ART TODAY: A Study of Contemporary A! in Europe
by Hazel Evans A project funded by the Peter Kirk Memorial Fund June 2012 - February 2013
CONTENTS 5. Introduction
PART I: A! 9. Art Hotspots 16. Money & Politics 19. Art Education 22. Street Art, Galleries & The Internet 34. The Documentation of Contemporary Society 40. Challenging Artistic Thought & Theory 43. “Art Derives From Art” PART II: "ematic Areas 55. A Return To Roots 59. Waste & The Environment 64. The Influence & Infiltration Of The Media 69. Text As Art 72. The Human Body & Sexuality 79. Science 81. Humour PART III: And Finally 87. Conclusion 92. Acknowledgements 93. Bibliography
INTRODUCTION Although a practising artist myself, I have often questioned the place of art in today’s society, wondering why gallery art is so popular, debating why certain pieces of contemporary art are created and if today’s gallery-goers really understand them, and if not, why such people continue to visit art galleries regardless. My interest stretched to Europe when I began to realise that some of the observations I’d made in the UK concerning contemporary art might differ elsewhere. I was looking into Fine Art degree courses in London and several renowned ‘Art cities’ in continental Europe (namely Paris, Florence and Prague) and had assumed the courses would be much the same as each other, differing only in language and scenery. Even from my initial research I could see that I was very much mistaken. There was a particularly noticeable contrast between the course prospectuses of the London art schools and the Florentine ones. Where the Florence Academy of Art proposed “a teaching method deriving from the classical realist tradition, rooted in the Renaissance” 1, art schools such as Camberwell in London were producing more conceptual work2 with a seemingly larger focus on this than on traditional artistic ‘skills’ such as painting and drawing. Faced with such opposing approaches to the same degree course, I felt more research was needed. Not only personally, in order to choose the right course for me, but in a broader context as well, to understand why such differences were present in Europe’s ultimately-not-somonolithic contemporary art scene. My travels would take me to Paris, Zurich, Milan, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and lastly London. The reason for my placing a larger focus on Italy was to get a better idea of where Florence stood in terms of Art in relation to the rest of the country. I was wary of misjudging Italy based on my perception of Florence.
Florence Academy of Art. Curriculum and teaching methods [webpage]. Accessed on 4th November 2012. <http://www.florenceacademyofart.com/curriculum.php>. 2
Conceptual art: Art in which the idea behind a particular work, and the means of producing it, are more important than the finished work.
Broadly speaking, the primary aim of my study was to understand the nature of the European art scene as a whole - how it is currently developing and would continue to develop in the future. I began research with an open mind, still unsure as to whether the continued existence of Art in Europe was vital or not. I didnâ€™t understand it enough to yet make that judgement and I hoped that by the end of my project I would have sufficiently researched and considered the matter in order to argue in favour of continued support to be given to the art world, or indeed, not. I also wanted to look at the themes and subject matter in the art being produced in Europe, to see if I could spot any particular trends, and consequently, to attempt to explain the reasons for such trends. On a broader scale too - looking at where the cities I visited stood in relation to each other within the European art scene. All this, I hoped, would provide me a decent basis and put me in a good position to predict elements of how the European art scene would develop in the future.
ART HOTSPOTS As it turns out, the inkling I had that triggered my decision to undertake this project was spot on. Florence is indeed a very different place to most other European cities; held under the marble wing of the Renaissance, it has struggled to move forward since. Responses to the preliminary emails I sent out to lecturers, art historians and general contemporary art bigwigs came thick and fast from Florence, and I am now able to understand why. In short, it is very difficult in Italy for art to develop, and it is partially made so by the government. It is also difficult for Italians, who for so long have grown accustomed to Renaissance surroundings, to break free of their notions of whatconsists-as-art. Yet art students still pilgrimage to Florence, some to visit, but many choose to study Art here. The reason? Many students see more value in traditional methods of teaching art. Daniel Graves, founder of the Florence Academy of Art explains it most clearly: “it seemed that nowhere else were artists working as they had in the past – with an attention to craft even at the most basic material level.” 3 It is not the only academy to teach with such an attitude; many other Italian institutions such as l’Accademia di Bella Arti, whose campuses I visited in Milan and Florence, train artists in a similar way. Florence remains rooted in the Renaissance, and consequently it remains one of the only places in Europe where you can go to receive a traditional artistic training. These art schools and their alumni don’t contribute towards a progression of contemporary art that is on a level with the rest of Europe, but Florence is by no means obliged stay abreast of art as it happens, and from the looks of things, it is unlikely to break away and modernise its’ art scene in the near future. As part of my research, the most interesting discussion of the trip was with two Italian professors, Lucia Giardino4 and Tiziana Landra5 of 3
Graves, Daniel. Tradition in the 21st Century. Accessed on 14th February 2013. <http:// www.florenceacademyofart.com/pdf/dgraves.pdf>. 4
Lucia Giardino, professor of Contemporary Italian Art and Art History Florence University of the Arts, Florence. 5
Tiziana Landra, professor of Art History and Art Theory and Criticism, Florence University of the Arts, Florence.
Florence University of the Arts (FUA). FUA is not the most traditional art school in Florence, and it is not entirely Italian either, since most of its’ affiliations are with American universities and a large proportion, if not all, of its students are American. However, the discussion with the two professors of this University cast the most light on Florence’s art scene. In all the interviews I conducted around Europe, no one else was able to speak quite as concisely and passionately in response to my questions. The reason for this, I feel, is that everywhere else, contemporary art is simply accepted and sort of just there, with nothing untoward to remark upon; in Florence, this is not the case. FUA is different from many of the traditional art schools in Florence in that its’ professors are trying to give their students a greater understanding of contemporary art and new methods of producing art. Signora Giardino showed great frustration at students’ unwillingness to study anything but the Renaissance, and also her own difficulty in finding contemporary art to show them. However, we must remember that the art students in Florence are usually there because of the Renaissance. According to Lucia, if they do ever come across contemporary art they will favour work with accuracy and traditional skill as opposed to concept, wit, or meaning. They are unable to move away from the idea of a skilled artist - which is fair enough, many people (namely the ‘gallery goers’ I will discuss later on) have trouble understanding the point of ‘unskilled art.’ Signora Landra was adamant that no matter how much an art student loves the Renaissance, it is not something that can be recreated. To create art today, one must draw from contemporary times. Though not the prescribed way of teaching the Renaissance in Florence or at FUA, she made an effort to teach it in a way that draws inspiration from it - understanding how artists reacted to society then and how students today can in turn react to contemporary society. “It is like, there was the Renaissance, then nothing, and now we are here, in contemporary Italy, and there is very little contemporary art.” 6 There are many factors which influence where will become the art ‘hotspot’ of the era. In Florence’s case, money and status was a very
Lucia Giardino. A study of the Development of Contemporary Art in Europe [interview]. Interviewed by Hazel Evans. Florence University of the Arts, via San Gallo 45 red, Florence. October 4th 2012.
important factor. Very rich families such as the Medici7 would pay enormous sums of money for it to be seen that great artists were working for them. The Medici family were responsible for the majority of Florentine art during their reign. Their money was significant because during this period, artists generally only made their works when they received commissions in advance - making it a feasible and sustainable profession for those with the talent and connections. In this way, the Renaissance painters were able to flourish in Florence, and it became a celebrated art hotspot in history. Money is not the only factor, however, though in this example it is fairly key. The lack of current art in Florence today is not entirely due to lack of money, it is also about pride. For now, many Italians take pride in their history, and see no reason to build over or move on from something so beautiful. Conversely, in countries whose cultural history is less revered, contemporary art is thriving - it is a way for them to create history for themselves. As Signora Giardino says, “they are effectively building from nothing."8 The all-encompassing hold the Renaissance has on Florence and the attitudes of the two FUA professors had made me somewhat antiRenaissance until I visited the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi9 . During said visit, I wrote the following: “At first I walked past the paintings and sculptures without giving them much more than a glance, not judging them clever, funny or hightech enough for my overstimulated 21st century mind. Then I relaxed and began to look at the work from an artist’s point of view, taking in the rough wooden canvasses and stone walls, remembering that paint was not so easy to acquire and manipulate in the 16th century and all painting was done from life or imagination, not photographs. That is when the beauty of the Renaissance hit me. There is incredible skill and intelligence in these works, and I am finally able to empathise with the art student who goes to visit such exhibitions and wants to glorify this era, to become one of these great masters. I still appreciate that we cannot go back in time to do this, but I do understand why such care is 7
Medici, an Italian family of merchants and bankers who ruled the republic of Florence through economic power and personal influence. By their patronage of the arts they made Florence the centre of the Italian Renaissance. 8
Lucia Giardino. A study of the Development of Contemporary Art in Europe [interview]. Interviewed by Hazel Evans. Florence University of the Arts, via San Gallo 45 red, Florence. October 4th 2012. 9
Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Via della Quarquonia, 55100 Lucca, Italy.
taken by the Italian government to preserve this art. These works gave me a much greater respect of galleries, if they are able to make you feel how I felt, so awe inspired that such greatness exists in our world, in our very own race, they are surely valuable places for people to visit.” Having experienced only a fraction of Europe’s art scene, I’m hesitant to label any one place as the art hotspot of the present day. However, if I were to go ahead and do so, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be Berlin. I don’t know whether Berlin holds the allencompassing grip on the art world as it seemed Florence once did, but art is no longer so place-orientated, with improved communication networks and media there is no huge advantage in moving to a particular place to set up an art practice. Yet artists, musicians, creatives of all types are flocking to Berlin. I myself feel an overwhelming urge to follow suit, to be part of such a creative revolution. And though it is something that can only really be felt, I will attempt to explain why. Less focus is placed on galleries in Berlin, except those in the gentrified area that barely host any local work. Instead there are venues, that cater to art being anything, with the venue adapting to the art, not the other way round. Despite Berlin being host to places such as these in their masses, they are not the reason for my proclaiming it The Art Hotspot. I actually ended up visiting less galleries here than I did in other European cities. This is because in Berlin, you don't have to look hard to find art; it's everywhere and it wants to find you, no matter who you are. The outlook in Berlin seems to be that art should be enjoyed by everyone, whether you're walking to work and happen to look up at a wall, sitting in a café whose walls are entirely adorned with illustrations, or partying all night long. Berlin is visually cultivating its' inhabitants and visitors by integrating art into their everyday lives. If every city were like Berlin is now, the question 'What is art?' would barely exist. The concept of art would not exist, for it would be as ingrained into our lives as the buildings we live in and use. I felt that the world finally made sense in Berlin. In the 21st century, Berlin makes every other city look ignorant, illogical and old-fashioned. As for the future of this free and vibrant city, one is hopeful, but somewhat concerned. In Berlin, artists and residents face a growing problem of gentrification. With its' constant renewal and visual appeal,
the city not only attracts artists and ‘hipsters’10, it also attracts investors at an alarming rate. Coupled with the rebuilding of the city from its’ historically recent plight11, already one can see artistic areas becoming commercialised tourist destinations, until they're almost unrecognisable as Berlin. Consequently, the increased wealth in these areas forces the artists who made it so desirable to move out. Luckily, for the time being, there are plenty of districts left in Berlin that artists can migrate to. The character of Berlin is still present everywhere and will be for the foreseeable future, but the actual production of art and magnet that Berlin is for artists is likely to decrease, leaving a city monumental in European art history, visited by tourists of the future similar to the tourists of today who visit Florence and Paris but can't truly appreciate what it was like to live in a city's artistic revolution. Berlin may be Europe’s artistic playground for up and coming art, but out of the cities I visited, I feel Vienna and Prague are the ones who provide most support for contemporary art. In Vienna, despite the city’s rich history guaranteeing tourism, a lot of funding goes towards contemporary art and creative initiatives. As opposed to the set up in many of the cities I visited, where contemporary art venues are located a 30 minute tram ride out of the city centre, Vienna seems to be the opposite, with galleries located on the Viennese equivalent to London’s Oxford Street; not only demonstrating the wealth behind it but also the importance placed upon the arts in Vienna. The city was home to legends such as Gustav Klimt, who founded the Secession building in 1897 not only to showcase his own work and the work of other artists at the time, but to provide an ever-changing space for contemporary work. Klimt’s philosophy that art should continue to update itself is still present in the attitude of the city today... A contemporary art gallery, formerly named 20er Haus, was refurbished and renamed 21er Haus at the turn of the century - now 10
Hipster: Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. Urban Dictionary. Accessed 14th February 2013. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hipster>. 11
After World War II, the city became divided into East Berlin - the capital of East Germany and West Berlin - a West German exclave surrounded by the Berlin Wall. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9the November 1989, the two parts of Germany were reunified, and Berlin again became the official German capital. Wikipedia. Accessed 14th February 2013. <http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin>.
