12th April - 29th June 2014
Some squiggles = Abstract, painting of some kittens = Pictorial.
The current exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary revolves around the theme of abstraction. Now abstract art is basically art that doesn’t look like anything, for example some squiggles, it is in direct opposition to art that is pictorial, for example, a nice picture of some kittens. Some of the stuff in the current exhibition isn’t abstract at all though, such as the photographs of people queuing in DHSS centres by Paul Graham. There’s also some stuff which is sort of abstract, like the Frank Auberbach painting Head of E.O.W. VIII. Initially it looks like a mess of mashed up Weetabix and toothpaste on a canvas but after closer inspection and a few hours of squinting it kind of looks like a head, albeit one made from mashed up Weetabix and toothpaste.
I think that’s why they called the exhibition ‘Somewhat Abstract’ to justify it’s inclusion of things both abstract and not, which basically encompasses the entirety of art. They might as well had done with it and called it ‘Some Art in A Place’ so it’s quite a broad theme and curatorialy speaking isn’t much to write home about.
The exhibition is all stuff borrowed from the Arts Council collection, which has been collecting British art since 1946 and this is the largest exhibition on display from the collection since 2006. The exhibition spans several decades and touches upon all the big art movements of the 20th century, featuring over 70 artists including such big names as Francis Bacon, Jeremy Deller, Mark Wallinger and Gilbert and George. As an art nerd who loves this kind of historically informed survey shit there was plenty to geek off over.
Abstract art has a long and varied history, debatably having began in the Palaeolithic when early man made all those squiggles, smears and thumb prints on cave walls. Though we will never know if this was a conscious rejection of pictorial forms or if early man was just a bit thick and hadn’t worked out how to draw yet. Abstract art at one time was even seen as being sexy, avant garde and edgy, now it’s just another part of the establishment and has been around long enough now to have formed it’s own tradition and history. I became aware of this when seeing an exhibition of the work of Simon Fujiwara at Tate St. Ives, a well-to-do, middle aged women was loudly complaining about a lack of St. Ives artists in the show. She expressed a desire to see more Patrick Heron and “less of this current nonsense”. I remember thinking that once you have reactionary, middle aged, middle class white women demanding to see your work that any claims of being avant garde or cool are firmly over.
The exhibition features a very mixed bag of stuff, some things I liked such as a nice big blue painting by Peter Lanyon but some things where downright dreary such as a video installation of man very, very slowly taking off a jumper and a large floating ball of scrunched up pink sugar paper by Karla Black which looked like the aftermath of a primary school art lesson. The latter by Black is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen, though I saw some of her stuff at the British Art Now show in Plymouth, these big mounds of earth and pink pigment that looked liked giant Liquorice Allsorts, they were quite good.
Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, Plasticine Painting,1996, plasticine on canvas.
Laura Godfrey-Isaacs Plasticine Painting was probably my favourite piece in the exhibition as amongst the seriousness of the other work it had a disarming, playful charm that really shone out. Do you remember when you were a kid and you would accidentally mix all your plasticine together and it would go all psychedelic and trippy? The stage before your curiosity got the better of you and you mixed it too much and it became a dull poo brown colour. Well this looks like that, only someone’s stuck it to a canvas and put it on a wall in a gallery.
Rachel Whiteread Untitled (6 spaces), it was great to see these resin casts of negative spaces. They kind of looked like an assortment of large hard boiled sweets, kind of like the ones your nan would give you, which you would begrudging eat even though you would have much preferred some Haribo.
Walter Sickert, Women Seated on a Bed, 1907
Walter Sickert, Women Seated on a Bed, 1907. Now I have trouble having any kind of objective opinion about Walter Sickert ever since I found out that he was at one time suspected of being Jack The Ripper. Now all I can do when confronted with his work is to look for subtle clues which would suggest his guilt. Now, looking at this murky, sinister painting of a women of doubtful virtue sitting on a bed I have no doubt that he was in fact the infamous mass murderer of prostitutes.
Keith Coventry’s Asthma Inhaler/Crack Pipe 1998, was an inhaler that had been converted into a crack pipe and then cast in bronze. I liked it because the same thing happened to me once when living with an ex-girlfriend and her drug addict uncle. I came home from work one day to find he had converted my inhaler into a crack pipe. Though he didn’t then cast it in bronze, probably lacking the facilities and funds to do so. He just smoked copious amounts of crack with it and then passed out on the the bathroom floor inconveniently baring anyone to an accessible path to the toilet.
Paul Graham, Beyond Caring,1984,colour photograph
Produced in the early 1980s Paul Grahams photography series Beyond Caring shows the crowded, stifling and run down interiors of social security offices during Thatchers 2nd term in office. Though to be honest the one in Nottingham where I have to sign on every two weeks doesn’t seem much better. Thatchers economic policies had contributed to the mass unemployment of 3.3 million people and cuts to social security benefits had left these vulnerable people even poorer. Sounds Familiar.
Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares,1961,Tempera on wood
Wait for it…wait for it…no, still can’t see anything.
It was good to see a nice bit of Bridget Riley thrown in, though after staring at this one for hours I still couldn’t see the hidden image.
David Bachelors Festival, 2006, was a wheely bin with fairy lights sticking out of it. It’s the sort of thing I’d like to have in my home as some sort of expensive ‘light feature’ if I was rich and lived in a large spacious studio apartment. However, I live in a tiny 2 bed flat with five other people. Though a similar effect could be created by placing some glow sticks in a waste paper basket and would no doubt be a lot cheaper.