“One thousand years from now, there won’t be any [artists] and there won’t be any [curators], just wankers. Sounds [post-cultural] to me.” – paraphrase from “Trainspotting” 1993 Irvine Welsh
Just when you think that middle-class gentrification can get no more pervasive, monocultural or masturbatory, we are presented with the winner of the Turner Prize 2015.
(This blog post is part of a much longer, rambling and unfinished contemplation on the state of galleries, museums and the arts. Part 1 & 2 are here and here and if you are in any way interested, expect more and possibly revisions. Maybe it will turn into something more coherent.)
2015’s Turner Prize was a long time ago, I know, but I stopped watching anything to do with art prizes many years ago. More specifically, I stopped paying any attention to the Turner Prize when I turned 50 and became ineligible for it (obvs). Strange to be of an age where I feel that I am just beginning to get into my stride, but in the UK I am considered past-it already.
Anyway, fogies like me might be a little behind the zeitgeist, but what I lack in punctuality, I try to make up for in attitude. The Turner Prize 2015 was won by a design / architecture collective called Assemble, and choosing an organisation like this rather than a lone genius artist might sound radical, until you see what they do.
To be fair on Assemble, there is nothing wrong with what they do, and I don’t say that to damn them with faint praise. What I mean is, they appear to be doing genuinely good work, but why is it the subject of a fine art prize?
Well, you only need to look at the list of judges to turn up, amongst others, Alistair Hudson (whom I’ve indicted him before) and Jan Verwoert (curator of the mind-numbingly tedious & incoherent Art Sheffield 2008).
That Assemble won a prize for their work is not the issue, what bothers me is what it indicates about the state of the fine art establishment, and the bland, consumerism that the likes of Hudson & Verwoert are rewarding by selecting a bunch of hipsters (no offence) who make things that do not offend anyone (except me obvs). I almost miss the pretentious nonsense of Steve McQueen (Turner Prize 1999), at least I could get properly angry about that. 2015’s winner is just dull.
It’s hardly surprising coming from curators who talk about people “engaging” with art, and I can imagine the judges’ meetings; not around a boardroom table or in the corner of a gallery, but gathered around a quinoa salad and a cheeky glass of prosecco.
One of Assemble’s projects is the Granby Four Streets CLT (Community Land Trust) which included setting up the Granby Workshop, run by local people in a Liverpool neighbourhood, to manufacture objets d’esire for middle-class consumers.
A couple of things mentioned in one of the newspaper articles I read at the time, were compressed sawdust cupboard handles (“hand smoked in Granby Workshop”) at £15 each and a pressed terracotta lampshade for £150.
Who spends £150 on a fucking lampshade? Not me, obvs, but how is that anything other than an expression of conspicuous consumption, and what the fuck has it got to do with art? It’s art for the Apple Watch generation: convenient, inoffensive and aspirational.
Depends on your definition of art, obvs. Back in 1994, the K Foundation (aka The KLF) burned £1 million pounds as a work of art, but I think they are still living to regret that particular aesthetic conceit. (Note-to-self: Be careful what you wish for.)
The fundamental problem with this series of interviews (with Alistair Hudson here) is that they have been made at all. Axisweb is part of a much wider and poisonous conservatism that has co-opted contemporary art into nothing more than product for the disposable income of the middle-classes, and jobs for university-conditioned professionals.
Recently a friend and arts professional informed me that National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), the bodies regularly funded by the Arts Council, are granted money to run the buildings but none to commission or pay artists. So the director gets paid, the administrators get paid, the accountants and the cleaners get paid, but these days artists are expected to apply for their own funding or else work for nothing.
No wonder everyone is so keen not to offend.
Anyway, I know I must seem a little old-fashioned but my artistic sensibilities were forged in the wonder of childhood and patinated by the post-punk DIY aesthetic of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not in the made-from-reclaimed-materials-and-sold-to-middle-class-liberals DIY aesthetic, but the made-from-whatever-was-available-and-sold-at-a-price-anyone-could-afford DIY aesthetic. My nascent excitement about art was founded in the impossible insanity of its complex, inexplicable and unknowable chaos, not a rationalised business model and a carefully worded artist’s statement.
In those days, vinyl singles (yes, gramophone records) sometime had message like “Pay no more than 50p” printed on the sleeves, in an overt anti-commercial intervention. But times change and, in a post-Thatcher Britain, commodification, speculation & tax-efficiency are the Three Wise Consultants of the East End.
I understand that the video interviews of Alistair Hudson were made for a professional audience, and Hudson’s language is not for the hoi polloi, but the words that these people use gives away how they think.
(Oh dear. Googling to check the spelling of “hoi polloi” I stumble across the website of a restaurant of the same name. In Shoreditch, obvs. http://hoi-polloi.co.uk/)
Art was “participatory” before that word was used about it, and art was “socially-engaged” before that phrase had been coined, and “outputs” had been put out long before the Arts Council had required them as part of their end-of-project reports.
However, despite all my complaints about gentrification, commercialisation & ageism, what offends me most about the apologist capitalism and focus-group aesthetics of Assemble, or the media-friendly, pseudo-intellectualised reasonableness of Alistair Hudson is not that I feel disenfranchised by it, but that, if this is what fine art is going to look like and sound like in the future, it’s going to be just so fucking boring.