In his five-star Grauniad review of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, curated by Grayson Perry, Jonathan Jones – the Ernie Wise to Adrian Searle’s Eric Morecambe – writes:
“This year, getting selected is not such an honour. For Perry has filled the summer show with crap. I mean actual garbage: talentless, throwaway rubbish, a lot of it apparently made by jokers after getting home from the pub….
…There’s something odd happening in art, and Perry has caught the moment. Boundaries of age and style, cool and uncool no longer seem to have anything to do with art’s future. Perhaps its future lies in the past. Or vice versa. I don’t know where I am after this crazy show. This is the most liberating exhibition of new art I’ve seen for ages, because it obliterates definitions of what’s good or bad, archaic or modern, and invites us to sample all the ways people can use a thing called “art” to express feelings and ideas.”
Something odd, by god, but it still gets five stars – because it “liberates”! It “obliterates”! Worn out, tired old definitions of good and bad are passé. Is it the crap, or the curation of crap, to the point of no return, that liberates? Have we reached critical mess? Things seem really bad, but probably not. No… this will just go on and on. Things will get worse and worse. Things were so much better back in the sixties, don’t you think? So much deeper and more thoughtful, more serious and profound. We didn’t, back then, have much of an idea about how to “use” art so shamelessly to “express feelings and ideas”. We tried, but we could never manage such profound levels of shallowness.
What are us old buggers left with? There’s David Sweet’s god-like dogs, wherein banality reaches new depths, or complete lack of it. Or how about this:
“This thesis re-investigates Clement Greenberg’s discredited abstract expressionist claim that painting should seek its own purity through the acknowledgment of its material. I argue that Greenberg’s physical, bodily determination of painting (but not its purity) is re-located as a criticality in contemporary practice because of the changes brought about by the simulacrum and the digital. By utilizing the particularities of ‘painterly’ issues such as materiality, depth and opticality into the virtual, this claim responds to Arthur C. Danto’s ‘end of history’ theories where he argues that artists are no longer bound to the dictates of grand master narratives of art. For Danto, contemporary art has irrevocably deviated from the narrative discourses which define it such as Greenberg’s.
Not satisfied with either postmodern strategies of parody in painting that claim a linear end to the modernist canon, or with recent claims that contemporary painting is beyond postmodernism, I convert Greenberg’s physical determinism using Andrew Benjamin’s notion that contemporary abstract painters, through making, accept and transform the historical/modernist premise of the yet-to-be-resolved object/painting by staging a repetition of abstraction as an event of becoming.
This ‘re-styling’ of abstract painting is then examined as an ontological conjoining of Greenberg with Merleau-Ponty’s claim that the painter transforms the relationship between the body and a painting by overlapping the interior sense of self with the world of external objects. I argue that contemporary painting can offer a philosophical dialogue between the painter’s subjectivity as a mirroring of the painter’s personal style through objective ornamental materiality. This dialogue is developed through Stephen Perrella’s Hypersurface theory which proposes a non-subjective, deterritorialised, architectural parallel of the digital as a transparent, fluid system of multidimensional signs in which the contemporary subject traverses. Consequently, I suggest, the symbolic virtual changes the body’s sensuous relation to time and space and is central to contemporary painting’s criticality.
That’s just the abstract/intro from the 2003 Goldsmith’s thesis of John Bunker’s mate, Michael Stubbs, the rest of which you can read here, should you wish: https://research.gold.ac.uk/175/3/art-Stubbs-Thesis-2003_GRO.pdf. I wonder if Michael now regrets stating the problem so simplistically. It’s not a very nuanced view of post-modernist abstraction, is it? You know, in any case I think we might have made a little progress since he wrote so lucidly and movingly about conjoining Greenberg with Merleau-Ponty. Such progress is surely evidenced by the horizontally-challenged Pink Panther threading its way three-dimensionally through an abstract canvas that appears behind Grayson Perry in the above photograph, which at first glance you might mistake for Grayson’s arms. Take that, Greenbergian physical determinism!
We could, of course, resort to yearning like David and Patrick for an art as achingly beautiful and banal as Morris Louis. Watch it again here and die: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Q-wSjCqho. How the hell did he make those huge paintings in that 12ft. square living room? Why did he make those huge paintings in that 12ft. square living room? They are indeed so much more exciting than “the flailing about which Ab Crit thinks is Painting ,a dreadful hangover from expressionism ,heaping mark upon mark ,creating depth by rote ,looking exciting but in fact terribly monotonous and ultimately futile.” What does this mean? And who is this Ab Crit? But then again, as somebody else said recently, why would anyone take any notice of the opinion of somebody who puts the space in front of the comma?
Alan Gouk’s gone off in a huff since I besmirched everything he has ever stood for in his entire life, in all of its unarguable purity and high-horsedness. He is seemingly never going to return except once a year to correct his own mistakes about Heron influencing Hitchens (or the other way around). We should care, I suppose… As for John Bunker, his ElectricLadyLoveIslandLand has nicked nearly all the other Abcrit writers, so there’s the end of it.
So much for abstraction and its hundred-year history, now demonstrably irrelevant to the majority of the artworld and its commentators. And the majority of the normal world too, who would much rather ogle the real Love Island than apparently anything else. Not having a telly, I wouldn’t know anything about it, except it’s in the Grauniad every day.
And even in amongst our tiny little clique of nutcase abstract artists we cannot even agree that the history of abstract art must be open to being problematised in order for us to move on. I’m feeling a little non-subjectively deterritorialised.
The sixth year of Brancaster kicks off soon, thank the dogs.