an interdisciplinary space for contemporary work of all kinds. A newly built cultural complex, ‘Museumsquartier’, situated in the centre of the city, is not only host to several excellent contemporary galleries and venues, it also funds studio and living space for 9 artists at any one time. These examples emphasise Austria’s enthusiasm to support the current culture bloom, not just their grandiose past. On the whole, Vienna has an extremely comprehensive art scene. It is not necessarily one such as Berlin that draws artists to Vienna but it caters for art lovers and professionals on an international level. Although I travelled to different cities to experience art all around Europe, I was often met with art of an foreign artist. Such as the exhibitions in Vienna’s Secession, where the artists showing work were American, English, German and Greek. In Prague, however, this was rarely the case; wherever there was contemporary art, it was almost always of Czech authorship, from the commissioned street installations of David Černý and Kamera Skura, to the AMoYA gallery devoting several large buildings to the work of new and established Czech artists. Such nationalism is interesting, as Prague itself is a mélange of different influences from around the globe; it is a place that has served multiple masters over the centuries - a history of disposition that, in a sense, continues into today as an unrelenting surge of tourism. Perhaps this is all the more reason for the devoted support of the Czech artists of today, with the aim of establishing the Czech culture as a respected one in its’ own right. The country has a long history of resistance and producing works of genius in the face of cold adversity (an excellent example of this is the literature of Milan Kundera, much of which was produced in Prague during the Communist regimes of Czechoslovakia in the 1980s). Evidently, this creative current still runs through the city’s art scene today. And indeed, the contemporary art scene in Prague is buzzing, but it’s not very obvious to the average tourist; everything is all over the place, not on several renowned streets like in London, Paris or Vienna. Nevertheless, Prague was the place where I felt the gallery scene was one of the most contemporary. I visited several contemporary art ‘centres’, such as Karlin Studios, Meet Factory, Hunt Kastner Artworks and DOX Contemporary, all of which had been open for less than three years. It’s a very now place, and I think there’s more to come from Prague on Europe’s contemporary art scene. It was apparently felt that this should have been the case earlier; “Fifteen years ago, everyone thought that Prague was going to be what Berlin ended up being now, and then something happened, and we 14
went into a kind of Dark Ages. And I think that we’re on the way back up again. I see a lot of things happening and a lot of enthusiasm.” 12 Perhaps the concept of an art hotspot is obsolete, the internet and our 21st century communications make it so. The world is moving fast away from the notion of continents, countries or cities being culturally renowned for a certain aspect. Yet there are still geographical trends. People are drawn to certain places for many different reasons, and artists are drawn to Berlin today, not for wealth but because there is something about the city that inspires. One wonders how any one place comes to be such a magnet. Often when a ‘hotspot’ develops it is a case of history repeating itself: a developing area investing heavily in the arts in order to gain some appeal and standing, and therefore to create a pull towards said area. This is the case with districts such as Belleville in Paris and perhaps is also the case to be made for the emerging contemporary art scene in Eastern Europe. With Berlin, however, we have a very different and original case on our hands. A developed country, recovering from centuries of unpleasant history and bad reputation, Berliners surge forwards, learning from the mistakes of their past, building, embracing life and opening their arms to the world. It is the story of a city born out of horrific circumstances, hit so hard, it must bounce back with spirit or die. And it chooses the former. I don’t only mean in terms of art; the policies of the German Government seem to actually put the German (and European) people and their needs first. And politics is always a factor affecting the development of anything in a country; take Italy for example, where laws are in place to dissuade investments into contemporary arts. When we compare Germany’s history with that of Italy, we can easily see why the politics concerning art and culture are so different. With such pride in their past, italians remain reluctant to advance too eagerly into the new artistic era, and understandably so.
Katherine Kastner, co-owner of Hunt Kastner Artworks, as quoted by Evan Rail in Gallery Crawling in Prague? Get Out the G.P.S. [article]. The New York Times. July 19th 2009.
MONEY, & POLITICS Despite the united European Union, the ECB13 and the common (for the most part) currency of the Euro, the way that money is distributed into the arts varies a lot throughout Europe. The most effective funding scheme I encountered was that of the Artbanka organisation in Prague. Artbanka owns the AMoYA14 gallery in central Prague and hosts its exhibitions there. It is a very logical set up that benefits artists, galleries, art fans and art buyers all at once: “Every year many artists graduate from fine arts schools, but after a while most of them leave creative arts, as they cannot afford to continue. Artbanka is a non-profit project that helps young artists to kick of their career, organises their presentation in the international context, provides for expert review of their work and monitors artworks appearing on the Czech art scene. Artbanka buys works of art of young Czech and Slovak artists for a fair price, then the works are offered for rent to prestigious public and private institutions. This way artists are supported financially, and receive public attention, they would hardly be able to get as individuals. The public, on the other hand, has a chance to get the best of the works produced by Czech and Slovak artists for a price they can afford.” 15 It is a mystery as to why other countries in Europe have not immediately followed suit, though perhaps it time they will. Compared with the Czech Republic, Italy is the most contrasting example when it comes to supporting contemporary Italian artists. ‘Artist’ is not even a recognised profession by the Italian government, and funding for the study of Art is not available as it is for other professional studies.16 Therefore, one can only study art in Italy if one 13
The ECB: the central bank for Europe's single currency, the euro. The ECB’s main task is to maintain the euro's purchasing power and thus price stability in the euro area. The European Central Bank. Accessed on 16th February 2013. <http://www.ecb.int/ecb/html/index.en.html>. 14
Artbanka Museum of Young Art, Karlova 2, Praha 1, 110 00, Czech Republic.
Artbanka [webpage]. Accessed on 4th November 2012. <http://www.amoya.cz/ artbanka-collection>. 16
Source: Tiziana Landra. A study of the Development of Contemporary Art in Europe [interview]. Interviewed by Hazel Evans. Florence University of the Arts, via San Gallo 45 red, Florence. October 4th 2012.
is rich and chooses to go against the system. As for private art schools and institutions (and they are mainly private), funding for these must come from independent investors, who are dissuaded from investing in art due to the higher tax rate introduced by the Italian government. 17 Consequently potential investors tend to put their money elsewhere where the tax is not so high (almost every other discipline and charity in Italy). The only aspect of art considered valuable is the restoration and preservation of historic works. There are very reputed schools for this in Italy, such as L’Istituto per l’Arte et il Restauro (Florence), and it is a very prestigious thing to qualify from such a place. Do you think art was valued differently in the past? In what respect? “Living in a city like Florence, the answer can only be: yes I do think so. In the past rich families (like the Medici in Florence) were patrons of the arts, because having great artists working for them meant prestige and glory for themselves and the way the city looked was a reflection of their own power. Nowadays in Italy very few 'enlightened' people invest in art. Unfortunately in our time art and beauty are not considered an essential element for the spiritual nourishment of the people.” 18 Perhaps it was the case in 14th century Florence, but in Berlin, we do not have art as a direct result of money, we have art as a result of revolution and creative reconstruction, and money being invested as a result of art. “Berlin doesn't have much money, contrary to outward appearances. The government invest heavily in the arts, but the upper class arts, theatres etc... Here, everyone is an artist, but the only ones who make money out of it are the ones who sell it abroad.” 19 The art in Berlin isn’t created for financial gain or even status (many artists choose to remain anonymous). The artists in Berlin do what they love in spite of its poor professional prospects, simply because they 17
Exact figures available in Public Subsides and Tax Incentives for Culture in Italy [working paper]. (see Bibliography) 18
Simonetta Ferrini, professor of History of Art at FUA. Quoted in response to Questions for consideration (English) [email]. In correspondance with Hazel Evans. Sent and received on 19th September 2012. 19
Tour guide of Real Berlin Experience, Alternative Berlin. As quoted by Hazel Evans. Rosenthaler Straße, Berlin. 19th October 2012.
believe in it. It’s a well known story in the history of art: artists during Paris's art reign struggled through life, producing art for the love of it their work becoming celebrated only after their deaths. Better provided for but somewhat less flourishing contemporary art scenes exist in cities such as London, Paris and Vienna. In London for example, we see a mixture of public and privately funded galleries. Take Whitechapel gallery, one of Britain’s oldest venues for contemporary art, where entry to the world-class exhibitions is free. How? Whitechapel opened in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London and continues to be supported by public money, though with an increasing proportion of the funding coming from private sources. The Arts Council England20 recently put £2.7million towards the gallery’s ‘Future Fund’21. Though a substantial amount, public money alone will not secure the future of such galleries. Whitechapel, by their own calculations, will only survive if funded by generous independent donations. Where does this leave the success of the contemporary art scene that exists in galleries today? Either controlled by the wealthy - a situation best demonstrated in Renaissance Florence, or else galleries become unable to fund themselves and must eventually close. Alternatively, there are schemes such as that of Artbanka that support all within the art world, or, contemporary artists must resort to other creative outlets, where money isn’t an issue - the internet or the streets, for example.
Council England is the national development agency for the arts in England, distributing public money from the Government and the National Lottery. Arts Council England. Accessed on 16th February 2013. <http://www.artscouncil.org.uk>. 21
The Future Fund is the Whitechapel Gallery’s campaign to raise an endowment of £10million by 2020. The aim of the Future Fund is to secure the next 100 years of the Gallery. Whitechapel Gallery. Accessed 16th November 2012. <http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/support-us/futurefund>.
