The Emperors New Clothes
A personal view by Alan A Hillier
The ”ËBrit Artists’ 20 years on and more
Carl Andre’s Equivalent V111 (Or…….. a pile of fucking bricks)
Fuck ‘Concept Art’……………..Lets Dance
Over the last 20 plus years there have been some great examples that expose the ridiculous, contemptuous and contradictory natureÃÂ of ‘conceptual’ ‘Expressionist’ or ‘installation’ art and the controversial way that a lot of their work has beenÃÂ created and perhaps those studying the subject these days should take note of those glaring ironies and realise that maybe there is a case to strike some sort of reasonable, intellectual bargain with the nature of their future work. Various learning establishments and academy’s legitimised these YBA artists and encouraged them to disassociate themselves from the Artists who can actually paint and sculpt and without so much as a blush they spewed out their dubious work in the seedy confusion and fed the conceptual contempory art world which has no rules, bench marks or genuine examples of genius.
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Everyone I ever slept withÃÂ 63 -95ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ The last thing I said was “don’t leave me here”
This insular world relies almost entirely onÃÂ plaudits from the artists themselves, rich benefactors, friends and supportersÃÂ who lavish praise upon the artists and stimulateÃÂ a cliqueÃÂ which sneers at all criticism and condemns it as the rantings of the unenlightened . An elite organisation or ‘club’ as hard to join as any right wing gentleman’s establishment in the West End of London; supported, maintained and crafted along the same lines as those shady financial establishments which manipulate world market places and totally exploit the process that generates and establishes the value of this dreadful artwork in a sinister and sordid way. It really is a case of not what you can do, but who you know.
Sarah Lucas ‘Down BelowÃÂ ‘ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ Gavin Turk ‘Floater’
At this point I could bang on about freedom of expression and all that Jazz and to be fair to myself I don’t want to give the impression that I am against any individual who decides that he/she will not be constrained or controlled by a system that pigeon holes their work, nothing could be further from the truth, after all, the whole punk movement would have been destroyed by the 70’s establishment for that very reason if they thought they could have got away with it, but that doesn’t mean that all of that brilliant creativity that was so rightly encouraged back in those days was all good and therein lies the connection between the two genres.
There was a healthy reality in the punk days and that was the absolute knowledge that 60% plus of all the bands that existed, or perhaps I should say ‘sprang up’ at that time were simply not very good and everyone knew that and accepted it. But as befitting the general spirit of the times, being really good was way down on the list of what was needed to get up there and get involved.
Initially, no one really gave a fuck because these bands were exercising their inalienable right to take part in a wider, perhaps more important experience and the technical ability of the bands was not the most important element…at least, that was true at the very beginning, but to imagine that the audiences that filled those clubs and pubs were deluded morons who couldn’t recognise a decent band with original ideas, or couldn’t tell that a band played out of tune or the vocalist couldn’t sing, is not true at all and as things progressed, did the audience really give a fuck if the bands they were paying to see were any good? ……….of course they did.
I suppose we could now indulge in a discussion about what ‘good’ really is, one mans meat and all that. We all liked different bands from those days and if you take the ones you particularly liked then I would imagine that you would probably described them as good, so for want of a better explanation, that is what ‘good’ is in this instance.
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I am not aligning good with successful either because there were loads of bands that I saw back then and in subsequent years who I considered to have been really good who were never successful, but that’s just how the cookie always crumbles in that business.
One of the differences between these two genres is that the shite bands, although tolerated with total enthusiasm for exhibiting the punk spirit and ethos, quickly realised that to make their mark on the scene and have their say on a wider level they would actually have to learn how to play and play really well. There was no ‘conceptual’ safety net, no option that continued to cosset the ones who could not cut it and hold their work up with some belligerent arrogance and radicalÃÂ insistence that it ‘must’ be taken even more seriously simply as a democratic demonstration of their rights to freedom of expression, that opportunity only lives in the world of conceptual art where there are no rules and being ‘out of tune’ is a positive pre-requisite.
To imagine that audiences would haveÃÂ put up with ‘conceptual’ musicians who were utter drivel is a ridiculous notion when applied in a musical sense, not, sadly, applicable in the art world. Repression is the other side of the coin to unbridled, unfettered expressionism and concept art work which arrogantly decides that it need not be skillful, clever or aesthetic to participate commercially, is right up its own arse
Scrabble By Jenwa and Tej
Creativity in individuals is brilliant and children paint and draw and use color and have lots of fun (mine certainly did) but I’d never be in favor of them being taught to believe that they have the absolute right to demand that their creative output, whatever it looks likeÃÂ be unquestionably accepted asÃÂ genuine works of art simply because they are formless, unfathomable, or unexplainableÃÂ even if someone is prepared to buy them. But we’ll come back to the critical artistic reaction that children can illicit from the doyens of the art world in just a while.
