Smee nails Venice: it’s intellectually fattening

Sebastian Smee has reviewed the Venice Biennale in The Monthly – and at last someone has some insights into the rise of hyper-realism. What was the attraction of the naturalistic effects of Ricky Swallow’s gelutong carvings, or Mueck’s and Piccinini’s special-effects modeling? Now SS has put this move nicely in context as a post-Duchampian aesthetic – as a form of one-upping the readymade, perhaps as a kind of fetishisation of the mundane. Touche. Hence the rise and rise of Hany Armanious – widely regarded as having a god-like touch by Gen-Y artists – but also the contributions of Mike Nelson, Murizio Cattelan, and Urs Fischer, plus Bruno Jakob’s “Invisible Paintings” elsewhere in the Biennale.  Cough cough. And then he mentions Mexico’s Gabriel Kuri, Sweden’s Klara Liden, and China’s Song Dong. It’s a good wrap.

The nail gets its final whack when Smee concludes that there is the “preciousness – the safety –  of irony” in all these ‘moves’ (of endgame art)…

“The beauty of irony, as Julian Barnes pointed out in Flaubert’s Parrot, is that “you can have your cake and eat it: the only trouble is… you get fat.”

PS and here’s another exhibition that could be the beginning of a thread…

yet another Fountain, artistically installed, even

If the concept of the Readymade conditions our understanding of the aesthetic challenges posed by the mundane world of commodities within a seemingly infinite cosmos of artefacts, both artistic and otherwise, then surely there is no other art object that so fundamentally challenges our orientation towards every other work of art than the Fountain. No other object presents the viewer with such profound psycho-social and evaluative/critical ambiguities as those initiated by its original manifestation ninety four years ago. In every subsequent manifestation, both in the museumspeak of gallery directors, and in the vernacular, a Fountain is a “destination work”.

Chastened by recent debates on this site, your iconophile has thrown convention to the wind, and in the construction of his latest domestic installation he has adopted uncritically many of the design criteria espoused by his erstwhile friend Ron Radford (to whom we are indebted for the odd turn of phrase). When it comes to a work such as this, nothing is more important than the blend of architectural form and the harmonious experience of function.  Everything must express its proper relation to each other, in its evocation of its historical and contemporary cultural antecedents and environments.

And so in the midst of this post-phenomenological moment, whilesoever the body-to-body paradigm remains the conventional mode of address for the artist-beholder, so it remains the primary consideration for our critical engagement with an art object such as this. These are matters on such a high aesthetic plane that the search for meaning in social or cultural practice allows no room here for distraction, no space for disciplines other than the purely aesthetic and art historical. Whenever a replica or an analogue of The Fountain is installed, every consideration of matters of natural and cultural significance should be weighed and measured. If precedents exist, they must be properly acknowledged.

Prominence is a critical aspect of the placement of such an object, and thus this Fountain has been given a prime position just inside the door, so that it may be displayed to its full advantage as a distinctive and beautiful installation away from other things. The idea is that visitors will encounter and experience the work with a complex sense of the interior/exterior spatial relationship, in circumstances enhanced by natural light and the circulation of air to maintain its unique environmental considerations with respect to the rest of the building. Sensitive to both light and humidity, it took a great deal of consideration to get all the elements correct. The overall aesthetic consideration was to reduce the introduction of alien materials in its display so that The Fountain remains the central point of attention. The final materials surrounding the Fountain are those already embodied in the object and its surroundings, all handled with dignified simplicity.

The process of installation and design engineering set out to create a harmonious context for this great work. The vitrified china (a kind of protoporcelain) body of the Fountain itself is reflected in the ceramic tiles on the walls, which being specially imported from the historic Stoke-on-Trent potteries, reflect the complexity and contradictions of our postcolonial heritage. The stones that make the floor (tumbled grey granite sourced from Byron Bay) are part of the earth and are an ideal material for the space as they serve several purposes. They prevent humidity moving vertically downward, and they hide the unsightly infrastructure below. The stones also fulfilled our requirement for a material and colour that blended with the external surroundings of the building, which are a part of the original palette of the house, and other works within the immediate environment. We have consciously used such materials in the new space to help link the old with the new.

A substantial amount of work has gone into ensuring natural daylight would be the predominant illumination for the Fountain. Blinds on the windows come down if the light levels are too high. Artificial light can be manually adjusted to ensure a correct balance throughout the day. We have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to achieve this lighting for this great work.

Contrary to conventional curatorial practice, during the early planning stages of his project your iconophile was assisted by an historian and anthropologist, in consultation with plumbers, electricians, tilers and others to ensure that this important work was displayed respectfully and beautifully. Visitors to the installation have unanimously agreed the new Fountain has been displayed with more dignity and more beautifully than ever before.

P.S. (which is an appropriately euphonic acronym, in this instance). As if to prove a point, (de faire un point, ostensiblement, as the ghost of MD reminds us) on this past March 24th this other Fountain appeared in Grange Park, Toronto, just next to the Ontario College of Art and Design. For one night only, alas…


summer madness: solving formalism’s problems

If you have ever come to the realisation that the frame is the key problem for the appreciation of a sculptural work of art, you will have already realized there’s probably not much going on upstairs. Whether it’s the problem of the plinth, the problem of the floor, the problem of the white cube, the problem of the architecture, the problem of the garden setting, or the problem of the landscape, you can see that peripheral vision has a lot to do with the way you understand your engagement with the aesthetic object.  Remember how radical it seemed to eliminate the plinth? Such weighty matters consumed the artists of the formalist era.

So here’s the octogenarian sculptor Marr Grounds, resplendent in his trademark gitmo outfit, attacking the problem with characteristic post-formalist gusto…

There are many kinds of sculptural objects in the grounds of Narra Bukulla, at Penders, on the south coast of New South Wales. So for the toolophile Marr Grounds, even the stump left by a house-threatening spotted gum posed a sculptural problem. And your Iconophile supplied this 60s-era angle grinder, a remnant of his misspent youth, as a readymade solution. The evil-smelling black jack completes Marr’s iconoclastic gesture.

P.S. And apropos the problem of the plinth, watch this video. Some artists carry their plinths everywhere they go…

“objects of war” or objets d’art?

If this is “war art”, what position does it take? Is it sufficient to present upscaled readymades-altered to speak about the subject of war? I think not. One could hardly image a context more removed from the circumstances and experience of war than this. Fiona Banner presents Harrier and Jaguar as the Duveens Commission at the Tate Britain, seen here courtesy of ArtDaily. Each has been transformed (painted like a bird, polished like a mirror) and upended (recontextualised) in the Tate’s neoclassical museum space. The aestheticisation to which these particular functional objects have been subjected is therefore reduced to four actions: selection, surface treatment, re-orientation, and context.

Fiona Banner is quoted as saying: “It’s hard to believe that these planes are designed for function, because they are beautiful. But they are absolutely designed for function, as a bird or prey is, and that function is to kill. That we find them beautiful brings into question the very notion of beauty, but also our own intellectual and moral position. I am interested in that clash between what we feel and what we think.” How very English. Is that clash as in Margaret Thatcher, or Tony Blair? She’s not anti-war, just anti-these-wars, and their cost: “This work is not a direct response to the Iraq war. I marched against the war, we shouldn’t be there and the costs of Afghanistan are too high.”

It’s hard to find more than just the reworked press release to continue this discussion. Adrian Searle gushes excitedly at The Guardian… And Arifa Akbar is awe-struck at The Independent Blogs