in saying you don’t like it, because they may like it, or they might know the artist who did it, or actually be the artist who did it."
3."Go easy with the number of ideas you have or people will get confused. One a year is plenty. Successful ideas have two components, usually an object and the thing it’s made of: a bronze aqualung, a glass hammer, a pastry crash helmet. Your job is to realise these projects, not just think of them. [...]"
So here we have it - move over, Plato and the entire History of Philosophy - we now, at long last in 2017, know that ideas have exactly TWO COMPONENTS! An idea is: AN OBJECT + THE THING IT IS MADE OF! DO NEVER COMBINE THESE MORE OFTEN THAN ONCE A YEAR-
OTHERWISE ... PEOPLE WILL GET REALLY CONFUSED!
In the comments section in the Guardian there were hardly any critical voices; in fact a large number of readers thought that the advice given in this article was good.
Simon Bill’s novel, Artist in Residence, is published in paperback by Sort of Books, £8.99.)"