ART EDUCATION In this time of unemployment in Western Europe, one definite trend that can be spotted is art schools gearing their programs towards the acquisition of employment and distancing themselves from courses with a more liberal approach that allowed students to develop their artistic practices without fixed aim. Fine Art is becoming less revered in favour of training in Graphic Design or Visual Communication - these are the sellable skills in today’s creative market. This is particularly noticeable in France, with art specialist schools such as École Estienne, École de la Communication Visuelle and Spéos structuring their programs to be particularly aimed at working for corporate companies. In the world of creative teaching, employability seems to be valued over individual ideas and free creativity. Could this be causing creative people to produce ideas that work more towards pleasing a market or an employer as opposed to truly expressing themselves? “Education is becoming much more monetized and there’s a greater emphasis on converting art education into something tangible and measurable. It [the increase in uni fees for UK residents] will mean that to undertake something as intangible as studying towards a Fine Art degree is really going to become quite a stark choice. Sometimes, preparing people too much for the art world is detrimental to how their thinking evolves. They’re at the beginning of their practice, and if the art world is too present, it can affect the way in which somebody’s work develops. People have to be aware of how things work [in the art world] but not schooled to hit certain markers.” 22 In universities and other such institutions, there are many different perceptions even within departments of what is involved in teaching art, and whether it can be done at all. Rickards (above) explains “the process that happens in an art education allows people who are making things to develop their thinking - and to make better things. But it’s difficult to say whether that constitutes as an act of teaching.” 23 Evidently, Art is not like other subjects that can be taught by book, or by the passing of knowledge - it is too subjective for this - but does that make the study of it any less worthwhile? Leo Gabin, professor at the 22
Hannah Rickards, lecturer, 4D Pathway, BA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins as quoted in CSM Fine Art BA Intorduction Pack, Fine Art BA Open Day 6th November 2012. 23
Hannah Rickards, lecturer, 4D Pathway, BA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins as quoted in CSM Fine Art BA Intorduction Pack, Fine Art BA Open Day 6th November 2012.
Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium makes an effective argument in favour of art schooling: “Art school is not essential, but being around like-minded people helps a lot of students discover what they want to do and make.” In effect, Gabin describes the art education as an advantageous social environment in which creative juices are more likely to flow. This is a benefit of an art education that is not as a result of the teaching of art, but the coming together of creative people. One might argue that university fees for the study of Art are extremely steep if your major gain is not the studying itself, but the classmates. However, it is difficult to find social environments for emerging artists that aren’t linked in some way to higher education, largely due to the fact that higher education is funded in advance by the government24 and funds for collaborative projects outside of higher education are either non-existent, or very difficult to obtain. Where professors Rickards and Gabin may question ‘can art be taught?’ Daniel Graves, founder of the Florence Academy of Art would answer ‘Yes’. Graves considers art a skill, that should be taught, for fear of the skill being lost. “It is the view of this Academy that throughout the 20th century the prominent movements of art have steadily drawn attention (and teaching) away from close observation of the material world and the acquisition of strong technical skills, to a position where cohesive artistic thought is inexorably fragmented by the urge towards greater individual expression.” 25 Despite the contrast between Graves’ ideas and those of the majority of European art institutions, he certainly seems to answer some of the questions that contemporary art inspires. Throughout this report, I will demonstrate the difficulty we have defining art today. Graves blames this lack of clarity in the art world on the jumbled teaching that occurs in most art schools where there is “no clear method of training in fundamental aspects of the craft, such as learning how to draw.” Where many up and coming art institutions embrace the freedom of the individual to create, Florence Academy of Art maintains that “EVERY ART IS ABOUT CONTROL” and compares art to dance and music “If you cannot follow specified movements of ballet, you cannot dance 24
In the UK, all tuition fees and living costs for degree courses are paid upfront by the government and only repaid by the student once he/she is earning above a certain salary. This is not, however, the case for all EU countries. 25
Graves, Daniel. Tradition in the 21st Century. Accessed 14th February 2013. <http:// www.florenceacademyofart.com/pdf/dgraves.pdf>.
ballet; you cannot play classical music unless you have control over all the scales and your fingerings.” To me, this explanation makes sense, however, the idea of art as a skill does not seem to resonate in the contemporary art world. It is true that it used to be considered one, but by modern definition there is no such thing as being ‘good at art’ - it is far too subjective and variable. On the other hand, some of what Graves says rings true in terms of the teaching of art; drawing is a skill, painting is a skill and both can be improved upon with good instruction.26
citations within paragraph sourced from document: Graves, Daniel. Tradition in the 21st Century. Accessed 14th February 2013. <http://www.florenceacademyofart.com/pdf/ dgraves.pdf>.
STREET ART, GALLERIES & THE INTERNET “Painting was the best ally of the white gallery, the avatar of modernism. Whatever the radicalness of its innovations might have been, the canvas was neatly affixed to the wall. The decline of the painting empire shook the purity of the white space. Painting, often confined to the studio and limited to the canvas’s surface, compared with the ‘outside world‘ with all its‘ ins and outs, be they physical or social. The urban space becomes an exhibition space.” 27 Is street art the movement of the 21st century? It has ceased to be labelled as vandalism and is becoming more appreciated and accepted in society. Consequently, the art produced becomes less violent and this in turn increases its’ popularity. Several factors favour street art as today’s ‘art media’: anonymity, originality and the lack of need for funding, status or gallery space. The 21st century brings us two very different groups of artists. Firstly, the commercial artists who seek to make a living out of their creativity. And secondly, artists who reject financial gain and channel their creativity into making a difference, bringing about changes in the world. Street art is fast becoming a popular and effective medium through which to do this. In Europe, we see an increasing amount of social development initiatives involving street art. Events such as these are ways of increasing the status and appeal of poorer areas in large cities. One example is the Biennale de Belleville, Paris. This is probably the most forward thinking art organisation I came across in Paris - which until the 1940s was the undisputed Western capital of art - and it was somewhat a relief to see parts of Paris moving forward with the times, not simply relying, as Florence does, on their already famous history and culture see them through. The Belleville Biennale is a seasonal event that incorporates small galleries, various walls, studios and even trees, all of which are completely open and free to the public. The Biennale makes a stand against art as a money-making, status driven affair, instead supporting creativity for creativity’s sake and art as a part of everyday life.
O’Doherty, Brian. White Cube, L’espace de la galerie et son idéologie. 2008. Paris. Lectures Maison Rouge. As quoted in Journal Bienale de Belleville II. Paris. September 2012.
A i r e 23 - Vi n c e nt La a mo u r o u x
Q u e s t i o n I n t e r ve n t i o n - S a m Du r a n t
Even the gallery art in the Biennale ironically supported street art over gallery art. Sam Durant’s Question Intervention is a barely veiled statement about the demise of gallery art; it proclaims: “Poetry is in the streets... art is dead... art is dead.” Another irony with Durant’s piece is that it is a mirror, depicting the viewer. In viewing yourself in an art gallery you are made aware of how gallery art can be more about your own vanity than the art on the walls. Many artists around Europe are expressing the same notion, criticising with their art the very galleries displaying it. Their purpose? They urge the art world - galleries and gallery-goers alike - to modernise their prescribed and outdated behaviours. I have discussed the allure of Berlin as an art hotspot, and though it is the city as an ensemble that makes it so, the attitude to public art there is a major part of the appeal; Berlin’s streets and venues are awash with art. Neither street art or graffiti28 are legal in Germany, surprising considering the amount of it; the reason it is so abundant is that the Government is too poor to remove it (or rather, prioritises the expenditure of money in other areas). This attitude actually seems to engender a more considered approach from the Berlinese street artist. He is aware that his art might have a lasting chance of staying put, so he takes more care over what it consists of, and the way in which it is executed. There is also commissioned legal street art all over Berlin. Most famously of course, the East Side Gallery, the world's largest outdoor gallery on 1.3km of the still-standing Berlin Wall. Furthermore, following the reunification of the city in the late 19th century, the local authorities invited street artists to paint large murals on the empty walls of once attached houses 29 in order to “make Berlin prettier” 30. A prime example of the government cooperating with creative people in order to create an attractive environment without spending public money on
Graffiti: drawings, messages, etc, often obscene, scribbled on the walls of public lavatories, advertising posters, etc. Collins English Dictionary. <http://www.collinsdictionary.com/ dictionary/english/graffiti>. Street Art: any art developed in public spaces. The term can include traditional graffiti art work, as well as, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheat-pasting and street poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art, flash mobbing and street installations. Art Republic. <http://www.artrepublic.com/art_terms/39-street-art.html>. 29 Arms,
Simon. The Streets are our Studio – the Rise of Berlin Street Art [article]. Cruzine. 29th April 2011. Accessed on 15th February 2013. <http://www.cruzine.com/2011/04/29/berlinstreet-art/>. 30
Tour guide of Experience Berlin, Alternative Berlin. As quoted by Hazel Evans. Kreuzberg, Berlin. 19th October 2012.
actual refurbishment. It is just this attitude that makes the city not only attractive to artists, but attractive to all. Despite the still-thriving gallery scene in London, a more Berlinesque kind of art is emerging. I managed to get to a pop-up exhibition of ‘Temporary Autonomous Art’, organised by a group called Random Artists. “The general ethos of our shows is to re-use the so-called ‘waste’ of modern urban society, encouraging others to be proactive toward our environment. Recycling the unwanted and rejected materials. Using abandoned properties which we repair and maintain, we create living and working facilities, reclaiming space that has no other immediate purpose.” 31 It makes perfect sense, for creative people to develop neglected areas. Unfortunately, the British authorities have different ideas to Berlin, and groups such as the Random Artists must continue to operate under the radar. The creative beautifying of wasteland is no new concept either; it is the starting point from which countless areas have become cultured, and subsequently gentrified, everywhere in the Western world, throughout history. But it has never been so deliberate as it is now, with more and more groups like the Random Artists establishing themselves across Europe, using unwanted property in a proactive and peaceful way. It is an inspiration to all and hopefully such groups will continue to flourish. In Amsterdam, ever the forward facing city of Europe, I stumbled upon an exhibition Absences., held in GO Gallery, one of the art spaces associated with the Amsterdam Street Art Foundation. The exhibition was an entirely female exhibition - nothing too unusual in that; the Centre Pompidou (Paris) held a yearlong ‘Elles’32 exhibition in 2009. Absences was different in that it supposedly highlighted the absence of women street artists, at the same time as giving presence to them in the exhibition. It provoked my consideration of the place of women in the
Huddle, Jess. About Random Artists. Webpage. Accessed on 18th November 2012. <http:// www.randomartists.org/about_ra.shtml>. 32
In English, ‘They (feminine)/Hers/Shes’ (translated from the French ‘Elles’).
art world as a whole. Throughout art history, women have always followed, no matter which period you take as an example.33 When women eventually ‘break into’ a form of art, it is already becoming obsolete as the men pioneer the art world in a new direction. Despite this pessimistic outlook on behalf of female artists, I feel the artistic media of the 21st century is more accommodating of women because it embraces anonymity. This was actually the one opposition I had to the exhibition; the gallery made the indirect assumption that the street art world is male-dominated. Even in Berlin, this assumption exists; berliners allude to anonymous street artists like El Bocho, Bimer and Banksy as “he”. Perhaps we do this because we all have a prenatal conception in our minds of a male-dominated art world and we are still unable to grasp the concept of women as leaders, especially in a creative environment. Hypothetically a large majority of anonymous street and internet artists could be female. And like the women of history who disguised themselves as men in order to have increased rights 34, the women of the 21st century may use anonymity to gain respect. And perhaps as the art world and Europe progress, we will change our preconceived ideas and stop assuming that all the great anonymous artists are men. Anonymity, and the notion of art being more important than the artist, is a very significant element of the present day art world. Many street artists, and artists on internet portals such as 'VVork' are choosing to remain anonymous or go by a pseudonym. It engenders a very different way of seeing and understanding art than that which we have observed in galleries in the recent past. VVork, for example, is an online ‘art space’. It is now one of the most popular art blogs there is 35. It features art from any time and place, using text only for technical descriptions if necessary and working as a “collaborative flow of consciousness where associations are never explained but simply
Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. Language and woman's place. New York. Harper & Row. 1975.
