Archive for the 'criticism' Category

Old Weird America at the Decordova

Its raining pretty steadily today so I decided to head out to the Decordova to see this show that looked interesting called “The Old, Weird,  America” I go to the Decordova every so often because its a pretty low-key environment and they generally have pretty decent shows, but nothing that blows your socks off. So I was expecting more of the same.

Well, I has happily surprised. The show took up every gallery space in the museum, a sprawling, well spaced show with some bigger names (Kara Walker) with some that I was unfamiliar with. The conceptual basis of the show was folk in contemporary art, a liberally applied theme that tied together the work nicely.

The work was, on the whole very strong. Margaret Kilgallen’s installation was great, as was Matthew Day Jackson’s, and though I didn’t stay for the whole Kara Walker video, I’m sure it was great as well. Special mention, though, must be made for the painting in the show. Aaron Morse’s colorful wilderness/hunting scenes (reminiscent of Aimee Belanger) were outstanding. As were Barnaby Furnas’ takes on Civil War battles, again with outstanding color. And Eric Beltz’s luscious pencil drawings of unfortunate scenes of the founders of the USA.

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for this type of work that combines whimsy, lyrical, and humourous subject matter and visuals, with an undertone of serious, “important,” material. But then again, who isn’t. I kind of felt like I was in Williamsburg, with all these hipsterish oldtimey/new works. It  left me with just the slightest hint of, I’ve seen this before. But let me stress that it could have been done so much worse and fallen over into art school kitch so easily.

I was all smiles leaving on the way home, only to realize, upon reading the material that the show was actually put together by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. I knew it was too good to be true. Nonetheless, I think it was an incredibly successful show and everyone should go see it, certainly a coup for the Decordova.

Night in the Museum

I’m in Britain at the moment. Most people in the U.S. do not realise that Scotland is in Britain, and that Northern Ireland is not. NI is, however (as we all know), in the United Kingdom. It is all very confusing, don’t even get me started with the political system.

So anyways, in this great country in which I currently reside (or is it a conglomeration of semi-autonomous regions? e.g. why does the UK not have its own football team in international play?) there are some exciting things going on. In case you haven’t heard, Bristol has just announced a show of the world-renowned graffiti artist Banksy in their local Musee d’Art. Let’s all give Banksy a warm round of applause… Apparently only a few select individuals were informed that Bristol’s most famous felon cum artist was going to be taking over the entire museum. This veil apparently hid information from some of the curators of the museum, the city’s mayor, all the councilmen and women, as well as the general public, although “everybody” knew “something was going on”. And what was the reaction by all political authorities in the city, a city that for years fought to keep his work off walls and billboards and which was quickly demolished or painted over? well of course the whole city seems to be basking in the attention of this show, to blinded to see their own hypocrisy. I read a report in the Observer of the mayor’s walk through the exhibition before it was open, proud as could be, they say that this show could bring in 100,000 visitors! Imagine what that would do!

I am struggling to begin to assess this situation from a level-headed objective viewpoint, but here goes…firstly (and most obviously) the council, which has turned briskly about in its position, apparently in the last 3 years from chasing the man around the streets with a can of grey paint, to celebrating him as “Bristol’s Finest” because they realised they were missing out on some sweet profits.This is despicable in my book, the lowest of the low. Shame.

secondly, Banksy: This is what he does and he does it well, it is quite a coup to have gamed the system and he should rightly be applauded. Let others sort out the nitty gritty of what he means in contemporary art and culture.

thirdly, the museum: this kind of exhibition, tapping into the latest hype (as far as they know) to draw people into the museum. The quality of the work, the surrounding sticky issues of intent and ideology, the curation, the history, seem all to be secondary to attracting big crowds. This is a bit ironic as all museums in Britain are free to enter, so there are no profits to be made at the door. However, as I read a while ago in an article in the Times by Waldemar Januszczak, British museums are perhaps at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to curatorial demands because of the nature of the relationship with the government, one that necessitates art being for the masses. We(I) see this type of stooping down at museums large and small, attempts to be all things to all people. I am still unconvinced by my own arguments that art should not relinquish its demands on the viewer to be an intelligent, knowledgeable, and active participent. I understand the argument that we must try to get as many people to the museum as possible, dor the good of the culture. I combat this with the opinion that people are not given the opportunity to see good art as a result. This is a chicken/egg issue for me, one with no answer as of yet. I’m sure with several more years behind me my opinions will change.

What we have is the triangle of power, the museum led by the tail by the council, which is apparently led by the tail by this masked avenger. Who loses in this mixed-up mess? How about artists in Bristol not named Banksy? How about museum-goers that shouldn’t be be witness to this hysterical narcissism? How about the critics who are I’m sure sighing as they ponder whether they still have to pump out 1000 words about this twat.

Three cheers for Bristol’s best. I can hear the glasses clinking now.


From the desk of A. D. Jacobson.