Art and I have had a troubled history. I like art. I like it very much. My home town in England was, and still is, a very ARTY place. One of my earliest memories was seeing the annual Summer art exhibitions that took place on the seafront beneath specially provided tent structures. In their shade, artists would work and exhibit the results. I used to watch in awe as quiet men and women, hunched over sketch pads or easels with brushes, pencils and charcoal would produce an amazing range of works and then offer them for sale.
Watching them paint and draw made me want to be just like them. I wanted that skill and I wanted that life. The complete concentration as the work was done followed by the satisfaction of being able to stand back and appreciate it. Art, I rapidly decided, was really COOL.
My parents could not have been more supportive. I was provided with as many paint boxes, brushes, paper and increasingly sophisticated modelling clays as I could have wished for. I went to good schools with well appointed art rooms and enthusiastic teachers. I took Art seriously and continued to do so right up until the age of sixteen, when, looking at my Art O level results I finally admitted to myself the terrible truth.
I have NO TALENT. None at all. Not a sausage, smidgen or skirrick. My composition, grasp of texture, depth, colour and perspective were, quite frankly, crap. I can’t draw and I can’t paint. I had just a slight talent for ceramics but not enough to ever dream of calling myself a potter or sculptor. I’d seen real ones at work and I knew I couldn’t match what they did.
Over the years, any number of people have told me that artistic skills can be learned. But they miss the point. I don’t want to have learned them! If I was to have skill, then I wanted that skill to be real, instinctive and natural, not artificially tacked on over a hopeless base.
‘Bugger’, as the famous saying has it. Still, don’t be a whinger. Move on, find things you CAN do naturally. Writing, acting and singing all came effortlessly so I concentrated on those instead. Then I found a medium in which I felt comfortably skilled. Brewing beer. I found I could do with special seeds, flowers, hot water and yeast, all the things I wanted to be able to do with paper and pencils. So that was all right. Phew…
In my 6th Form years, having admitted that trying to create Art was a waste of everyone’s time, I took to studying its history instead. This I liked very much indeed. The second year module on architecture was pretty damn fine but not a patch on the first year section on Dutch and Flemish Masters. Learning what made Van Eyke’s ‘Arnolfini Wedding’ so revolutionary and then being taken to London to look at the thing close up…Sheer bliss.
Anyway, I wave all this personal blithering at you to show that I do really CARE about this stuff and by way of a preface to my critique of those who, like me, were entirely devoid of talent, but who still persisted in trying to foist their arrant garbage on the world regardless. The ones who went on to do Art College courses aimed at instilling the pomposity to be able to pass off rubbish as somehow ‘Meaningful’. Never mind not having talent! Just learn the right condescending sneer and repeat after me; ‘Oh..I suppose you are still hung up on ‘Representational Art’ then?’ and so on.
Which brings me to the contemptuous snort inducing articles in the last few Waiheke Weekenders by my dear friend Alex Stone in which he sets the scene for this year’s Sculpture on the Gulf event with a look back at the absurdities of the previous six biennials and a couple of ghastly encomiums on local artists likely to be inflicting their nonsense on us this year.
Now I like Alex. I’ve known him for years and have spent many and amusing hour with him over beers or in the radio studio. He’s a funny writer and has the rare ability to manage to get a word in edgeways when I’m around. He is, in short, A Chap. But blatant nonsense is blatant nonsense and deserves to be noted as such. So when he recalls the embarrassing exhibit from 2005 in which a posturing ninny saw fit to place a door across the path and call it sculpture then what else can I do but call out ‘This is CRAP! Once again the stupid Emperor has no CLOTHES! We can all see the pimples on his flabby arse!’
Alex’s take on it goes as follows; ‘Aiko Groot’s ‘Door’ (2005) was-as the title implies- simply a door placed squarely across the path. The idea was you’d simply have to turn the handle, walk through the door and continue-in either direction, no matter.’
Bloody hell…Talk about Turd-Polishing. But wait, it gets worse…
‘But the power of what cannot be seen behind a closed door became a significant feature of the work. The vast majority of the folk walked around the door, creating a new pathway to the side. As Aiko said in his artist’s notes at the time; ‘A door is a powerful symbol for both inclusion and exclusion; it can welcome or keep us out.’
I’ll pause a moment while you laugh hysterically or, if necessary, vomit.