Due to laws which prevented women from performing in various parts of society, some women decided to live their lives as men. Further reading: Top 10 Men Who Were Really Women <http://listverse.com/2008/09/04/top-10-men-who-were-really-women/>. 35 At
time of writing (November 2012), VVork still existed as a blog. As of 12th December 2012, it has become an archive after 7 years of posting. Daily updates to the blog have now ceased. <http://www.vvork.com/>.
offered to the user.” 36 In this simple blog, one can escape the common categorisations and frameworks that are presented within traditional and material exhibition spaces. “I think it is necessary to ignore authorship, to create a space for something that is interesting again.” 37 Laric hints that the common linking of the artist to the art or the creator to the creation has become too much a part of the motivation to create art. When authorship, comes into play, creativity for creativity’s sake does not exist. The emerging generation of anonymous artists don’t seek to be linked to their work, or even understood by it - as opposed to art accompanied by a description that helps us to understand the artist’s life. We aren’t interested in the life of the artist, we are interested in the art itself. And Laric is right, when authorship is ignored, the art itself must become interesting. However, some would argue the converse - that without authorship, the art actually ceases to become interesting... “The thing with art is: painting, sculpture, media art, whatever art is not really interesting. Art rather depends on: the (political/social/ cultural) context, the contents, the intentions of the artist (group).” 38 Hauser’s attitude is one that supports the continued existence of art accompanied by information and understanding, or art that is “not really interesting” unless we are able to compare it with its place in history and its’ bearing on the artist’s life. Such art for the most part exists in galleries, where information is on hand for us to trace the art. It is very different from the stand-alone art we increasingly see on our streets and online networks.
Laric, Oliver. The Real Thing / Interview with Oliver Laric. Interviewed by Domenico Quaranta for ART PULSE Magazine (online version). Accessed on 16th February 2013. <http:// artpulsemagazine.com/the-real-thing-interview-with-oliver-laric>. 37
Laric, Oliver. The Real Thing / Interview with Oliver Laric. Interviewed by Domenico Quaranta for ART PULSE Magazine (online version). Accessed on 16th February 2013. <http:// artpulsemagazine.com/the-real-thing-interview-with-oliver-laric>. 38
Daniel Hauser, professor of Visual Arts, F+F Schule für Kunst, Zürich. <firstname.lastname@example.org>. A study of the current development of contemporary art in Europe [email]. Message to Hazel Evans <email@example.com>. Sent and received 1st October 2012.
Visual pleasure and effective communication of meaning in gallery art has become a rare thing; artists often relying on essay-like handouts to give viewers an idea of how a piece is meant to be interpreted. Personally I feel that if a piece is not visually stimulating to look at or it is unable to communicate meaning without a written guide, why not just remove the piece and in it’s place display the guide. A few notable European galleries have come up with alternative methods of ‘labelling’ the art in order to avoid labelling in the conventional sense. My favourite labelling method was in AMoYA. Here, all the works are accompanied by descriptions of sorts, yet the descriptions are all poems, 5 lines each. They contribute and enlighten you to what the work is about whilst also being open to interpretation themselves. The advantage of a poem - as opposed to a written description - is that the poem itself is an artistic medium, and works together with the piece to allow the viewer to draw their own interpretation from the work instead of forcing upon them an interpretation they may not fully understand. What’s more, the accompanying poems are small and mostly placed out of view, or after the piece of art, so the poem only acts as an afterthought; the piece of art is still the major focus. I feel the success of these accompaniments shows that interpreting art is better done through unstructured abstract feeling - that which is found in poetry, music, art etc. - than it is through elaborate and intelligent sounding descriptions. Throughout Europe, there has been a recent and very noticeable shift in the way galleries function. Successful galleries are adapting to accommodate the present day art. With our definitions of art going haywire and our 21st century understanding of ‘art as anything’, it is no longer the gallery space that dictates the art. The tables have turned and now the gallery space must adapt to the art being created, for fear of appearing unaccommodating of today’s art world and losing their contemporary status. Berlin hosts few traditional galleries; instead there are abundant ‘spaces’ and ‘venues’ in which artistic events of all variety take place. To name a few, Kater Holzig, Platoon Kunsthalle, The Wye, A Trans Pavillion, MADE and Alte Kindl Brauerei Neukölln. Most of these venues exist in formerly abandoned or destroyed property - with similar ideas behind them as the aforementioned Random Artists of London. Platoon Kunsthalle for example is built entirely of empty cargo containers; Alte Kindl Brauerei Neukölln is an art and event space in an old brewery. The events hosted by these venues have previously 28
included concerts, collaborative art projects, workshops, street art fairs, drama performances, dance, artists in residence, recitals, installations and club nights. These spaces embrace all types of creativity and contemporary thinking; this widens their range of visitors and consequently, they flourish in contemporary society. “The work of Pierre Joseph is driven by an ambitious project: to change typical art exhibition into a true “everything-is-possible zone” where objects, images and humans exist together and communicate with each other.”39 Pierre Joseph’s 40 “everything-is-possible zone”, or “zone du possible” in French, is an apt description for the up and coming artistic venues that are cropping up all over Europe. Spaces like these are favoured by artists and visitors alike and are gradually putting traditional galleries into decline. Urs Fischer, a notable contemporary artist whose exhibitions seem to be everywhere in Europe at once, works with the exhibition space itself and incorporates it into his art. In Paris, his exhibition took place in the Chapelle des Petits Augustins, adjoint to l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. The chapel normally houses beautiful marble statues (actually counterfeits of Renaissance works by Beaux Arts students 41), but for Fischer’s exhibition, intermingled with these, were paraffin wax statues, slowly melting away into nothing. Their presence there initially fit in with the solid statues; this is perhaps what made their melting such a spooky thing to witness. The temporary nature of the wax statues also highlighted the artificiality of the exhibits in the chapel. Another of Fischer’s pieces on display at the Palazzo 39
Bourriaud, Nicolas. Topocritique : l’art contemporain et l’investigation géographique. Global Navigation System. Palais Tokyo. Paris. 2003. Original quote: “Le travail de Pierre Joseph est traversé par un projet ambitieux : faire de l'exposition d'art une véritable “zone du possible” où objets, images et êtres humains cohabiteraient.” Translated into English by Hazel Evans, 2012. 40
Pierre Joseph (1965 - Present) a major artist on the French contemporary art scene since the late 1980s, who was one of the forerunners pioneering the changing nature and space of the traditional gallery. 41
“..among what seem at the first glance to be old friends from all the best galleries of the world but too quickly are revealed as counterfeits, all the work of Beaux-Arts students.” from Chapter X - The Boulevard St. Germain and its Tributaries, A Wanderer in Paris by Edward Verrall Lucas. Library of Alexandria. Egypt. 1924.
Unt i tle d - Urs Fischer
Unt i tle d - Urs Fischer
For Ar t’s S ake - D a n i ë ll e va n Ark
Grassi (Venice) brought attention to the gallery space in a different way. The room at first looked extremely banal; many gallery visitors walked right through without a second glance. Upon closer inspection it dawned on me that it was not a genuine exhibition, but a replica of one! Everything in the room (excluding the melting lilac piano sculpture) was part of the wallpaper: the shadows made by each picture, the pictures themselves, the video cameras, the sign with the artist’s name on. It is an entirely fake exhibition42. Fischer’s mockery of the gallery and the exhibition space is not aggressive, but constructive; his gallery art is interesting because our focus is cast on the entire space, not simply the piece on the wall or the sculpture in the centre. In these two examples of his work, gallery and art are no longer separate; and the combination is harmonious. I visited Daniëlle van Ark’s exhibition at FOAM photography gallery (Amsterdam). I wandered round, looking at the photography and thinking that it seemed odd to be in a gallery in one of Europe’s supposedly most forward-thinking cities when I’d already half concluded that the gallery as we know it was on the way out. Then I came across a series of van Ark’s photos called For Art’s Sake. The photographs depict gallery goers in galleries but they are mostly ignoring and obscuring the works of art affixed to the wall. They, the gallery goers, are the main focus of all the photographs. The series of photos transmit a similar message Sam Durant’s work (page 24), reminding visitors of their own vanity and causing them to question their own reasons for being there in the gallery. Many artists in Europe, such as those in the examples above, challenge, ironically through the medium of gallery art, the existence of the gallery itself. Yet this has more repercussions on the art world than it initially seems; artists favouring the gallery less and less goes against the entire way in which the art market has worked for centuries. Might an increasing amount of art that doesn’t favour the gallery cause the demise of the current overinflated art market? “For his 1998 solo exhibition, Marcus Geiger had the façade of the Secession painted red, which raised quite a scandal in Vienna. Geiger’s
‘Fake’ in the sense that it is represented by wallpaper; the recreated exhibition was based on a real one: ‘Raymond Pettibon, Drawings from 1983 - 1999’, Palazzo Grassi.
attitude toward the art business is defined by his refusal to participate in the mechanisms of the art market.” 43 This market is the principal (if not the only) explanation for any continued popularity of traditional gallery art. Artwork in galleries, unappreciated by the average visitor, is often the very same work purchased for sky-high prices at auction houses. Several theories exist explaining why such investments are made into an area that is so subjective and variable. A common one is that to own something unique, no matter what it is, shows wealth beyond buying any other luxury good that can be purchased by anyone with a substantial amount of money. To push this further, and purchase a piece of art considered ‘talentless’ is a further demonstration of wealth. You don’t spend millions on said piece because you’re a savvy investor confident that the market price will increase. (Studies have shown that, for most works, the value of art does not increase with time.44 ) You blow millions on said piece to to show precisely that you are able to do so. In this respect, art is valuable because it isn’t a sensible way to make money. “Financiers know the value of hype. They understand that if artworks sell at exorbitant prices, those works - and the artists who created them - become newsworthy, regardless of whether they’re actually any good. And the media play right along, almost never questioning the quality of the works or the abilities of the artists.” 45 I often compare entering a contemporary art gallery to coming across a group of people in their native land speaking their native language, a language incomprehensible to you. Apparently I am not alone in feeling this; Marc Jimenez similarly writes that, when it comes to contemporary art, “the reactions of the general public are united - the people are perplexed and disorientated in front of works they do not 43
Seccession (Vienna). Pamphlet for their series of event talks: Welchefreiheit? (Which Freedom?) 44
“Sergey Skaterschikov, who publishes an influential art-investment report, says that “no painting bought for $30 million or more has ever been resold at a profit.” As quoted by Adam Davidson. How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality. The New York Times (online). 30th May 2012. Accessed 14th January 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/magazine/how-theart-market-thrives-on-inequality.html>. 45
Cole, William. Invitation to a Dialogue: An Art Market Bubble? Sitges, Spain. 28th December 2012.
understand.” 46 Gallery goers are made to feel ignorant or inferior, as if they are not intelligent or spiritual enough to grasp the meaning or relevance of a piece, unable to even fathom what lies in the great minds of artists who produce such strange works. Could this be a reaction artists aim to provoke? Do they create confusing work purposely to exclude the general public, and to consequently increase the authority of art? It’s difficult to tell. As an artist of the generation to follow such artists, my natural response is to create art that draws people in, and that is almost obvious in its meaning and relevance. I see this notion present among other artists my age, and in a lot of recent contemporary art. So perhaps we are already moving out of an era we’ve not yet officially defined. Whether the era boundaries will become clearer in the future, when we are further removed from them, is yet to be seen.
Jimenez, Marc. La querelle de l’Art contemporain. Folio. France. 2005. Original quote: “... elle rejoint les réactions du grand public, souvent perplexe et désorienté devant le œuvres qu’il ne comprend pas.” Translated into English by Hazel Evans, 2012.