An ability to express creativity only in abstract form is not what I’m railing against, its the dreadful clique that dominates a section of the art world thatÃÂ genuinely believes that we are all fucking idiots and mug puntersÃÂ thatÃÂ will beÃÂ fooled andÃÂ ÃÂ bullied in to accepting that we should not voice our genuine concerns at what they are doing simply to protect their unassailable right to their ‘freedom’ of expression, which has been almost entirely hi jacked by a talent less elite mob that maintain their status and their very lucrative existence by creating and stimulating an art market simply …..because they can.
Tracey Emin’s bed, naked in her ‘hut’ and one of her very talented drawings of herself
It was actually reported that when Charles Saatchi first met Damien Hurst he allegedly asked Hurst what he thought would happen if he paid him a million quid for one of his pieces, to which Hurst supposedly replied “I dunno.what would happen”Â to which the slimy Saachi retorted “Well….. That’s what it would then be worth then…..wouldn’t it”Â
Saatchi is a svengali on a par with the best of them and he can genuinely claim to have single handedly designed the Brit art resurgence back in the day and his association with Tracey Emin and Damian Hurst to name but a few created ‘the value’ of their art which, no doubt, has stimulated thousands of middle class reactionary young luvvies to embark on an educational journey that will teach them the process which allows someone who cannot paint, sculpt or craft to know with an absolute certainty that they will be stimulated and encouraged to produce art work which, if it can be considered radical enough, shocking enough, or the artist has the right family connections , greases the right palms or kisses the right arseholes ,will make them very rich and very successful and that makes me want to puke.
Damien HurstÃÂ ‘Mother and child Divided’
Back in 1992 I was asked to go and see a band described as mind blowing ‘concept performers’. Well……I haven’t met too many mind blowing bands as I have traveled about so I was dead keen to get down to the Water Rats in Kings X and see them. We grabbed a beer and settled down to see this amazing band called ‘Bluff’ . 20 minutes after they were due on stage I started to entertain myself by having a good look around. The first thing I noticed as I scanned the stage was an array of bizarre equipment dotted around the stage. This included a selection of plastic toy trumpets and a plastic saxophone, a guitar without strings and various bits of kit that you would not normally see at a gig .
Just under an hour late a bunch of giggling young hippies bundled on to the stage and launched into a bizarre ‘performance’ which saw the ‘band’ members thrashing about on their phony instruments and it was quickly obvious that they could not play or sing a single fucking note. Getting bored with the self conscious repetition of their own antics the ‘gig’ fizzled out to embarrassed stares from the genuine punters and clapping and sniggering from fellow ‘students’ who were in the know.
The ‘concept’ was that the audience would be shocked at being deliberately cheated, ‘bluffed’ into watching them, conned into paying to see a band that could not play and the shock value created should then be applauded by the audience which should, by now, have realised that they had been deliberately duped and in that realisation should then be clever enough to understand and assess that the performance was ‘arty’ and super clever…
In reality the ‘performance’ hadn’t worked. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t weird enough, it wasn’t interesting or satisfying on any level, it didn’t threaten or challenge me it didn’t teach me anything or bring anything to my attention, it didn’t achieve anything, it had no point and was self indulgent pseudo arty bullshit of the worst kind that did not belong in this environment. I am only grateful (for their sake) that it was 1992 instead of 1976/7 because there would have been absolutely no guarantee that they would have got out of that venue alive.
Radical university dudes man.
I purposely chatted to some of the ‘band’ after the ‘gig’ or should we call that the ‘performance’ and I quickly established the grim reality and the bedrock of their ability to indulge in this ‘concept Performance’ which was firmly rooted in the fact that they were all spoilt little rich college boys who didn’t have to be good at anything, didn’t have a message to deliver, didn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything but simply wanted to experience the buzz of performing on stage in front of a ‘live’ audience without having to put in any effort by learning how to play an instrument, sing or write songs …..’Clever’ ‘Conceptual’…….’Radical’ ‘legitimately artistic’ thats what they would have you believe but you make up your own mind.
I left my new ‘avant garde’ university ‘chums’ with a question and I asked the ‘singer’ what he would do if he went to an expensive restaurant with mater and pater and everyone ordered their favorite meal only for large empty white plates to be ceremoniously delivered by sniggering waiters……”ÂArt”Â……..I asked……..”ÂWhen you learn to accept that …….you’dÃÂ starve to death mate”Â.
