Tag Archives: curating

Would I go across town for that?

London transport is too expensive

This is my big question when I am thinking about and looking at the art that erupts all over London and sometimes elsewhere. What do I think of it? Should I go and see it?

London has hundreds of exhibitions on every week. I know the agony of being in or curating a show and having to fight for a share of the 11 million +/- 10% that inhabit this city. Although to be fair the actual audience for art is not that big…

So I have developed a few criteria. The first is the old word-of-mouth test. Has someone I know personally recommended it to me? That is usually enough, since I tend not to hand around with people whose taste I despise.

The second is the “would I go across town for that?” test. London’s transport fares are eye-watering. My day out at the Serpentine two weeks ago cost me £4.40 (US $7.22) and I live centrally. So even though the show is free, the excursion costs. Throw in the obligatory coffee, and you’re looking at about a tenner all told. So, “would I go across town for that?” means, it is really worth leaving my house and taking expensive transport, or can I just look at the jpegs online?

I’ll go across town for a master (best show in London in recent years was Miro) and even out of town (to Liverpool for Magritte) but contemporary art?

My Serpentine tour was pretty much worth it, but a large part of that was just having a bracing walk through Hyde Park, and disappointingly the restaurant was closed. The art, as I reviewed it, had some elements of interest but in hindsight was it alone worth the trip?

Closer to home but well worth a trip across town for was the show Modern Panic IV [review here] and I think this was so worthwhile because it has work in it that was unusual, well chosen, intricate and well made (I am big on craft and skill, I have little time for coarse appropriation and “referencing”) and frankly, it was all stuff you just don’t see often in London. Despite London’s size there is a very clear monotony that runs through most of the major museums and spaces including commercial spaces (The Hayward being probably the big exception). Waldemar Janusczak calls it the Tate tendency, but to be fair the monotony stretches far beyond Britain’s flooded shores. Let us instead call it “Internationalist Monotony” and it is the product of a pod mentality of dealers, curators, museum directors, buyers (directed by the former) and academics.

So, would I got across town to be bored to tears, fork out cash for an afternoon of ennui? How about you?


 ps.notice the bus is going the wrong way. It’s called detournement. No actually, just some stupid photoshop. really.

worth a read: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/how-to-make-british-art-better-in-2014

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Strength in decay

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.
Ernst Fischer (Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach)

“The things of mortals, mortal are as they: All pass us by, quickly to fade away, If not, we pass by them and they decay.”
Lucian, Syrian writer, circa 150AD

ALLOWING the work to decay was Nazir Tanbouli’s choice as he announced the end of the King’s Land project. Initially the idea was to keep making murals until the building was hoarded and demolished. However several things intervened to change this plan.

Firstly, the building work was put back and put back. This meant that the mural making could have gone on until October or even November. By which time any impact would have been lost, if the artist was even still interested.

Second, the weather this year has been unprecedentedly wet. As the project was based on the idea of paste up changing murals, there were just too many days of soaking rain when no work was done, or murals melting and dying before their time. 2012 is the wettest  year even in British history. No other year has been recorded this wet. Ever. And it’s Britain., That tells you how wet it its. It became a Sisyphus task of putting and reputting. That might have been interesting in itself but it was not the aim of the project.

Lastly and most importantly, Tanbouli wanted to make an impact and with The King’s Land he did. He also wanted to make something for the place, and as some of the murals are indeed painted, there is a good selection of murals that will stay until the building is torn down. He also wanted to make a point about decay: that this is an estate that has been left to decay for a long time by the powers that be – lives blighted, neighbourhood made ugly and embarrassing. The murals were not meant to hide that. Now the murals play their part in making a comment about urban environments and the politics of decay. Had it not rained so much, the murals might have lasted the summer. But let Nature do what it does, and let the artist do what he does.

Tanbouli finished the project by holding a big party and declaring the murals “open to view for as long as they last.”


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Fantasists: a reminiscence

Today I got talking to someone about fantasists and I realised I’d come into contact with a few of those in my time and they all seem to revolve around art. In fact the worst fantasists I ever met suffered from curator fantasy, a peculiar tendency.

'Pictures (not) in an exhibition', video still

Let’s see, when I was starting my Film & Photography degree a woman I knew slightly from around and about told me she was organising a little show in a health centre we both used. She asked me for a piece of work and although as a first year student I didn’t think I would have anything worth showing I agreed. Then I heard nothing. Time passed. The college year was winding down. I had a few decent projects completed. Suddenly she appeared again with exciting news. It wasn’t a show in a little health centre it was to be a local art festival, taking over the whole High Street of the district, involving all kinds of venues and an important art TV channel was going to be supporting it. Not only that, but she has now an office and a business and was working full time on the project. I was impressed. But then she asked me for my work and I – mindful of what I still had left ot learn – said “Well, no. My work is far too undeveloped for me to show it in that kind of big event. Wait till I have finished my degree.” I didn’t hear from her again until much later I heard that it had all been a fantasy. Worse, she actually had rented an office and spent all her savings but had not actually organised anything still less got the TV involved. Even weirder, in my first group show after graduating she suddenly appeared again as an artist, contributing some bafflingly irrelevant drawings that the curator hid away in a corner of the show. It was all very odd. I never saw her again after that. Little did I know that Curator Fantasy is a real affliction.

