I Might not Know Art, But I Don’t Know What I Like Either

Not sure I should write this after the trouble I got into with that joke about JMW Turner.

I am an expert on nothing.
Art is one of the many things I am ignorant. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say, “but I know what I like”, I am not so sure about that either.
I think I like things that are absurd, sometimes grotesque, great big melodramatic landscapes, nonsense (though it might only be nonsense to me because I have missed the meaning and intention). I am not so keen on too many straight lines, most of what is in the Tate St Ives (too damn abstract for me, though the Hepworth sculpture garden is a delight, beautiful human made shapes combined with spider made webs), and pop culture which seems to an exact replica for lilos or inflatable novelties.
(I think I have an issue with not “just going with the art” – my mind is always asking, “do you understand it? why did they make it? what does it mean?” and on and on)

My main art museum quandary is – “have I really looked at that thing for long enough to decide?”
Is the man on the fold up chair in the corner of the room thinking, “that hobo has clearly not looked at that Manet to comprehend it. Art Idiot”.
OR
“why is that scruffbag still staring at that painting, everyone knows that Manet is a 47 second peer”.

I am sitting in the cafe of Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet, a collection of contemporary art.

There was some Jeff Koons work there. It once made me angry, but now it has moved onto a “oh well, whatever” and a shrug that can’t even be bothered to rise up to sense of confusion. I like Michael Jackson and Bubbles more than I used to, but I’d prefer it was smaller, maybe done as a toby jug. Fortunately, this gallery didn’t have any of his spunking cock work, those camp images that looked like a disgorged protest by a sacked worker at a greeting cards factory. The problem is knowing, “does he mean it or does he guffaw as he sees how ludicrous he can get”.
A replica of a child’s inflatable dolphin raft with pots and pans hanging of it? Yup, sold again.
I wonder what goes on in the minds of others who scrutinise it.
My reaction is just a description of exactly what I see, the more I look at it, the more the sound loop goes around
A Dolphin with pots and pans hanging of it
A dolphin with pots and pans hanging of it
A dolphin…with pots…and pans…hanging of it
A dolphin…
Others may find their world illuminated. Each time they see a pot or a pan hanging, their mind may have thoughts of dolphins, of the limitations of language, of… I don’t know.
I think I am missing something, but maybe the people who think they have found something are missing something.
Art does like to make it difficult.

The gallery also holds his earlier work, some convertible upright Hoover. Looking at the banal things of everyday behind glass, the only point I can see is to remind people to examine the mundane objects around us. If we don’t bother to pay attention to the world that is in front of us, then before long, all you need to be an artist is to put a scouring sponge on a plinth and say, “see, see what I have seen.” If you’ve already taken time to ponder on the banal, then it is harder to turn the banal into art. I know I am in trouble when I do not know if the thing I am looking at in an art gallery is a packing case as art, or just a packing case with some art or lightbulbs in it. Is that stepladder “Stepladder” or is it a stepladder? I enjoy those first few hours after walking around a gallery when back in the humdrum world, I am still using my art gallery eyes. I try to maintain that, but eventually you get questioning looks as you cock your head while examining “dog excrement with a lolly stick dropped on it” or “bike frame in a bush”, and it can take a long time to get home as you walk down every street “gallery”.

The Astrup Fearnley Museet also holds the economic powder keg of some Damien Hirst. I finally saw Mother and Child, the cow and calf preserved, and I liked it. I would have enjoyed it in a science museum too, but it was fascinating to look at the cow as fleshy and gut heavy machine of life. I enjoyed God Alone Knows and Adam and Eve Exposed too. I looked at them so long that my mind stopped saying, “but what does it mean?” and just kept staring for fun.

I stayed for all 12 Minutes 30 seconds of the running time of Ed Atkins‘ Warm Warm Warm Spring Mouths, because that fascinated me too. I am certain I missed the meaning THIS TIME, but I will examine it again. Who knows, I might even have a revelation.
David Dougan’s Upbeat Up has similarly stuck with me. I think that fits into the category of “grotesque things I like that might populate my dreams”. (Last night, I dreamt Nick Cave ran secret bar in Little Chalfont).

Christopher Woods big canvas simply stencilled with “ANDIFYOUCANTTAKEAJOKEYOUCANGETTHEFUCKOUTOFMYHOUSE” was considerably less exciting to me than most of the graffiti I have seen on the side of disused train carriages, and i wasn’t too sure about Richard Prince either.

Sigmar Polke’s Apparizione was big and hallucinatory and a romp for a pattern seeking mind.

I liked what I had seen of Matthew Barney already, because I couldn’t have imagined it myself. Like my railing against not liking TV programmes that you can make at home, I like art that isn’t in my understairs cupboard (I don’t have an understairs cupboard, but I hope you know what I mean).

I am on tour forever – after Oslo I am off to Cambridge, Liverpool, Cardiff, Sheffield, Wigtown, Nottingham, Belfast and on and on. Details HERE

My new three hour DVD is HERE

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11 Responses to I Might not Know Art, But I Don’t Know What I Like Either

  1. andywootton says:

    I only ‘got’ art for the first time at about your age. Some of us are late developers. I started judging things by how much they made me think, afterwards. “How dare they?” is a valid reaction, as it was to punk or hippity-hop.

  2. Tony Pedley says:

    You went to Oslo, and you didn’t go to the Munch museum!!!!. Surely the scream is a metaphore for all comics..

  3. I struggle with ‘art’ when the art in question is an ensemble of banal things that were actually made in a factory somewhere (like a Hoover or a bed) by workers on minimum wage and then arranged by a team of the artist’s assistants without the artist having laid one finger on their own installation. Having an idea about how household items are stored and arranged, then getting your staff follow your instructions on the matter makes you the manager of a housekeeping service, not an artist.

  4. liliannberg says:

    Norway have spawned some great artists – surely there must have been some of their work in the Astrup Fearnley Museet or do you only consider artists who speak your own language, literally? By the way, there is no right or wrong way to look at art – there are as many opinions as there are viewers. Most of the time, contemporary art has no intrinsic meaning. apart from whatever you as a viewer bring to it. The nature of art is truly ineffable.. I should know, I’ve wasted most of my life, making, studying and teaching fine art (which by the way is mostly unteachable)..

  5. liliannberg says:

    Norway has spawned some great artists – surely there must have been some of their work in the Astrup Fearnley Museet or do you only consider artists who speak your own language, literally? By the way, there is no right or wrong way to look at art – there are as many opinions as there are viewers. Most of the time, contemporary art has no intrinsic meaning. apart from whatever you as a viewer bring to it. The nature of art is truly ineffable.. I should know, I’ve wasted most of my life, making, studying and teaching fine art (which by the way is mostly unteachable)..

  6. liliannberg says:

    Oops! Tried to correct my grammar and sent two comments – so sorry!

  7. Jeff Koons was refreshing with his stainless steel blowup toys when he started hitting it big. But there really is very little depth there even after you look at his career as a whole. If we are lucky, a giant topiary dog amuses us for a few seconds and then leaves us wanting. Any sociological message that might be in it or the echo chamber pieces about the art world are in the long run useless and meaningless trophies. His pieces are bought and sold like tulip mania commodities along with so many other artists. I have a term “Art for Assholes” that I apply to art like Koons’. Let’s hope things change for the better in contemporary visual arts very soon so we can get as much joy out of a visit to the contemporary art museum as we do in the accessible arts like music, literature, poetry, film, theater, stand-up comedy etc.

    There are so many other artists that do not leave you wanting. It’s a challenge to find them, especially if we are given terrible guidance by our museums.

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