THE DOCUMENTATION OF CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY Since records began, art, in its’ various forms, has captivated and influenced human beings. In fact, the term ‘since records began’ itself demonstrates the bearing that art has on our understanding of the past, as the first known records of human activity were undoubtedly pieces of art. A piece of art may not be as technically informative as an ancient text, but it can give us a deeper understanding than factual documentation can of the feelings of those who have gone before us. Historians use art as a major tool to comprehend the past - that is, they look at the art of a certain period to see what it may demonstrate about the world at that time. Before photography was a common thing, artists were in demand as society’s documenters. But an artist’s role is perhaps no longer the documenter of society, we do enough of this ourselves with our social networks, blogs and books. Perhaps the artist’s position is changing somewhat to analyst, or activist. That said, writers and social networkers aren’t mere documenters; they too try to understand and change the world. Art is just one way in which to do so. It is not often that I am in awe of photography exhibitions that serve no greater purpose than to document today’s society, but I must mention one that particularly blew me away: Wolfgang Tillmans’ Neue Welt47, on display at Kunsthalle Zürich. The content of the photographs is so varied and seems to document today’s world without bias or preference. Subject matter ranges from extraordinary natural landscapes, to medical surgery, to the light reflections and intricate workings within a car headlight. My main fascination with the photographs, however, is in their absolute perfection; as a photographer myself I have always been aware that photography can never live up to the complexities you can see with your own eyes. However, I may have to contradict myself here as I believe there is a photographer up to the job. Tillmans’ exhibition was almost a testimony to how much our eye takes in. Each photograph overwhelms you and draws you in, as if you actually were seeing that place with your own eyes. Yet, you aren’t, and this in turn is testimony to photography and its’ ability (in this case anyway) to capture such beauty. It is scary when we cannot even 47
In English, ‘New World’ (translated from the German ‘Neue Welt’)
Ne u e We l t - Wo l f ga n g T i l l ma n s
H e n r y V I II, 19 99 - H i r o s h i Su g i m o t o
Th e Bu i ck , D ub a i - C é dr i c De l s a ux
L ight - A ndr eas Rho mb e rg
consider our own senses superior to the technology we as a race created. Despite this, I still hesitate to label the photographer as the 21st century documenter when I consider the tricks that photography can play upon the viewer. The most poignant example of this lies with ‘timeless photography’ - photographers that ‘document’ past and present times. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series Portraits consists of photographs of famous people throughout history, and notably, people who lived and died before photography was invented. How is this possible? This photograph of Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) is actually a photo of a wax figure displayed in Madame Tussaud’s, which in turn was based on a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 - 1543). Sugimoto has effectively taken photography out of the confinement of its own history48 and become a photographer from a time before photography existed. About his work he remarks: “If this photograph now appears lifelike to you, you had better reconsider what it means to be alive here and now.” 49 At the other end of the timeline is photographer Cédric Delsaux, whose exhibition, Dark Lens50, depicts a series of real landscapes, made futuristic by inclusion of recognisable characters from the Star Wars films. The process through which he came to arrive at such final images is also very interesting in terms of the documentation of contemporary society. His initial aim was “to photograph locations that are the makeup of our modernity: parking lots, pe-ripheral zones, wastelands etc.” But he described these first photographs as “flat, déjà vu” which prompted him to include the sci-fi characters.51 “I felt the ‘Star Wars’ characters were allowing me to render the reality of our world in more ways than any so-called objective shot ever
The history of the existence of photography: approximately 1830 - Present.
Sugimoto, Hiroshi. Portrait [Webpage]. Accessed 16th December 2012. <http:// www.sugimotohiroshi.com/wax.html>. 50
Delsaux’s Exhibition Dark Lens at La Maison Europeenne de la Photographie. Paris. 5th September - 4th November 2012. 51 All
Quotations within paragraph: Cédric Delsaux as quoted by Danna Jennings. An Earth Where The Droids Feel At Home [article]. Page 23 of The New York Times. 11th December 2011.
could. Expressing reality through fiction could actually be my photographic credo.” 52 Delsaux depicts characters of Star Wars - what was once a futuristic concept - as part of our present day scenery and that is the poignancy of these works. At a glance, we barely notice the abnormality of the photos - it seems normal to see a probe droid going about its business on a snowy road in Chernobyl. The boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ are now so blurred that they are becoming one. George Lucas himself, creator of Star Wars says of Delsaux: “As novel and disruptive as his images are, they are also completely plausible.” 53 Where Cédric Delsaux depicts today’s world as a futuristic era fast advancing by inserting fictional elements into his work, Andreas Rhomberg does the converse with his HDR photography of derelict environments. His photographs are genuine photographs of places in the world, yet they have the air of being futuristic or fictional. A first look at Rhomberg’s exhibition Past Grandeur54 and you’d be forgiven for mistaking the works as paintings or digitally designed movie-like scenarios. Enquiring further, I discovered that they actually depict real places today, often abandoned relics of the past such as the one on page 36. The bizarre aspect of these photographs is the combination of past relics and modern photography techniques that work to create something so seemingly futuristic. Although deceptive, the photographs in both exhibitions highlight an important aspect of today’s world: the increasing presence of ‘the future in the present’. Our lack of shock in response to such images demonstrates how, as we enter a new age of technology, we are becoming indifferent towards a future that once frightened us. It is likely that ‘futuristic’ scenes such as these will continue to overwhelm the art world as we genuinely move into that age where what for so long has been portrayed as futuristic becomes more and more real. If we cannot rely on artists, or even photographers, as accurate documenters of our time, we’re leaving those future historians a very
Cédric Delsaux as quoted by Danna Jennings. An Earth Where The Droids Feel At Home [article]. Page 23 of The New York Times. 11th December 2011. 53
George Lucas on Dark Lens. Accessed 16th February 2013. <http://www.cedricdelsaux.com/ en/photos/dark-lens.html>. 54
Rhomberg’s Exhibition Past Grandeur at Artbits Galerie & Edition. Vienna. 12th September - 27th October 2012.
difficult job. Clever photography is not the only factor that alters how accurately (or rather, not) we document our world. With events rapidly proliferating in media, we have lost the possibility of noting significant milestones and seem unable to meter our own position in time. The rapidly increasing network culture lets us decide for ourselves how we are depicted to people in the future. It doesn’t leave much room for historical bias, but it certainly doesn’t mean the representation will be accurate. We are not necessarily giving a representation of our true selves with our social media, but a representation of how we want our true selves to be seen. Based on the information available, our era could be labelled the ‘confusing’ era; this is already a common interpretation from the point of view of those living today who study the art world, let alone how today’s world will be interpreted by those who see all of this as history.
CHALLENGING ARTISTIC THOUGHT & THEORY Many contemporary artists question, as I’m doing in this report, the point of art. They imply, ironically through works of art, the pointlessness of art itself. This is turn causes viewers to question themselves as art viewers and creates an ongoing circle of questions that may never be fully answerable. Artists that do raise this question within their work are not necessarily attacking art. Often, I feel it is simple curiosity on behalf of the artist, to see how hypocritical they can get away with being in their own field. Creating art that challenges art is at the same time experimenting with boundaries as it is an attempt to understand the art world and its’ strangeness. Although it is present in much of the art we see emerging today on the contemporary scene, questioning of the point of art itself is no new concept. Modern artists55 , such as Enrico Castellani and his wall sculpture Superficie Angolare Bianca n°6 56, were the first group to openly test our conventional views of ‘what art is’. There are abundant examples of how boundaries have been and continue to be pushed by artists. Castellani’s piece challenged the traditionally two-dimensional square canvas on the wall and caused us to question why many other works are flat and quadrilateral, and whether we were willing to accept his piece as art. Now let us jump back into the present day, where so many boundaries have now been crossed, we are left with almost nothing in the art world left to test. Yet artists today are still finding ways to shock the public. Out of all the avant-garde art I’ve seen on my travels, and in my life, none has provided the genuine shock factor coupled with the reaction ‘is this even allowed?!’ as the basement exhibition of artist Paul McCarthy in the Hauser & Wirth Gallery57. The exhibition consisted of an x-rated set of rooms containing some of the most obscure, private and revolting
Modern Art/Modernism: Art historical terms used to describe new styles and attitudes toward the past and the present from about the 1860s through the 1970s. Glossary, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Accessed on 6th February 2013. <http:// edu.moca.org/education/teachers/curric/glossary>. 56
Superficie Angolare Bianca n°6 on display at Centre Pompidou, Paris. 2012.
McCarthy’s Exhibition Propo at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich. 1st September - 20th October 2012.
Su p e rf icie An g o l a r e B i a n c a n 째 6 - E n r i c o C a s t e l l a n i
sexual activities imaginable documented in videos58, photographs and used objects, involving a lot of meat and disassociated body parts. As graphic, if not more so, than pornography. It was not only horrifying and very disconcerting to see the material itself, it was incredibly strange to have it up in a gallery, public, and your reactions to it public as well. The ‘artwork’ completely surpassed all etiquette and rules that ever were or might be. I was left with an overwhelming sentiment that there is such thing as being too liberated and open-minded. And where does work like this leave us in terms of our understanding of the meaning of the word ‘art’?
Videos in question include ‘Sailor’s Meat’ (1975) and ‘Tubbing’ (1975), as well as photographs taken during the performances.
“ART DERIVES FROM ART”
To quote Lucian Freud, who, after a professional life of painting portraits with no obvious link to the work of other artists, then painted Large Interior, W11. The painting is a version of Jean Antoine Watteau’s early 18th century painting Pierrot Content. Freud finally adopted this tendency many portrait painters have of taking a famous piece of art and recreating it. The most famous instance of this derivation is of course the Reclining Nude. Since 1510, when Giorgione painted The Sleeping Venus, famous artists from every era have been readapting the female figure in this pose, creating a timeline of reclining nude women that tells the story of over 500 years of art history. Readapting a previous work is often more interesting (in terms of meaning) than creating something original. In readapting, the artist is able to make statements about the present time with the former artwork as a point of obvious comparison for the viewer. There are other ways in which artists are inspired by artists before them. Many artists enjoy a combination of old and new in their art practice, perhaps stemming from an urge to document the world as the artists of the past did, but inserting a modern element, such as a different subject matter or media to make the piece relevant to the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, in Florence there are countless examples of how the Renaissance influences the contemporary art being produced there. Small commercial galleries showcase works of painters clearly of Renaissance training, who insert a few modern elements to their work; a background of newspaper mixed media to an oil painting of a bowl of fruit for example. Students at SACI60 would often take the statues of old and paint them in a modern, pop-art like style. Or vice versa, they would be painting contemporary subjects with refined oils and Renaissance flourish. A very clever example of this combination of old and new is the work of Fabio Viale61 . He expertly creates statues of marble, but they aren’t subjects you would expect to see in marble. They are everyday 59
Lucian Freud quoted in Lucian Freud: Painted Life [television documentary]. Randall Wright, BBC2.18th February 2012. 60
SACI (Studio Art Centers International) is an art institute in Florence, Italy.
