Art in the doldrums – anno 2009.
Channel 4 TV showed a feature in November 2010 about the 10 most promising modern British art students, who competed for the attention – and funding support – of Charles Saatchi. 6 out of the 10 would receive massive help in terms of money and logistics for the whole year.
Saatchi has made his impact on the British art scene felt for several years, but he is a shy benefactor, who’d rather let his gallery-curator Rebecca do all the hard work up front and only step in, when the final selections have been made.
True to form, this is exactly what he did in respect of the Channel 4 feature.
I don’t blame him.
At least, if these artists fail, it is not his fault.
The art scene in the UK has become a money-chasing marketing machine that does its utmost to push art into becoming synonymous with “never seen before”. Preferably it must leave the observer confused and certainly it must not reveal even a modicum of beauty in the punters’ mind. The moment an artist dares slipping into ordinary traditional boots, he/she will be cut down to the socks. Expressionism may still be accepted, as the definition of expressionism is rather loose, but only if it possesses a level of daring that makes it novel and slightly crazy – e.g. the German expressionist George Baselitz’ figures that all have been turned upside down.
What a novelty.
Beauty as an object has no place – it is passē.
Tracy Emin's unmade bed with strewn condoms, prized by Saatchi at £50,000, and her summer exhibition photos of a menstruating woman are in. If you buy her book, “The art of Tracey Emin”, you will know exactly what I mean.
Anish Kapoor’s red-sh*t canon, actually wax, shown at the RA in November 2009 and a towel handle from which a whistle was suspended, constructed by one of the winning artists in Channel 4’s feature and here copied after memory, are in.
I can assure you, it was not difficult to remember the details – here rendered publicly in all its glory!
However, praise is due, where praise is required!
One of the artists, who tried to make it above the parapet to Saatchi’s attention, had arranged 15 canteen-chairs, lying sideways in a circle on the floor. Even Tracy Emin, who was on the panel of 5 judges (a paradox in its own right), could see, that this was bull sh*t – which was exactly what she said on TV during the show.
But I fail to see the difference between this chair-circle and most of the other ‘products’ shown. Perhaps the problem was that the ‘artist’ had great difficulty expressing, in a clear language, what was the concept behind his contraption.
The acid test came, when the budding Saatchi winners had to prove their ability to draw a simple model drawing. A faultless female beauty had draped herself on a couch in Manet’s Olympia-style. All what the artists had to do, was to show that they mastered some basic drawing technique – in my opinion the least one can demand of potential celebrities worth Saatchi’s millions.
You guessed it.
Not one of them had any idea about what it means to draw.
In one of the scribbles you’d be hard pressed to see that a naked woman was part of the object at all. Typically that was the only drawing, the judges thought was worth mentioning. Was it because no one else would be able to see the object and hence have an opinion contrary to the judges? Was it because the other drawings were just bad drawings, too obvious to everyone else?
Even worse, none of the ‘artists’ mastered a minimum of ability to express the concept in their creations, perhaps with one exception: the only one of them, who had never attended art school. The judging panel had great difficulty coming to terms with the fact that his art was both exciting and creative, but they didn’t hide their misgivings that ‘he was not cued in to the accepted art-lingo’.
In fact he spoke clearly and comprehensibly about his work.
The art world has forgotten that art must have an outward orientation and Channel 4’s feature showed this deficiency in abundance.
Art has become a totally self-centred celebrity machine: the object is the artist, not the observer; the language has to contain a high percentage of multi-syllable words that to ordinary humans mean nothing; the more ‘unaccepted’ or ‘new’, the better – anything that smacks of something that has been done before is unacceptable. This means that ultimately anything is art, even if it is a slowly dancing, clumsy bear (the Turner prize 2007), a video of someone sleeping on a sofa (the entry of one of the budding Saatchi artists) or something that preferably upsets the philistines .
At art school no one learns basic painting or drawing any more. Why waste time, when you can become a celebrity pouring a bucket of paint over the canvass and “see what happens”.
A stick in a pot of soil, on a chair, is art.
As are 500 diamonds glued onto a scull (Damien Hirst).
Or a 2m tall poo, another of Saatchi’s accepted creations, seen here – not too different from celebrity artist Anish Kapoor’s piles of concrete intestines.
Balance that with an artist like Kandinsky’s technical ability, his personal and artistic development over a 50 year career (here illustrated through his early picture of Odessa Harbour and the much later "All Saints II") and a statement made in the 1930s: "I am really happy that my early research into high quality paints has been successful, judged from the longevity of the colours."
Will we one day accept the Saatchi-protegees as the bee’s knees of what the 21st Century could produce?
Your guess is as good as mine.
The impressionists were once savagely vilified and here’s what Kurt Kuerchler, a German art-critic, said about Kandinsky in 1913:
“There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that this sort of art has finally reached the point where it reveals itself as the ‘-ism’ upon whose shores it must run aground, that is to say: cretinism.”
How wrong can one be? Does it remind you of the manager, who said to the Beatles: "There's no need for yet another guitar group".
Nevertheless, I will dare a judgement of the 2009-art seen from the year 2110:
“A good 80% of the 2009-production was mere junk, as no technique, no deep learning, no differentiation was required before it was called art. It was the result of an intensive marketing drive by money-hungry people, who couldn’t produce anything unique themselves. The objective was all about celebrity creation and it illustrated an empty, materialistic, spiritless society that had become obsessed with fast money, at any price, me-me-me and meaningless new forms of expression that didn’t segregate ‘art’ from anything else that surrounded us. Marcel Duchamp’s urinoir, first exhibited in 1917, is a good example, and as we now know, it never made it to become a ‘piece de salon’ in the following 200 years, proving my point.
Only, very few people in the art world took the step to say: bullocks.
Of course they forgave Malevich for his black cross on a white canvass, and Matisse’s 10-sec charcoal-drawn women, as they had other, and more serious, stories to tell. And they had the ability!
But make no mistake: like in 2009 you still often pay for the signature, not for the painting.”
Back to 2009.
Saatchi has become a ‘God’-maker (Obs.: not an art promoter), an art-world’s Simon Cowell, who, like in the X-Factor, is able to push art in a celebrity direction with a heavy focus on the artist, not on art itself, simply because he has the money to do so and not because of the artist’s talent. It worked for Damien Hirst, whose latest skull-obsessions, in oil on a blue background exhibited at the Wallace Gallery in London, have been cut to the socks with the conclusion: he can’t paint! That could have been a shot under the waterline to the marketing machine, but he seems to have survived.
Nevertheless, he's the richest living artist in 2009 – again proving my point.
The emperor’s new clothes are still very new indeed.