A more honest title for this exhibit might have been; ‘Oh shit! I forgot the event was this year! I’ll have to come up with something in five minutes and hope for the best.’ The tragic thing about it, and about so much of what gets the nod from the pseuds who run this event is that it involved NO SKILL of any kind. Unless you count ‘Being able to locate Placemakers and carry out a simple transaction involving the purchase of an item of household joinery.’ as a ‘skill’.
And believe me, I really don’t.
I have noted before how, several years ago, I undertook, with three friends, to include a segment called ‘A Payne in the Arts’ into a sketch comedy show. One chap played the host of the TV show while the rest of us took turns playing his guests. The lengths we had to go to to come up with artistic concepts that were more absurd than those proffered by real ‘artists’ were quite extreme and even then I am not entirely sure that we managed to imagine something so silly that you couldn’t imagine some idiot actually doing it.
The noted performer Barry Humphries tells of the horrible avant garde film director Martin Agrippa that he played in his shows during the 1970’s. This hideous and aggressive buffoon would lecture the audience on his ‘art’ at great and hilarious length. Humphries, and Australian film director Bruce Beresford had assembled a film for Agrippa to show. It was, they felt, utterly nonsensical and lampooned the serious works being offered by such fellows at the time. They were both surprised and amused when a few years later they discovered that some wag had entered it into a REAL avant garde festival where it had done very well.
The key to understanding how desperately shallow this kind of stuff is lies in the way the artists have to construct huge slabs of impenetrable guff to explain it to the viewer. Alex Stone calls this nonsense ‘The arcane obscurities of art speak’, which is posh for ‘Load of old wank produced to somehow explain the contemptible in terms that raise it to the level of art’. A genuine work of art would not require an explanation like this. Did Michaelangelo or Giotto feel the need to accompany their works with drivelling explanations involving terminology learned by rote at art school? Of course not. But then they were real ARTISTS, not fatuous hacks cobbling bits of tat together and trying to look clever.
There is, I feel, a world of difference between “Here is Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. We’ll understand if you feel the need to weep.” and “Here’s Denis O’Connor’s ‘The Tangler’s Cave. Please move away a bit before sniggering openly.”
Those who can sculpt, do. Those that can’t ‘install’.
And there I suppose is the real reason I get so fumingly irritated by this display every two years. ‘Sculpture on the Gulf’? Oh please! There’s no actual sculpture. That would involve skill. Installations, on the other hand require nothing but the ability to phone some engineering works in Onehunga or Penrose and arrange for them to weld up your stainless steel box or whatever else you fevered brain has come up with.
Alex also feels the need to state that the selectors are ‘Always an independent panel’. Independent of WHAT exactly? Taste? Discernment? Understanding of the concept of irony? He doesn’t explain. Probably just as well. It would only annoy us further.
Still, I suppose ‘Vexatious Installations on the Gulf’ wouldn’t have the same ring would it? Especially if the titles and explanations were required to be honest for a change….
Exhibit 1. ‘I’m Off My Meds!!!!!Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!’ By Cornelius van der Ploppy.
Fourteen cinder blocks arranged in a circle, each with a fresh egg placed on top, surrounding a fifteenth block on which no egg is placed. We attempted to get Mr van der Ploppy to explain but he ran away giggling.
Exhibit 2. ‘We Don’t Know Where the Other Bit Is.’
Formerly entitled ‘Large Metal Thing Placed Precariously on Top of Other Large Metal Thing’
In this evolving installation, noted Japanese artist Ogesana Masukaki attempts to reconcile that which ‘IS’, (Namely the bit that turned up) with that which is ‘NOT’, ( the bit that Freightlink lost somewhere and which no trace can now be found.) We think the bit you are looking at is the top bit but we can’t be sure. Mr Masukaki says he can’t remember.
Exhibit 3. ‘My Unhappy Childhood’ By Hortensia Smythe-Buttock.
Numerous cakes, sourced from an upmarket Newmarket Patisserie, placed on individual paper doilies and violently smashed. With tears.
(Ms Smythe-Buttock’s mother is on the committee and her father’s law firm are one of our major sponsors. We know what you’re thinking but fuck you. This is ART darling. These things happen.)
By Exhibit 4 you are starting to flag. Go on, admit it. It’s hot and you are thirsty and wondering why you came. Good question, because it’s time for CORRUGATED IRON! Nothing says ‘I’m a talentless poltroon who never had an original thought in my worthless and vapid life’ like bits of New Zealand’s most iconic Crap Art medium littered about the place.
Still, in another three weeks it will all be gone again and a good thing too. All we must hope if that this time around our local body politicians can resist the blandishments of the organisers and refrain from spending our money on yet more tat for Alison Park.