One of my favorite examples of what should be on the conceptual art student bullshit curriculum is the brilliant and totally true recollection of the reactionary ‘on the edge’ conceptual artist Damien Hurst who could not bring himself to find the artistic statement or humor in the actions of two young art students who poured a test tube of black ink into his tank containing, arguably, his most famous piece of work the sheep in formaldehyde.
The fluid in the tank instantly turned the liquid and the sheep black and the students quickly stuck a sticky label on it with the words “BLACK SHEEP”Â…..The lads were arrested and a furious Hurst started heavy weight legal proceedings against them for destroying his work of art.
Hurst’sÃÂ wrath and unquenchable desire for revenge raged for a few weeks until, perhaps, it was pointed out to him the staggering irony of the situation and that to continue with his hissy ‘establishment’ outrage against such a ‘pure’ conceptual artistic statement would destroy any creditability he had ever had.
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I think we all know that selling the artists ‘concept’ or thought process is the real work of ‘art’ in this pretentious genre and getting someone to buy it is really the challenge which transforms the idea into a physicalÃÂ reality that the artists ‘concept’ piece, whatever it is, has actually succeeded ; been suitably understood for what it is supposed to be andÃÂ validated by the art world glitterati..
At that moment, at that point of sale, the piece of ‘art’ and it’s new value has achieved what it set out to do, not to be judged or compared, but to be understood, not for what it is but for what the artist wants us to believe it represents even if we can’t work it out for ourselves.
Even if it is generally accepted that the work is totally ridiculous the artist will always cite the fact that it has achieved it’s goal by getting people to talk about art, getting a reaction however dramatic, good or bad and stimulating our stupid dull, prehistoric minds with their brilliance and vision in the positive or the negative was the whole point, whether we ”Ëgot it’ or not.
ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ Mark MoskovitzÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ Kjell VarvinÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ Tomoko Takahashi
Its a no lose situation, a huge ‘in’ joke which takes an intellectual standpoint which can be defended with the smug knowledge of the artist who, when challenged by philistines like me, will simply give a sad shake of the head at our pathetic barbarism, our jaw dropping disgust is despised by the wise, the visionary the misunderstood genius that, we, the great unwashed do not deserve, appreciate or truly understand.
‘Out Of Context’ Art
The conceptual artist does his work then screams
“I see the importance of what I have done, are you clever enough to understand it too”Â
At that moment it really is a case of the Emperors new cloths because the observer has a simple choice to make and must decide if they are looking at the physical expression of some brilliant message from within the amazing mind of the artist or, as in the case of Carl Andre’s Equivalent V111, a pile of bricks in a heap on the floor.
So, standing before this ‘masterpiece’ we have two versions of the same visual reality, both physical, but one an idea of what else the bricks represent. At this moment some might say that the bricks ‘could’ most definitely be both.
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The painful truth, however, is that there is only one absolute reality and even the most bloated of all the egotistical concept artists could not argue that if one reality had to be conceded it must be that they are simply a pile of bricks arranged on the floor.
So…… what powerful magic changes them in to a work of art?. What changes 120 firebricks purchased by the Tate gallery in London which were fawned over and seriously discussed by art lovers all around the world to become anythingÃÂ but bricks ? We know that it caused an incredible reaction when it was dumped on the floor of the Tate by gallery staff; you could even say that it caused an outcry, but is a reaction however huge enough to legitimise it as a piece of artistic genius……
The patronage of world famous galleries like the Tate in combination with rich dealers like Charles Saachi and organisations who dole out artist awards like the Turner prize are the only people who can breathe life into this kind of art and they and they alone create it’s creditability and it’s relative value, which I believe, it does not deserve, after all, if that piece of work had been displayed on a building site it would look totally at home and if it is only taking it out of context that elevates it from a pile of building material then perhaps they should re name the genre ‘Out of context’ art.
There are thousands of animals as well as fetus’s; parts of humans in bottles and jars wallowing in formaldehyde in research labs and teaching hospitals all over the world and to exhibit the Hurst sheep in the basement of the British Museum amongst so many others would totally destroy the image, it would be lost in all that reality and be suitably reducedÃÂ to what it really is,ÃÂ once again showing that that kind of ‘art’ÃÂ relies totally on it being viewed out of context,ÃÂ languishing amongst those sucked in by the atmosphere of aÃÂ posh gallery.
I’ll leave this subject by recounting my favorite true story which I think sums up everything that I have always thought about the pretentiousness and cynical bullshit that has always surrounded this form of art, from the artists to the critics that supply it’s life blood it is riddled with deceit, lies and deliberate deception.
