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Re: where is modern art now with Gus Casely-Hayford

From:     Robert McDowell
Category: Art
Date:     21 November 2009
Time:     08:04 PM


22 Nov.09 1:24am
I have just seen Gus Caseley-Heyford's first show in C4's Big Art series.  It does a number of very 
sensible things, essentially questioning how YBA hype was a rush to judgment that involved  too much 
of a break with continuity with the past in craft, content, intellectual value etc. The artists chosen to 
provide an oblique critical viewpoint such as Anthony Caro, Whitney McVeigh, Grayson Perry, a few 
others and Goldsmith's and Glasgow student shows suggested now is a time, marked by recession 
that punctured the YBA price bubble,  for a retro re-connect to longer term values like offering slow 
food as a counter argument, antidote, or simply much superior cuisine to fast fod. Sadly, the 
prgramme was too short - the artists ecah made profound observations and asked questions, 
rhetorical  or not, that are more than worthy of further exploration - for that alone this was an excellent 
essay. My take is a longer view too. Two points:
1. We have had a long period of deconstruction that in the last 25 years has lost an intellectual 
underpinning that is only found in trying to address the big picture, not merely disconnected 
deconstructed building blocks. YBA has (mataphorically) elevated bricks, piping, choice of carpet as 
if these alone have something to say about a complete house - insofar as they do it is precious little, 
and certainly not sufficient to justify national interest - this is were strategy and media's faux shock 
becomes more important than valuable content, and not least divorced from critical judgment within 
the art world itself - media footage and column inches alone justify notoriety which suffices in turn to 
justify exhorbitant art market prices.
2.  YBA and related art, notwithstanding its role as signpost template for student emulators and 
discussants about whither art, has nothing, or very little, to offer, to say, that can debate, question, 
confirm or criticise, orthodoxies or zeitgeist or values generaly prevailing in any other parts of society, 
general culture, world politics. It is capricious and shallow, which is of course too easy to say for in 
fact it says a lot, but only indirectly insofar as it provides extreme evidence of a contemporary media 
culture in which celebrity alone enjoys its moment in the sun able to drown out other profounder issues.

In conclusion: Augustus's start here builds on John Berger's Ways of Seeing and Robert Hughes 
Shock of the New, but still falls short, if any criticism should be offered at this stage, insofar as it fails 
yet to ask a number of "so what?" questions. These are not questions that the artists Gus profiled 
need worry about; they are replete with integrity. But, if it is valid to ask whither contemporary art right 
now in general then it is worthwhile to ask given all that mankind dwells upon and struggles with, what 
has the YBA generation in UK and elsewhere got to say? It seems to me that their supposed novelty, 
freak show or not, has been extremely narrow-focus, self-referential, which is not at all a fault in itself 
except when the artists are not truly engaged in challenge and deep enquiry about either themselves 
or the world's state and complexities, merely opportunistically feeding uneducated rich clients. 

I will look out for more than Gus can uncover.
-Robert McDowell, Edinburgh

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