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Date: 21 Sep 2010
Time: 11:35:39 -0500
At one point, painting and by extension the traditional skills were officially declared dead and in a memorable television programme claiming that painting was dead, Guardian critic Waldemar Januszczak was terrified by a drunk and out of control Tracey Emin. As an artist it seemed important to take a position. Either you were a conceptual artist or you were not. If you were a conceptual painter then your works had to be explained in a different terminology than if you were a more ‘instinctual’ artist. The irony of course was that the work often looked the same. A figurative artist like George Shaw, who was included in hip exhibitions like ‘Days Like These’, the Tate Triennial of 2003, and was beloved by the conceptual hip critics like Gordon Burn, could also pass muster with the more traditional critics. Works in this exhibition, like Off road – SUV by Nick Pace or Festival by Jake Clark both walk this tight rope between the two critical camps. Did this polarisation have an affect on artists themselves? I think most definitely. The choice of where you went to study was essential. Artists in this period who wanted to be more traditional figurative practitioners felt marginalised and unsupported in their institutions. When I visited British sculptor Thomas Houseago in Los Angeles where he now lives and works, he admitted he left his native England to study in Holland as he felt so unsupported in his home country. Houseago is now a “hot” contemporary artist collected by all the right collectors including both the Rubells and Steven Cohen, yet his work evolves clearly from traditional figurative sculpture. He himself unashamedly admits that his heroes are Rodin and Michelangelo. If you were accepted as hip then figurative work, even of the most traditional variety would be accepted as “cool” and contemporary. Marc Quinn’s recent show ‘Evolution’ at the White Cube included a set of the most conservative marble sculptures to be seen recently in a contemporary gallery. The subject matter, foetuses emerging roughly from stone, were based I was told in hushed tones on Michelangelo’s slaves and made in marble from Pietrasanta where the marble was quarried for Michelangelo’s David. The irony was that these works were put forward as traditional but their robotic technique bore no critical resemblance to the sensitive rendering and relationship to materiality that was evident in the master’s work.