I have to take you back over twenty five years to a ‘set up’ by a television programme called ‘Game for a laugh’ Presented by Jeremy Beadle andÃÂ two co hosts. Each week the show (which ran for an hour) featured a major prank that ran through the whole episode with a ‘reveal’ right at the end. On this particular occasion the theme of the prank was to give a number of primary schools large canvasses and oil paints and get the children to create a piece of art which would then be collected and professionally framed. A bond Street art gallery was hired and the paintings hung on the walls with carefully concealed cameras in place around each one to catch all the action and reaction.
The researchers on the pro gramme had done a brilliant job and an actor had been employed to play the part of an eccentric, reclusive German artist who had allegedly recently emerged from a number of years of self imposed exile, his only possessions his paints, brushes and canvass surviving alone deep in the savage jungles of South America.
Every art critic from every major newspaper and magazine and anybody who was anybody in the world of art was invited to a Champagne reception to view these hitherto unknown artworks by this mystery artist.
Footage of the children smearing paint and riding bikes across the canvasses laid out in their respective school playgrounds was shown ‘in vision’ as the heavy weight art critics gathered at the swish Bond Street bash. At a certain moment the artist was announced and he duly flounced down a staircase in a long greatcoat like Baron Von fucking Richthofen. This guy was good and soon engaged these ‘experts’ in polite if mutedÃÂ ÃÂ ÃÂ
conversation. Gazing at one particularly colorful painting the ‘artist’ explained to the art critic of the Guardian that when he had composed this particular piece he was in mental turmoil “Oh yessss”Â said the critic swigging down another glass of Bolly “I can feel the dreadful foreboding and the jungle adds to an overall sense of anger commuted by the brushwork,.its really conveying that depression in a very fundamental way”Â etc etc . We were being treated to video of the kids at the school whacking this very ‘work of art’ with twigs and squidging paint from all directions and you get the idea.
And so it went on, art critic after very important art critic reviewed these paintings created by a bunch of school kids and without exception they fell for it hook line and sinker and I really hope that some of you get the chance to see that programme sometime and see the reaction on the faces of these ‘experts’ when Jeremy Beadle et al pranced into the gathered throng to tell them all that they had been the victims of an elaborate wind up.
Not a smile, not a titter except the smell of gut wrenching embarrassment and chilling ‘vacant stares’ now filled the room and to honest with you I really do not know how any of them lived it down or took another shilling for their professional appraisals.
To me, it was a brilliant moment, a perfect demonstration of everything that I had always thought about this type of art and those that claim to be able to judge it. These were people who were getting paid a great deal of money toÃÂ offer their opinion on works of art in national newspapers and highbrow magazines, their opinions can (and do) make or break an artist and they are supposed to be able to know what is good, what is valid what is brilliant and ‘why’.
What they actually proved once and for all was that random color and impressionist splodges splattered on canvass without recognisable form is not a science that can be debated or rated, you either like it or you don’t. These art experts had ‘bought in’ to the scam by being sucked in by the swishy surroundings that they knew oh so well, comfortable on familiar and totally safe ground, a scam of these devastating proportions a million miles from their minds,how wrong they were.
Twittering and wandering amongst the paintings, their positive and encouraging comments about the work they appraised was put forward as a result of outside influences which gave each painting a creditability that, in the scheme of things, it did not deserve.
It was not the paintings that told them anything, it was not the quality of the brush strokes or the combination of colour that stimulated their admiration and their understanding of the pain and suffering that they thought was reflected in the work, it was the crass realisation that whatever they said could not be contested and perhaps closer to the truth was the fact that these partisan feelings were being generated by that decadent feeling that consuming crates of free Bollinger,smoked salmon and caviar can bring………and fuck all else.
They had finally been caught out, finally exposed as the bullshitting charlatans that they have always been ‘winging’ it through an industry that exists in a biblical silenceÃÂ all living quietly in a huge glass cage with each ‘expert’ looking at the other knowing that there is none amongst them that dare to cast the first stone.
They were completely sussed out and if they would have been doctors so dramatically mis diagnosing their patients they would have probably been struck off…………..
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They say that God’s of all kinds can work in mysterious ways and so it may have been as on one evening in May 2004 the East End warehouse housing ”Ëmillions’ of pounds worth of contempory artwork, including Tracey Emin’s bed and Tent, ‘Hell’ by Jake and Dinos ChapmanÃÂ and many others including some from Damian Hurst all owned by art svengali Charles Saatchi, was burned to the ground.ÃÂ
In keeping with theÃÂ spirit of the genre,ÃÂ art critic, Danny Serota (no relation to Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota), suggested the burned-out warehouse be preserved as a “shrine” to conceptual art.
That will do for me.ÃÂ
Alan A Hillier c March 2011