Issues in focus
This high-octane progression in London has now been injected with fresh fuel by two key issues of contention, currently under debate. The first has been the strong individual criticism of the contemporary art curatorium by the National Portrait Gallery's BP Award winner Stuart Pearson. He has demanded that Nicholas Serota be sacked; and in addition that the Tate Modern group of curators be retrenched, since they have unwarrantedly become supreme arbiters of taste, both in public gallery acquisitions up and down the land, and in major commissions. Pearson claims, justifiably, that the influence of a relatively confined set of criteria for acceptable contemporary art has driven art schools to apply the same criteria to student work, with debilitating results.
The second bone of contention has been the personal statement by the playwright Tom Stoppard when addressing the Royal Academy Dinner. He suggested that ‘a fault line in the history of art has been crossed when it is unnecessary for an artist to make anything when the thought. The inspiration itself, had come to constitute the achievement’. Subsequently, reinforcing this in the Times Literary Supplement 15 June, Stoppard said that ‘as a result of this, the instructive thing about the press coverage engendered and the letters that I have received, is that merely to describe the phenomenon (an object can be a work of art just because the artist says it is) is to be taken to be attacking it. From Praxiteles to Pollock,’ says Stoppard, ‘the artist was someone who made something (not to stop there); the personal action of a unique and necessary maker of something remained part of the meaning of the word artist, whether his name was Klimt or de Kooning.’
Independently, both Pearson and Stoppard have forced a sharp introspection upon the art establishment and its criteria — no bad thing perhaps after two decades of Brian Sewell crying in the wilderness from the Evening Standard, to broad agreement amongst the readers there. Arte Povera and Morandi are thus well-timed to remind us firstly of the sublimation of ideas, and in the second instance, of the subliminality of the object.
It is to be regretted that the highly respected arts commentator Mark Lawson no longer leads the intended cutting-edge BBC arts review programme ‘The Late Review’. This allows us a caveat in terms of the issues above, current in London. As part of a presumed ‘dumbing-down’ process Kirsty Wark now takes the chair, aided stoically by Germaine Greer and occasional inputs from Mark Lawson's old guard. Last week's reviewing of Howard Hodgkin's intervention with his paintings in the Dulwich Art Gallery (a brilliant curatorial wheeze) was typical of a trivialisation process for contemporary art. Beckett on film also got short shrift despite its notable originality and scholarship. In his own Guardian column on Saturday Lawson deftly retrieved his position elsewhere, remarking on three salient contemporary works in London that essentially refuted Stoppard's standpoint: Juan Munoz's sculpture installation at Tate Modern; Rachel Whiteread's new 'plinth' sculpture in Trafalgar Square, and Danny Liebeskind's superb 'Eighteen Turns' at the temporary Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. In each case, he claimed, it was indeed the artist's idea that was paramount in the creative process. Lawson played his latest trump card, and remains a key player.
Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials
Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials – The great Turbine Hall at Tate Modern seems to evoke an Aladdin's cave for most artists. However, under Bruce Nauman's control, waves of spoken voices, all carefully positioned and structured, interact with each other and the viewer, who sees only the 16 speakers set out at regular intervals.
Douglas Gordon: Superhumanatural
The film and video artist Douglas Gordon had his first one-man exhibition in Britain at the Lisson Gallery in 1994, sponsored by its perceptive director Nicholas Logsdail, to which he returned again in 2001. The following year, he was to exhibit 'Entre'Act 3' at the Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. 'Fuzzy Logic' followed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and from about this time his work really took off internationally.
Royal Academicians in China, 2003-2005
'Royal Academicians in China, 2003-2005' was conceived to coincide with the Royal Academy's remarkable exhibition, 'China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795', which presents imperial treasures of the Qing Dynasty. The superb exhibition draws on the collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing, and focuses on the artistic riches of China's last three emperors. It is a spectacular exhibition, and a great credit to the Royal Academy for their organisation of it, and to the team of scholars and curators involved.
China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795
China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts,12 November 2005-17 April 2006. Paintings, dress, porcelains, lacquers and furnishings that the rulers themselves employed in elaborate performances.
New acquisition: Quattro Stagioni by Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, London
American artist Cy Twombly (see ‘Philosophy in Paint’) has four tall canvases on exhibition at the Tate Modern. ‘Quattro Stagioni’ (Four Seasons), a painting in four parts, was executed during the period 1993-94.