Viale’s work was on display in the exhibition Primo piano d'artista in the Museo Del Novecento, Milan. 18th - 30th September 2012.
contemporary items, such as a motorboat, paper bag or a lorry tyre, enlarged and glorified as objects to be preserved forever as we preserve the statues of old. Is Viale suggesting such objects are today’s gods and heroes, and therefore worthy of statues? Or is he simply approaching the documentation of today’s world in a humorous manner? Throughout Europe I have seen many works that bear resemblance to Viale’s, all traditional-style statues that document aspects of modern society. My favourite example went a little further than documenting: Jesus Christ, Superstar(t)62, by a group of anonymous Czech artists called Kamera Skura. Before even knowing the title, one immediately thinks ‘jesus on the cross’ because that image is so inherent in our minds. A second look shows us that the figure is wearing gym clothes and holding two rings. We are then caused to question our own natural leap to the first assumption and religion’s place in society today. The piece provokes consideration of the current status of religion as a sport, as well as the status of a sportsperson as a figure of sacrifice and worship. David Černý, also Czech, is one of this group’s major influences; his work often involves traditional statues, taking the piss (quite literally)63 of modern society. Rather than making personal statements about the world as they perceive it, these artists make jokes and juxtapositions to incite the reflection of the general public. “In the 1980’s, many artists abandon what they see as the illusions entertained by earlier avant-garde movements. Instead of flaunting the novelty and originality of their work, the focus is increasingly on the quote, the remake or on art after art.” 64 I find a lot of contemporary art leaves me with a concurrent impression that, today, almost everything has already been thought of in terms of original creation. Working with existing material in order to produce something new is far more common. A prime example is artist John Stezaker, who combines completely unrelated found images that have one shape or line in common to make them work together as one
On Display in AMoYA Gallery, Prague. October 2012.
Two of Černý’s public installations involve statues of urinating men. Nation for Itself Forever (Narod sobe navzdy). 2002. And Proudy (Streams) otherwise known as Two Peeing Guys. 2004. 64
Centre Pompidou. ‘Postmodernisms’. Contemporary Collections from the 1960’s to Today [exhibition guide]. Musée National D’art Moderne. Paris. 2012.
L a rge In t e r i o r, W11 - Luc i a n F r e u d
Je sus Chr ist, Supers ta r (t ) - Ka m e ra Sk ura
N á r o d s o b ě n av ž d y - Dav i d Č e r n ý
Ar r i ve d e r c i E Gr a z i e - Fa b i o Vi a l e
Li t t l e Fa l l s - H a n na h G r e e ly
Old M ask VII I - J o hn S t e z a ke r
9 - Eye s - J on Ra fma n
9 - E ye s - J o n Ra fma n
L e D éjeuner sur l’her be - Édo ua rd M a n e t
L e D éjeuner sur l’her be - On dře j B ro dy & Kristo fe r Pa e t a u
piece. At the same exhibition65 I also discovered Jon Rafman’s work. His ongoing project, 9-Eyes is simply a series of print screened images from Google Maps’ Street View. All the images depict very odd events, and the beauty in them is that they were captured completely unintentionally. The skill of the artist lies in the searching, finding and presentation of the images, and of course, having the idea for such a project in the first place. Yet so many visitors to this exhibition warmed to the photos, were delighted by them. I myself felt this way, and I think it was because I was not only seeing a documentation of contemporary society at its’ most technically accurate, I also appreciated the complete coincidence of all these events we normally wouldn’t have access to being captured by a camera meant entirely for a different purpose66 . “I began an exploration of this new virtual world, and was fascinated by how powerfully Street View photographs can represent our contemporary experience. The photos underscore the tension between an uncaring camera and man’s need to interpret his experience. With its’ supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography has a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer.” 67 Despite how awe-inspiring the images are, I suspect it wouldn’t have been so long ago when debates would have arisen as to whether or not the project constituted as art. Today, however, we live in a world where plagiarism and obtaining and reusing media such as music, images and films for free is standard practice. As art becomes more about the statement being made than the originality of the piece, projects like Rafman’s are more and more common. One further example worthy of mention is Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Ondřej Brody and Kristofer Paetau. This is the work that came closest to the aforementioned Paul McCarthy exhibition in terms of pushing sexual boundaries. It is a fairly graphic, deliberately poorly
Exhibition Out of Focus at the Saatchi Gallery, London. 27th September - 4th November 2012. 66
The purpose of the Google Street View cameras was to add an interactive element to maps by providing panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world. 67
Jon Rafman as quoted by The Saatchi Gallery Online. Jon Rafman's Biography. 2012. Accessed 17th February 2013. <http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/jon_rafman.htm>.
acted pornographic film of a modern take on Monet’s famous Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. The poetic accompaniment is as follows: Even the love of art has its pornographic form. A breakfast under the trees is no longer the only way to peek under a girl’s skirt. Professionals delivering a professional performance. Home porn is more than an academic post-minimalism. Invisible artists carefully intertwine through the appearance of reality.68 The piece not only uses current media, sound and video, but most notably, a present day phenomenon such as pornography. It is a perfect example of art deriving from art; there is deliberately barely anything noteworthy about this piece other than the link to Monet’s original. Why do artists focus their work on the work of another in this way? Perhaps to partake in an art history timeline of recreated pieces such as the famous Reclining Nudes and to be the representative of the present day, giving art historians of the future something to raise their eyebrows at when they get to 2012. Perhaps, more simply, because the reusing of famous artwork is an effective way to analyse the art through the medium of art.
Written accompaniment to the piece Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Ondřej Brody and Kristofer Paetau. AMoYA Gallery, Prague. Noted on 13th October 2012.
A RETURN TO ROOTS An exceptionally common theme occurring in art across Europe is that of returning to a form of basic, untrained thinking. I was first made aware of this in Paris, at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. The exhibition at the time, Histoires de Voir (Show and Tell), displayed art from all over the world, with a particular focus on the untrained artist. “Show and Tell arose from a desire to explore the meaning of the terms “naïve” “primitive” and “self-taught” art. Indeed, despite a great diversity of styles, the works on display share many common features such as exuberance of colour, distortion of scale and perspective, stylisation of form. Equally dominant is the representation of animals and nature and the importance of the realm of dreams and the imaginary as a source of inspiration for the work” 69 Highly regarded European galleries displaying and valuing the work of artists from less-developed areas of the world is a positive sign as it shows said galleries to be disengaging from the long-established snobbery of the upper-class art world. Klara Kristalova’s exhibition Wild Thought70 was inspired by the traditional fairy tales of Northern Europe. Her ceramic sculptures involve children and animals, or combinations of both. The characters remind us of our childhood imaginations and the purity of youthful or animalistic tendencies. Not only this, the method of sculpting is almost childlike, without a huge amount of attention being given to corporal accuracy. “I needed to find my own language to share with others. An obvious and simple language that in some way could be universal.” 71 This sentence rings very true for me in terms of the contemporary art world. Firstly, in relation to Kristalova’s work and the returning to roots 69
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. ‘From Another Angle’. Histoires de Voir (Show and Tell) [exhibition guide]. La Société Cartier. Paris. 2012. 70
Kristalova’s Exhibition Wild Thought at Galerie Perrotin. Paris. 8th September - 27th October 2012. 71
Klara Kristalova as quoted by Galerie Perrotin. Klara Kristalova “Wild Thought” [exhibition guide]. Galerie Perrotin. Paris. 2012.
Wild T ho ugh t - Klara Kristal ova
D es s ins - Mik a Ro ttenbe rg
Or al Adven tur e - Ha n n a h Gre e ly
theme - animals and babies who do not yet have any ability to speak are able to understand each other, and we as silent spectators are able to remember what it feels like to be unencumbered by language. I spoke to others at the exhibition, many whom expressed a deep connection with the sculptures. The second way in which this quote rings true, is as a description for what art should be - a universal language, like music, maths or dance. A common reaction to contemporary art is that it is impossible to understand and Kristalova’s work contradicts this way of thinking; her art is understood by everyone. Many other artists are currently exhibiting work that quite blatantly imitates the work of children and we have to question why. There are several reasons, I feel, that drive us to ‘return to our roots’ in such a way. Firstly, in order to pay respect to the childlike way of thinking, the purity of infantile imagination and genuinely original creation that occurs mainly in childhood. Do we fear we are losing this, as children are educated and trained into adult habits at an even younger age, or is it simply artists mourning their personal loss of childlike freedom and trying to recapture it? An alternative interpretation of such art may be that increasingly, we as citizens are being made to feel like children, shepherded through life without much of a say in our direction. I make this interpretation mainly where monsters are depicted such as in Mika Rottenberg’s Dessins 72. A third and final interpretation may be that artwork that looks like that of a child is urging us as gallery goers to take art less seriously, in the same way that humorous art does. At least, this is how Hannah Greely described the watercolour paintings in her exhibition Little Falls73. “They are done in a kind of children’s book illustrative style to keep them from being taken too seriously as ideas.” 74
Rottenberg’s Exhibition Dessins at Galerie Laurent Godin. Paris. 8th September - 13th October 2012. 73
Greely’s Exhibition Little Falls at Galerie Bob van Orsouw. Zurich. 1st September - 13th October 2012. 74
Hannah Greely as quoted by Galerie Bob van Orsouw. Hannah Greely - Little Falls [exhibition guide]. Galerie Bob van Orsouw. Paris. 2012.
A widely held belief is that our next revolution will be a spiritual one75 , and it is possible that the trends we are seeing in the contemporary art world are linked to this. The new â€˜spiritual outlookâ€™ so to speak - favours the mentality of the untrained mind; indigenous people, babies, all groups that are not victim to the constraints of Western society.
Further reading: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav or Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks.
WASTE & THE ENVIRONMENT “I think that in the future artists will have to deal more and more with themes related to globalisation and spirituality. I think this is already happening right now; in most of the artworks I see in exhibitions and galleries I can feel an increasing preoccupation with the future of the planet and the physical and psychological threats to humans' well-being that we have to face in our time; so I think in the future artists will have to reflect through their works not only about the anxiety and fears that characterise our age, but also propose or suggest a sort of a path of 'redemption' through art.” 76 Simonetta describes perfectly the way in which artists are becoming preoccupied with the environment and other problems that society must cope with. It seems we have produced so much in this world that there is no further need or desire for anything new; there is scope for absolutely everything to be recycled. Fashion, art and design have embraced this with gusto. Artists use old materials, often within environmentally aware pieces in order to demonstrate both the concept of recycling and the literal act. The design world in particular are concerned with waste and usage of good materials. This Flotsam installation (page 60) is the centrepiece of the exhibition Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project77 and consists of collected plastic garbage from the world’s seas. The exhibition as a whole was intended to educate and encourage consumers of plastics to take action. The deterioration of our planet is an unsurprising point of focus for artists all over Europe. Many have taken on the roles of environmental activists, combining creative projects with planet-saving ones or scaremongering with dystopian installations such as Berlin-based artist Ralf Schmerberg’s 322 Fridges Igloo78. Its aim was to raise awareness 76
Simonetta Ferrini, professor of History of Art at FUA. Quoted in response to ‘How do you think the art scene is likely to develop in the next decade? What can you see being produced today (in terms of artistic creation) that may indicate how art will develop in the future?’ Questions for consideration (English) [email]. In correspondance with Hazel Evans. Sent and received on 19th September 2012. 77
Exhibition Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project as Museum für Gestaltung. Zurich. 4th July - 28th October 2012. 78
Installation in Hamberg, Germany consisted of 322 old fridges. 2010.
F lo tsa m I ns ta lla ti o n - Mu se u m f ür Ge sta ltun g
S SSS S ! - Slavo mí r Dur k aj
A gai nst G lo bal War min g P r e s s Ca mpa i g n - S a s ch a Ku n t z e
B a n k s y ( a p p a r e n t ly )
3 22 F ri dges - Ra lf Sch m e rb erg
Oh Pla sti k sa ck ! - Luzi nt e rru ptus
about the amount of energy people are wasting nowadays with dated fridges (a new efficient refrigerator may consume half the electricity per unit). A huge electricity meter outside the igloo showed how much energy would be consumed by all 322 fridges. Sponsored by the local utility company, the installation demonstrated how energy efficiency and awareness are the most easily accessible forms of green energy. Never before have we had so much cause for artists to collaborate with charities and companies. An image or something physical has a much larger impact on viewers because it aids visualisation; it gives a closer depiction of the real scenario (be it drowned cities or dystopian deserts) that a written description ever could. Therefore, when it comes to global warming, the artist is in a very good position to shock and to persuade. It is the reason why advertising agencies require artists and creative copyrighters, and now the planet requires exactly that, in order for the message to be understood and action to be taken by as many people as possible.
