#203 BRITISH ART SHOW SPECIAL!
The British Art Show 7 has come to the Hayward Gallery, and it’s hella intense. This show only happens once every five years, so it’s a pretty big deal in establishing the heirarchy of the British art world.
The title of the show is ‘In the Days of the Comet’, and the themes tend to centre around ideas of history, both as recurrence and as change. Several of the exhibits appear to be actively trolling the exhibition, and even the entire concept of exhibitions, like Edgar Schmitz’s, which is actually sound coming from speakers outside the gallery. Take that, concept of exhibitions! But the most prominent process seems to be a use of narrative. One way or another, a lot of this art tells stories. (This irks me, right. Storytellers tell stories! Not artists! Gosh!)
It’s quite a dense show, with lots to process. Without a sound knowledge of the conceptual history of recent British art, you’d need some kind of bullshitter’s guide to get through it. Wait, there’s one right here! What a cowinky-dink.
BRITISH ART SHOW QUICK BULLSHITTER’S GUIDE
Artist: Charles Avery
Art: Giant sketch of a port on a fictional island called Onomatopeia; vitrine of a woman in a desert watched by a one-armed snake.
What to say: ‘Hmm. Meditating on our world by means of a parallel magic-realist one.’
What you’re thinking: They’re done by the same person? But one is a picture and the other isn’t! OMG crazy.
Artist: Steven Claydon
Art: Big cast-metal bell, embossed with the Peanuts character Pig-Pen.
What to say: ‘Of course, if one hasn’t read anything by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, it probably seems a little impenetrable.’
What you’re thinking: What happens if you pull the bell’s cord? I may pull the cord and run.
Art: Ikea-style model room, filled with examples of off-the shelf kitsch popular culture – pink flock-covered telephones, ‘funky’ shower-curtains, union jack pillows and so on.
What you say: ‘A witty dissection of the relation of mass-produced art to individuality. Showing that you can’t buy a personality from the high street!’
What you’re thinking: Ooh, gold Converse All-Stars! I must get a pair.
Artist: Milena Fragicevic
Art: Portraits of delicately altered figures, seeming to sprout appendages and prosthetics.
What to say: ‘Hints at worlds of inner psychological complexity.’
What you’re thinking: These dudes wouldn’t look out of place in Mos Eisley cantina. Memo to self: Watch Star Wars again.
Artist: Alasdair Gray
Art: Line drawings of friends and family, some made in the 70s and not coloured in for decades.
What to say: ‘It speaks to me of the irrelevance of the concept of time.’
What you’re thinking: What a lazy bastard.
Artist: Brian Griffiths
Art: The headless body of a giant bear, supine on the floor, in a child’s romper suit.
What to say: ‘Conjures thoughts of exploitation and degradation that are common to the animal and human situation alike.’
What you’re thinking: This giant headless bear will kill us all!
Artist: Roger Hiorns
Art: A naked man on a bench watches a fire.
What to say: ‘A dramatic superposition of the sacred and the mundane.’
What you’re thinking: Pshaw, this is going to be the worst kind of YBA shock-nonsense. No, wait, it’s quietly amazing. Oh!
Artist: Sarah Lucas
Art: Squirming organic-looking sculptures
What to say: ‘She deserves an exhibition of her own.’
What you’re thinking: Oh god spastic death-orgy! Amazing! They’re made with… tights? Wow.
Artist: George Shaw
Art: Paintings of Coventry council estates executed in Humbrol enamel paints.
What to say: ‘A delicate dialogue between form and memory.’
What you’re thinking: How nice. I’d hang this on my wall. Oh god, I’m so naive! Say something clever about post-representational narrative techniques, quick!
Artist: Wolfgang Tillmans
Art: Tables full of magazine ads and articles; Giant picture of swirling ink dots
What to say: ‘The perils of representation contraverted by the beauty of the abstract.’
What you’re thinking: I recognise that name! He won the Turner prize! This is probably good, then. Also, memo to self: watch Star Wars again. Star Wars is cool.
There are lots more artists than this, but you’re on your own for the rest.
Here’s a thing: although a lot of modern artists are very suspicious about being pigeonholed, it’s impossible for them not to end up running in the same interpretational ruts. It’s not their fault – it’s the fault of the people who write the guides, the press releases, the explanatory notes and the plaques. You’re getting either their interpretations, or what the artist would like you to think about their work. In essence, everyone suddenly seems to be ‘making a statement’ or ‘confronting’ and most problematically ‘critiquing’. Surely it’s best to leave that to the critics? But then – ah, anyway, I’ll shut up. I don’t know much about art, and I’m not really sure what I like. Dah.
The British Art Show runs from 16 Feb to 17 April. Get there!