The next instance of it came some years later in Berlin. A very colourful character, a sort of old-school style impresario,came to the studio where I was working and offered the studio group a big show in a venue he had acquired outside the city. A medieval building no less. We drove there and saw it, it was quite fine. He held court in his local winekeller, twirling his moustaches and talking about past glories and his new career as curator of contemporary art. We collectively shook hands on the deal. The following spring he confirmed that he had received a huge grant from the state arts fund and was ready to put the show into action. We drove there again and this time we did not visit the building as it was “under preparation” but we did visit his winekeller again where all arrangements were concluded. We then went back to the city; we sent him all the PR materials and he said he’d confirm the final dates. Time passed. I went back to London. Not long after my friends from Berlin called me. They had had no word from the impresario and so finally went down to the place to find out what was going on. They went first to the site of the show the medieval building. Still empty, but for an estate agent. Who told them that it was not rented and had never been rented. He recalled a funny old man who had come and talked to him about renting it but never got back to him. My friends made their way to the winekeller despite it being quite early and he was already there, enjoying a vintage. Confronted, he finally admitted there had never been a project, never a grant from the state art fund and never had he any authority whatsoever to offer anyone anything. He was an old retired man with a younger wife who fancied herself a bit arty so he wanted to seem a bit “with it” and have something to do. But he had no ideas and no resources to do any of it. Mystified, my friends had a glass of wine and then went back to the city.

'Pictures (not) in an exhibition', video still

The third fantasist is the weirdest. She was again nothing to do with art but was a professor of literature and she had received a grant to make a project to mark a particular occasion. Instead of doing what she knew, which was literature, she decided to curate visual art. I was invited by her assistant, to whom the whole job or organising fell. I made the work that was commissioned, based on the place and dimensions that were supplied to me, and I gave a list of materials that would be needed to install it (mainly a roll of light reflective colored gel). Ominously, soon before the show was mean to happen I learned that the venue had changed. Still I went there and tried to get to see the space. This was denied to me repeatedly. I hug around the city for several days waiting and waiting, till she deigned to see me. I had not met her by this point. When I did I found her very odd. First she invited me to dinner in a restaurant and even though I said I was not hungry and going to a party after, she ordered food and insisted I eat while she sat next to me smoking. SO not comfortable, on every level. This was made even weirder when, as we left she suddenly bent down and picked something small off the sidewalk and put it in her bag. I looked puzzled and she told me “I can’t resist anything I see lying on the sidewalk. I have to pick it up and take it. I keep the things I pick up in jars in my house.” I must have looked quite freaked out, which empowered her and so she confided further that sometimes if it was food, she was unable to stop herself picking it up and eating it. Now my gorge rose and I wanted to vom up the unwelcome dinner. Clearly she was enjoying this because she went on to on tell me that for many years she saved all her finger and toenail clippings in jars too. I was reminded of one of the worst things I read in my adolescence: Simone de Beauvoir’s account in her autobiography of discovering that her prim and proper neighbour was a coprophile. If I recall, they discovered it when the woman died. I was traumatised by this news that such people existed. Now I am not saying that my curator friend was coprophile but I had the same shuddery feeling of horror that I had had when I read De Beauvoir’s own account (which itself was still redolent with her horror).

We made it to the site of the forthcoming show. Now the worst unfolded. This so-called curator had in her unwisdom decided that an installation that was meant for a large space, two projectors and a wall of light reflective gel, was actually going to be a single screen projection onto a small window in a staircase. Worse: she planned to balance the equipment on a chair on the staircase. Asked her dumbfounded, what was expected to happen when people walked up the stairs. She pondered. I asked her if the system could be fixed to the celling. She didn’t know I went and got the site manager and he told us that no, in fact no fixings could be made anywhere. I realised that my work was not going to be shown in the way I wanted, and my best bet was to just give her the work and be done with it, which I did, the work and the invoice. I had no further dealings with her but needless to say she never showed her face as a curator again for any reason or in any capacity. One odd thing, a curious friend of mine did go to the show to see how she did end up screening the work, and found they were charging a hefty admission fee. I wonder what happened to the grant money? Fishy, fishy.

In the great scheme of things, these fantasists were pretty harmless, unlike the fantasists who think they are doctors and actually get jobs in hospitals or do dodgy plastic surgery on sad vain people (usually killing them). But it is a weird tendency.

(This is not be confused with the lesser bred, the technology fantasists. The ones who get an i-Phone and call themselves photographers, or buy a video camera and call themselves Cinematographers. I guess these are more victims of marketing.)

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