THE INFLUENCE & INFILTRATION OF THE MEDIA Art has, of course, always been informed by technology, but in this age of thriving network culture, technology is permeating art practices in new ways. Artists are continually finding ways outside of prescribed 21st century internet behaviours such as ‘sharing,’ ‘poking’ and ‘liking’, by critiquing the systems themselves. For instance, Joel Holmberg’s Legendary Account is an internet installation of sorts in which the artist asks profound, existential questions, such as ‘What does it feel like to be in love?’, in the online forum Yahoo! Answers, which is commonly used for questions such as ‘How do I insert images into my eBay listing for free?’ What’s more, an increased amount of material sourced from the internet is appearing in galleries. I have already discussed Jon Rafman’s and Cédric Delsaux’s work, involving the use of google maps, and star wars characters. Today, when appropriation is laughably easy, an entire generation has grown up obtaining their media through piracy; a technique that is likely to become more prevalent in the art world as this generation grows up. We not only see utilisation of modern technology to create art, we also see pieces of art that provoke questions about the problems with modern technology. Datamodel by Kristýna Lutzová is a model of a polystyrene city. Its’ features are minimal: blank walls, no doors, no windows. The artist describes her piece as “Styrofoam city. White balls of insulation - and isolation. The urbanism of a computer friendship.” 79 With this in mind, the sculpture seems to represent our virtual world if it were to be translated into the physical. It may also hint at what our urban landscape will shape itself into in the future when a city with its’ usual services is no longer required, when everything is available to us from within our white ball. The piece foreshadows a depressing and frightening outcome of the ever increasing grip technology and social media currently have on our lives.
Written accompaniment to the piece Datamodel by Kristýna Lutzová. AMoYA Gallery, Prague. Noted on 13th October 2012.
Da t a m o de l - Kr i s t ý na Lu t z ov á
Pa n o p t ic a m C ha n d e li e r - S i m o n Ve ga
An o t he r Pl a c e - J o hn a t h o n Wa t e r i d ge
CCTV is another ridiculed technology in much of the art I came across in Europe. Simon Vega’s surveillance camera installations 80, made of plastic bottles and cardboard appear almost deliberately fake. This not only implies that CCTV cameras are waste, - based on the materials used - it unveils the sham of many security cameras, that only exist to make us aware we are being watched when in reality no footage is recorded. Furthermore, the ‘chandelier’ of cameras also mocks the art gallery it is being displayed in, not dissimilarly to the work of Urs Fischer, with images of security cameras pasted onto the wall as if they were part of the gallery. Berlin in particular is very respectful of privacy and trusting one’s neighbour, following their unhappy history of surveillance and control. And one of Berlin’s most renowned street artists, ‘El Bocho’ does a series of surveillance cameras discussing what they see in the city. They are given stupid, and ignorant personas and make useless, empty comments, mocking themselves and the entire concept of surveillance. Many artists document our contemporary world through the eyes of new media, perhaps implying that is how we as citizens have also come to see the world. An exhibition particularly of note was that of Johnathon Wateridge, a British painter exhibiting in Palazzo Grassi81 . His paintings show random overdramatised scenes from a fictional movie. Are scenes such as these what we’ve come to expect of life, or rather, do they imply that life is all an act? For me, the exhibition demonstrated how our lives are becoming more in line with the movies, recorded, and dramatic for no reason - we see ourselves depicted in snapshots such as these paintings. Despite their fictionality, they capture today’s society perfectly, in the same way as Delsaux’s fabricated photographs do (page 37). It is interesting that Wateridge’s media of choice was paint, not photography or film. The paintings are also incredibly realist, almost of Renaissance technique (though he did not train in Italy!) Perhaps the media choice runs along similar lines to Fabio Viale’s marble sculptures of random contemporary objects (page 43); and Wateridge is documenting the fantastical life of today’s movies as Renaissance painters documented the glory of the gods in their time.
Simón Vega’s Panopticam Chandelier exhibited in Galerie Ernst Hilger Contemporary. Vienna. 20th September - 25th October 2012. 81
Wateridge’s Exhibition Another Place in Palazzo Grassi’s Collection The Voice of Images. Venice. 30th August 2012 - 13th January 2013.
TEXT AS ART As I have already observed, it is common in galleries to witness visitors standing awestruck in front of pieces that have clearly taken a lot of skill and time. For more conceptual pieces of art, one tends to head instead towards the description pasted nearby on the wall, in an attempt to understand the piece. We see plenty of art like this - art that only seems to make sense when accompanied by text - and it seems artists are becoming less able to express themselves through their work alone. However, during my gallery visits all over Europe, it began to dawn on me that a response to this situation could already be appearing, with an increasing amount of art consisting solely of text. Sometimes the text is expansive and colourful, but usually it is very simple - a clear way of getting a message across. I noticed it in particular in Palais Tokyo, a very current contemporary art space in Paris, exhibiting works such as the ones pictured by John Giorno and Richard Baquié. However, involving text in the piece of art itself does not necessarily give it meaning. When I visited Whitechapel Gallery in London for the Mel Bochner Exhibition, and entered an entire floor of text-paintings, I was overwhelmed by the lack of obvious meaning emanating from the words. It was almost as if Bochner was making a point, that even text can be meaningless. With these works, Bochner points out that we often ascribe emotion to things that have none. Words are just words; they are not emotional. Many of Bochner’s textual pieces are canvasses that list synonyms such as Silence! Be Quiet! Can it! etc. They seem to mock the English language, highlighting how many different ways there are to say one thing, and how useless so many of these expressions are when one would suffice. We, as a wasteful population, are even wasteful in our vocabulary - the information we choose to take in and store - much of it is just versions of each other. We are not using our capacity to its potential, just as these paintings aren’t using their capacity to their full potential. This may not be a point that Bochner is trying to make at all, but there is definitely something about these works that seems to perfectly sum up what many people feel about life in the 21st century that it is repetitive, meaningless, difficult to actually get to the point of, yet blasted at you in capital letters. So, actually, the pieces of art themselves do contain meaning; even if the meaning concerns the meaningless of the text, that in itself it meaningful. 69
Ju st S ay No To Fa mi ly Va lu e s - J o hn Gio rn o
S an s titre - Ri cha rd B a qui é
D OG -U- ME NTAL VI II!! !
If T he Co l o u r C h a n ge s - M e l B o ch n e r
THE HUMAN BODY & SEXUALITY The female form has always been and is still a matter of interest amongst artists; will she ever cease to be an object of scrutiny? Indeed, one of the most interesting painting timelines is that of the aforementioned Reclining Nude, depicting the naked female in art since the 16th century. Long gone are the days when the naked body - in particular the female - was a symbol of purity. Now she is anything but. In the art world, she is a flabby mess of imperfection, a dominant sexual predator, an asexual being dressed in an overtly sexual manner, or a plastic image of ‘perfection’ so altered beyond her natural state she is unrecognisable as a human being. I’m terribly sorry82, a series of photographs by Štěpánka Šimlová, shows the faces of regretful women, faces that are extremely like those of a doll. I can theorise, but I’m still unsure whether they are dolls or real women, or why they are apologising. Perhaps the point of the piece is more about how the women’s faces have ended up stuck on one single expression; therefore captions are needed to describe their emotions. A clear element of contemporary art like this - unnatural portrayals of the deliberately deformed body - is the warning against venturing two far into the realms of plastic and genetic alterations, leaving our natural state too far behind. We also see an emerging trend of ‘real women’ in art, perhaps to counteract the above descriptions of crude contemporary femininity, but most likely to urge us to accept women for how they actually are and to cease admiring the model-thin girls presented in the media. It comes as no surprise that the artists behind this are for the most part female. One such artist is Klára Volkovà with her piece Silent Mail83 , a series of life size portraits of nude women standing straight on, or Veronika Psotková with Bikiny Klub84 - a set of wire sculptures of women sunbathing on Dox’s café’s deck. In both examples, the women depicted face the viewer, and display themselves without inhibition, as
Štěpánka Šimlová’s series I’m terribly sorry exhibited at AMoYA Gallery, Prague. October 2012. 83
Klára Volkovà’s installation Silent Mail exhibited at AMoYA Gallery, Prague. October 2012.
Veronika Psotková’s outdoor sculptures Bikiny Klub exhibited at DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague. 27th June - 3rd December 2012.
if to challenge today’s media-indoctrinated viewer to accept their bodies (those of the women portrayed in the art) without disgust. A poignant comparison that I was able to make during my gallery visits was in Paris, where the Musée de l’Art Moderne is situated next door to Palais Tokyo (a contemporary art space). First, a look at some ‘Art Moderne’, that is, art made within the time period 1860 - 1970. The most obvious difference between modern art and today’s art was in the change in how the female form is portrayed. In the early 20th century we were still in a time when nudity was a sacred thing, the typical female figure was portrayed with innocence, as if unaware of her own nakedness. Recently, we have seen more Lucian Freud style work: detailed portraits showing every wrinkle and blemish - almost an uglification of the female form. But today we see a new style of female being portrayed, a female who is aware of her body and wants to make use of it. The difference is evident in the expression she wears, her body language, and often, her clothing and surroundings. An illustrative example is the costume designed by Clarina Bezzola85 . The costume is a red dress, over a modified female body, with teeth for breasts, a large scraping hand protruding from the back and a pair of oversized breasts that hang low out of the bottom of the skirt. Such a provocative, overwhelmingly sexual arrangement of features highlights the status of a woman’s body as an object of male desire. She wears it proudly, and in the performance video, she sings a song with lyrics such as “So the scent of desire all around me it makes me happy!” The act as a whole may have sarcastic overtones but it also hints at the control and freedom women now have in terms of sexuality. And this by association highlights the independence women have as a whole in Western society today. The male figure too has its place in art, and contemporary artists are producing some very interesting pieces concerned with modern masculinity. Franta Belsky86 subtly explores the differences and similarities between male and female bodies; all of his figures are bald, and he uses 85
Bezzola’s Exhibition Fressen und gefressen werden (Eat and be eaten) including costume and video performance When I Walk Alone in the Streets at Katz Contemporary, Zurich. 31st August - 6th October 2012. 86
Belsky’s Exhibition Obrazy/Sochy (Paintings/Statues) at Museum Kampa, Prague. 12th October - 9th December 2012.
