Regular readers will know that when it comes to art, I do like white things. Maybe it’s the visual simplicity. Maybe it’s that I’ve made quite a lot of white things myself. Maybe it’s the enjoyment of trying to figure out what’s going on in the work when there’s so little to actually look at in terms of colour and form. Who knows? Whatever the reason, I often do find myself prepared to put in the time to look again if at first the work seems empty.
It’s unsurprising then that when I visited Jack Brindley’s show Sweat at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery it wasn’t the more colourful works that really held my attention, it was the sheets of (sort of) plain white paper.
A Brief History of John Baldessari, 2012 – title screen
In a way it’s just a short leap from Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell to the three things John Baldessari believes every young artist should know, though rather than painting these he chose to impart them to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directors of the short – very short, we’re talking six minutes here – documentary A short History of John Baldessari. It turns out it’s possible to find out quite a lot about Baldessari in six minutes, though I suspect knowing a certain amount about the man and his work before hand does help.
By the side of a tourist route in Norway a large rock sits improbably on top of another rock. Were one to drive past and fleetingly glimpse this rock pairing, it would be possible to catch sight of them and wonder idly whether this was a balancing act made by man or nature. Are the rocks there to mark the way? Are the the site of some ancient ritual? Are they like that following a landslide? If one weren’t looking out for them, contemporary art probably wouldn’t be one’s first thought. In fact though, this curious arrangement – the momunmental equivalent of countless pictures on Flickr – is Rock on Top of Another Rock by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Londoners might know a newer incarnation of the work which currently occupies a site in Kensington Gardens just outside the Serpentine Galley (of which, more later I rather suspect).
What interests me here isn’t the work – though that does fascinate me and it’s a work I’d really love to see – it’s the process of proposing such a sculpture. Just as Michael Landy drew out his idea for Break Down – the subject of a previous post – so, according to Peter Fischli, who spoke about the work and the process of its commissioning at the V&A earlier in the year, Fischli/Weiss used an image as a core element of their proposal. Unlike Landy though, they didn’t make a drawing. Instead, they found an image on the internet. The nature of the image may come as a bit of a surprise…
Sebastian Errazuriz, Complete (Duchamp Series), 2005
If Duchamp’s readymades changed art, and it seems pretty clear that they did, it’s not surprising that artists still return not only to the idea of the readymade but also to Duchamp’s own work. Sebastian Errazuriz’s Complete (Duchamp Series) goes beyond Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel to provide a more complete, though still fragmented, bicycle assemblage. The familiar bicycle wheel upturned and attached to a white painted stool is here. But here it’s accompanied by a second wheel, plus the handlebars and pedals.
The idea of presenting an existing document as art – the essence of Keith Arnatt’s Notes from Jo – is something used in a very different way by Maurizio Cattelan. In this case the actual document is presented rather than a photograph; given that the document in question is a police report this seems like an important element of the work. This is a work that is all about the narrative it represents: in 1991, faced with not having produced the work for a forthcoming exhibition, Cattelan went to the police and reported the theft of an invisible artwork. He then presented the police report in the exhibition.
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp bought a urinal, signed it in an assumed name of R. Mutt – the urinal had been bought from the J L Mott Ironworks – and submitted, with the title Fountain, it to the Society of Independent Artists in New York for inclusion in their annual exhibition. The rules stated that work by any artist who paid the fee would be accepted but the committee rejected Fountain. Much debate ensued. Eventually the board of the Society of Independent Artists – of which Duchamp was a member, but who in the main didn’t know he had submitted the work – decided that the work would be hidden from view for the show. Duchamp resigned in protest.
Fountain was photographed by Alfred Stieglitz but was subsequently lost. I think the prevailing view is that Stieglitz threw it out after making the picture.
Bruce Nauman, Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square, 1967-68
‘If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.’ – Bruce Nauman in conversation with Ian Wallace and Russell Keziere, Vanguard, Vol. 8 #1, 1979
In the late 1960s and the 1970s, when moving image was making its way into the gallery in a big way as 16mm film started to be replaced by video, they often took a pretty descriptive approach to titling work. Bruce Nauman’s film and video works of that period – a number of which are on show in the North Gallery of White Cube Bermondsey at the moment as part of the Inside the White Cube programme – are simply made and descriptively titled and driven by Nauman’s assertion that as an artist, everything he made in the studio must surely be art; an argument that works well enough for Nauman himself but one which is immediately undermined by the collection of Damien Hirst paintings on display here in the South Galleries, which I wrote about yesterday.
Jamie Shovlin, Derrida from Various Arrangements, 2011-12
For many people, the Fontana Modern Masters series provided an introduction to philosophy, critical theory and assorted other aspects of twentieth century thinking. The books, first published in the 1970s sand early 1980s were portable and cheap and the colourful geometric designs on the covers made them easy to spot. I know a trawl of my bookshelves would yield a few; certainly Bryan Magee’s Popper helped me through philosophy of science one of the few bits of my physics degree I properly enjoyed (yes, that’s right, physics; and no, I have no idea what I was thinking either).
So, why am I writing about some book covers from several decades ago now? Well, I’m not really, expect as a bit of background on the matter in hand: Jamie Shovlin’s Various Arrangements which I caught recently – somewhat by accident and on the last day – at Haunch of Venison.
Yves Klein, Immaterieller Raum (Immaterial Space), Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, 1961 (restored 2009)
Over the last few posts I realise I have been dealing with increasingly immaterial art. Though the work is visible it’s ultimately mostly made of nothingness. So, with Invisible soon to open at the Hayward Gallery, now seems like as good a time as any to think about work that really is made of nothing. The void as art. Well we’ve been here before in a way with Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void, but that was an actual photograph and art can get much more insubstantial than that…
There are lots of ways to paint, as a quick wander through any major art museum will amply demonstrate. But there are those who change out understanding of art through their work, and Gustav Metzger is one such. Metzger’s notion of auto-destructive art, which he initially defined in 1959, was an interesting and highly-influential on which was rooted in the belief that Western society was failing (Metzger has been a Marxist all his adult life). The idea is that the work has the capacity to destroy itself or that it is destroyed by the actions of its creator.
Gustav Metzger: Auto-Destructive Art (1959)
Auto-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies.
Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method, and timing of the disintegrative process.
Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.
The amplified sound of the auto-destructive process can be an element of the total conception.
The artist may collaborate with scientists, engineers.
Self-destructive art can be machine produced and factory assembled.
Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and constructions have a life time varying from a few moments to twenty years. When the disintegrative process is complete the work is to be removed from the site and scrapped.