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Writings

Culture-Laden Rubbish

The Irish News


Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate Gallery, makes a surprising observation in his clumsily written foreword in the Turner Prize 2000 catalogue;
“ The purpose of the Turner Prize”, he says, is not only to honour the achievements of an outstanding artist, but also to bring “”new developments in the visual arts to the attention of people who are interested in the culture of our own time, but who do not regularly visit commercial galleries, smaller public galleries in London and the regions, or exhibitions of British art abroad.”
In other words the exhibition is aimed at those people who know nothing about art and who never go near an art gallery except to visit the Tate when they are on holiday in London. Serota doesn’t seem to notice the anomaly when he says that these are the people who are interested in the culture of our own time. I wonder what he means by the culture of our own time, if the people who are interested in it, seldom visit art galleries? Do his imagined people also seldom read books? Do they rarely go to concerts? Are they in fact uninterested in all of the arts? If so wherein does their cultural interest lie? Part of the answer lies way back in the Sixties when Andy Warhol said of his exhibition at Whitney;
“ We fixed it.....so that people could catch the show in a minute and leave”.
Critic, Harold Rosenberg felt that Warhol knew that the public would only devote a minute to the paintings. For the great majority of the Avant Garde audience, Art was not something to look at; it was background decoration for canapé conversation. Warhol, he said, put his painting where the spectator wanted it; behind him, “One apprehended with one’s back”.
“Why was the art world eager to be taken in?” Rosenberg asked.
He answered his own question; “ Because for the new critics and curators, Art has nothing behind it”. This must surely be the saddest comment made by a major critic about Art in the twentieth century.
Today, little has changed. The coloured fripperies of the Sixties have been replaced each year by ephemeral arty baubles of one sort or another. Recent blockbuster exhibitions in London’s Royal Academy; Sensations 1997 and Apocalypse 2000 looked as if they were planned to give a “sensational fix” to the visually and intellectually jaded. Art has become no more than an adjunct to the popular music culture. This year’s Turner Prize winner German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans gives us an insight into the type of aesthetic experience which can mould an artist of his calibre;
“ I saw Culture Club at the Dominion Theatre in 1963 and it changed my life”.
Not Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. Not Monet’s Waterlilies. Not Picasso’s Guernica; but a man with lipstick and a powdered face wearing a skirt and a silly hat and singing sillier songs.
So the next time you are stopped at the traffic lights and the white Fiesta beside you is pulsating with the mindless thump of Techno Music, savour the moment, you may be in the presence of a Turner Prize artist.
The catalogue tells us that Tillman questions conventional aesthetics; “ He creates images of great resonance from unlikely sources- a half-naked man urinating on a chair” We are told that through images like this Tillman reaches “beneath the surface of contemporary culture and prompts us to do the same”. Well now, I’d have to think about that. Where does he live?
Rubbish seems to be doing well in the arts this year. Tomoko Takahashi’s contribution to the Turner Prize exhibition is rubbish. She has scattered it about the floor of the Tate. It is referred to as a mixed media installation entitled; “Learning how to drive”. It seems to be driving the Tate security guards mad. They can’t tell whether or not people are stealing from the rubbish or adding to it. One guard said to me that he thought that the pile of garbage had become bigger since it was first installed.
At the Apocalypse exhibition rubbish is selling. Charles Saatchi gave Tim Noble and Sue Webster £50,000 for the huge pile of rubbish which they have placed on the floor of Burlington House.
When a light is projected on the top of this heap silhouettes of two figures appear on the wall of the gallery. The artistic method is the one we employed as children when we shaped our hands in front of a candle to make rabbits appear on the wall. Unless we become as little children we shall not get into the Saatchi collection.



Joseph Mc Williams©