I’m t erri bly s or r y - Št ě p á nk a Šim l ová
S ilen t Mai l - Klá ra Vo l kovà
Bi kiny Klub - Vero ni k a Ps o t ková
Wh e n I Wa lk Al o n e i n t he St r e e t s - C l a r i n a B e z z o l a
F rant a B elsky
Un t i t l e d - I n n a Ko ch k i n a
ink cleverly to blur the other features that would differentiate a man from a woman. The work perhaps indicates the blurring of boundaries between the sexes; reflecting how the traditional aspects of male and female characters, once upheld, are now becoming obsolete. Though depicted as physical differences, it may represent the assimilation of other aspects of being, such as personality and spirituality. It did occur to me that such features may be blurred in the paintings so as not to alter our perceptions of the image based on our preconceptions of what is masculine or feminine. The blurring could even be to protect privacy; perhaps Franta’s style is intended to remove the focus and obsession with sexual and facial features - features our eyes are automatically drawn to first - and instead place focus on the body as a whole. Artist, Inna Kochkina,87 makes particularly convincing combinations in her work of male and female features as part of one body. Somehow the ensemble appears quite normal; it is only with a second glance that the absurdity of the image becomes clear. She draws classical Renaissance-style portraits - this is no doubt as a result of her background training as an artist in classical Russian academies - and this combined with the content of her drawings seems to highlight the sexlessness of those statues and paintings in the past. I myself often find it difficult to discern the gender of Renaissance figures, and here, Kochkina’s work draws attention to that element of the great artistic era. The lack of difference between men and women - perhaps it is a notion that has always been present in the art world, only now it is becoming less of a hidden one. Portrait photographs of Katy Grannan88 depict this in the flesh. The photographs are of LA inhabitants, and with many of them it is difficult to know whether they are male or female. They emphasise that this blurring of male and female is something present in everyday life, not just the art world. Will we reach an age where we are barely able to tell from a first or even second look what gender a person is?
Kochkina’s work Untitled exhibited in Absences at GO Gallery, Amsterdam. 13th October 25th November 2012. 88
Grannan’s work exhibited as part of Out of Focus: Photography. The Saatchi Gallery, London. 27th September - 4th November 2012.
SCIENCE An increasing amount of social experiments are being exhibited as art - an example is Joel Holmberg’s Legendary Account mentioned earlier. It is as if artists are broadening their scopes, trying to understand the world not only through art, but also through science. Consequently, the process of making art is becoming more scientific. Art is a way in which to present science to a population that doesn’t understand science. And perhaps artists are better at presenting science to the world than scientists. I visited Katie Paterson’s exhibition at BAWAG Contemporary89. It was only obvious that the exhibition, was one of art because of its’ context in the gallery; many of the exhibits were more scientific than artistic. To name but one, the piece entitled The History of Darkness consisted of photographic slides of empty black space, each photograph taken at a different distance from Earth. Though the shades of black look exactly the same, they are apparently varying according to distance. This sort of exhibition demonstrates the freedom we have in defining what art is, and the influences of science in our art today. In spite of myself, scoffing a little as I was at the lack of ‘art’ in a contemporary art gallery, and wondering what other domains we can now class under the label ‘art’, I found the exhibition interesting. I have discussed how galleries and exhibition spaces are adapting to accommodate all creative fields, but I neglected to include science. However, science is one of the most deserving fields of exhibition, and I believe work like Grannan’s, factual, but presented creatively to the public eye, is on the increase.
Paterson’s Exhibition In This Dessert at BAWAG Contemporary, Vienna. 13th September 11th November.
His tor y o f Da rkness - K a tie Pa te rso n
HUMOUR So much of the art Iâ€™ve seen around Europe is light-hearted, often intended to simply make you laugh. Itâ€™s an instant reaction, a grin or a titter, and I appreciate work like this the most. I canâ€™t write a huge amount on it because although deep meaning can be drawn from humorous works, the most important aspect is the natural and immediate reaction of the viewer, being moved by the art without having to consider it deeply. As with everything in art, it is better shown than written about. Visitors to galleries often give off the air, whether genuine or put-on, of taking everything very seriously. Often they will get so into this role, that when they come across a piece that is clearly humorous and intended as a simple cheer-you-up, they stare at it blankly, searching for some deeper meaning or intellectual discourse. Humorous art may actually be instigated by the artist as a reaction to such solemnity in galleries. It invites us to stop deliberately searching galleries for this deep sense of enlightenment art is assumed to provide and to let ourselves react to what we see honestly, be that with laughter, tears or indifference. After having visited galleries all over the continent and seen how immune gallery goers are to humour, it is my reaction as an artist to produce light-hearted art that jolts viewers out of their melancholy.
Bi rne - M icha el Sowa
S kin - Meh met Ali Uys a l
Pe n s i e r o n o t t u r n o - M a t t e o P u g l i e s e
Ma p - Aram Ba rtho ll
Unt i tle d - Nan cy Fout s
CONCLUSION “The certainty that there is a difference in nature between a work of art and objects of daily life is gone. The relationship of art and objects with business, with products of the cultural industry, with the media and with communications is seen as inevitable.” 90 Art is everywhere and everyone understands art. This became particularly clear to me in the design shop of Dox contemporary arts, where the items for sale barely differed from the artwork I’d just seen exhibited in the gallery. Art is the glasses we drink from, the chairs we sit on, the magazines we read etc. Art can be almost anything today; throughout this report I have discussed only some of the examples - art as social experiments, websites, architecture, video, pornography, food, science etc. We are at a time where it is difficult to define art itself as a distinct field, and perhaps art was more interesting when we didn’t question whether it constituted as art or not. Perhaps this is also what the state of things will return to in the future. Upon near-completion of this report, I stumbled upon a TEDX talk given by Young-ha Kim about the ‘little artist’ in everyone. The entire talk is really worth a listen to, and a lot of what he discusses is very insightful and relevant to almost everything I’ve covered in my research. I cannot do the entire speech justice by quoting it, but I have selected a few examples of his wisdom to include here. “We are all born artists. But kids, usually they do art for fun. It’s playing. They don’t draw to sell the work to a client or play the piano to earn money for the family. Look at this. Doesn't it look just like wallpaper? Contemporary art, I later discovered, isn't explained by a lame story like mine. No crows are brought up. Most of the works have no title, Untitled. Anyways, contemporary art in the 20th century is about doing something weird and filling the void with explanation and interpretation. They are devils. Devils. They came to Earth briefly transformed to stop you from being artistic, from becoming artists. And they have a magic question. When we say, ‘I think I'll try acting. There's a drama 90
Centre Pompidou. ‘Postmodernisms’. Contemporary Collections from the 1960’s to Today [exhibition guide]. Musée National D’art Moderne. Paris. 2012.
Qubus Â D esign sho p, DOX
school in the community centre,’ or ‘I'd like to learn Italian songs,’ they ask, ‘Oh, yeah? A play? What for?’ The magic question is, ‘What for?’ But art is not for anything. Art is the ultimate goal.” 91 Much of contemporary society challenges our classical definition of ‘art’ to survive. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing; it could engender more creativity in all fields, and an integration of art into everyday life. However, there is still a need for art in contemporary society, and there are plenty of arguments in favour of its’ continued existence. “Provocation is the amplified...uh...amplified reason why the art exists. What's supposed to be called ‘art’ and not design has to have something behind. Has to have some message, whatever. Of course, it can have a static message. But it has to have a message, it's not a 'chair'. You can have certain chairs, which might become, after years, even art, if they weren't developed solely as functional objects, but, also with something in mind.” 92 Yes, I believe art should have a message - people are always looking for a meaning and art should answer that. Even if the meaning interpreted from a piece of art is not what the artist intended, this in itself is a good aspect of art. Art, like poetry, provokes reflection, and the process of interpreting a piece of art can bring up important issues concerning contemporary time, it can affect the way we look at the world. Many people used to turn to art for visual pleasure as well, and I think much of our contemporary art can be lacking in this, but perhaps this no longer matters as visual pleasure exists everywhere, in design, magazines, movies, fashion, architecture, etc. Art isn’t about visual pleasure any more, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. Art is rather, as Černý quite rightly says, about provocation, it has to have something
Young-ha Kim. Be an artist, right now! [TEDX filmed talk]. Translated into English by Clair Han. Filmed July 2010. Posted (with English translation) February 2013. <http://on.ted.com/ BeAnArtist>. 92
David Černý. David Cerny - Personally, I would rather not do political art [interview]. Interviewed by Jan Velinger. Radio Prague. 1st July 2003. Transcript: <http://www.radio.cz/en/ section/one-on-one/david-cerny-personally-i-would-rather-not-do-political-art>.
to say. So perhaps the definition of art93 isn’t becoming obsolete after all, it’s simply changing. One thing that makes art an easy subject to study and compare in many countries, is its non-reliance on spoken or written language, and it is precisely this about art that has always made and still makes it valuable. It is a way of communicating wordlessly, and a way of communicating emotion that cannot be done with words. Art is a universal language, something expressed by Klara Kristalova with her fairytale-like work and reinforced by the Florence Academy of Art of all places: “... students acquire a visual literacy that enables them to interpret humanist values in their work, and ultimately, create a work of universal relevance.” 94 “To talk about a European Art Movement is in my understanding simply impossible: there is no European Art Movement! Europe is not one and Art is not monolithic. So, there are many Europes and there are many scenes and movements.” 95 It may be impossible to generalise about a European Art Movement, but I am able to describe certain prominent “scenes and movements” in Europe today fairly adequately. However, one must take into account that Europe is a large continent and the art world moves very fast. Established and emerging trends in Europe include artists who choose to remain anonymous - the most popular medium for this being Street Art. Art that is inspired by, takes material from, or depicts visually the concept of the Internet; Ironic Gallery Art that questions the existence of the gallery itself. Art of the untrained mind and themes relating to a spiritual revolution. Environmentally Active Art that aims to persuade; art that makes a statement using only Text; art that explores Sexuality in the 21st century and finally Art that derives
Current WordReference #1 definition for ‘art’: the creation of works of beauty or other special significance. Accessed 17th February 2012. <http://www.wordreference.com/definition/ art>. 94
Florence Academy of Art. Mission Statement. Webpage. Accessed on 17th February 2012. <http://www.florenceacademyofart.com/mission.php>. 95
Hauser, Daniel. <firstname.lastname@example.org>. A study of the current development of contemporary art in Europe [email]. Message to Hazel Evans <email@example.com>. Sent and received 18th September 2012.
from art, though this is perhaps less of a contemporary theme and more of an ongoing element present in the art world. There is no art movement so prominent in Europe today that can as yet be recognised and labelled as one such as ‘The Renaissance’ or ‘Surrealism’. Our contemporary art world is a very diverse one; as new movements and ways of working emerge, the previous ones don’t simply fade and die to make way for them. This is demonstrated more clearly with fashion: after the mini skirt first came into play, did the concept of the maxi skirt disappear? No it did not. And the same goes for artistic movements throughout history. Artists who live in the 21st century don’t necessarily make street art and internet art; some continue to produce conceptual, surrealist, or even Renaissance-style art. Geographically speaking, there shouldn’t be any need to migrate to a place to see and practise a certain way of art; today it is all instantly available to you on the internet wherever you are. Granted, Europe still has its art ‘hotspots’, forever shifting. Berlin may be a buzzing hive for street art and up and coming creativity, but there is no shortage of it in the rest of Europe’s cities, if you only know where to look. Way back when in the introduction, or even further back, when I first thought up this project, I hoped my research would enable me to demonstrate the value of art in our society. Today, art is often considered ‘pointless’ by the general public, and sometimes I can empathise with this sentiment. However, throughout my travels, my research and the writing of this report, I’ve become secure in my belief that art is a valuable part of 21st century life.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank the Peter Kirk European Travel Scholarship Fund for enabling me to undertake this project and for supporting me along the way. Many thanks also to all who helped me along the way, in particular: Lucia, Tiziana and Simonetta of FUA, Daniel Hauser, Zuzana JakalovĂĄ, Leoni Adams, the team at Alternative Berlin, GaĂŤlle Gestin, Lorenzo Pezzatini, Julia Warburton and Oscar van der Voorn. A final thank you to mum, helping me check through these 90 wordy pages before sending to print.
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Published on Mar 17, 2013
Published on Mar 17, 2013
A research project final dissertation that looks at the development of contemporary art in Europe, and the isssues surrounding it.