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Frieze debate redux

From:     blp
Category: Art
Date:     05 February 2008
Time:     02:29 PM


They didn't run my response and wouldn't communicate with me about why (or about anything), though I
emailed them to ask. It could be a glitch, but I now can't post in that thread at all. 

Oh well. Here's what I wrote, just slightly tidied up since I didn't have the chance to post in
haste and repent at leisure:


Hello all. I read the exchange here first, then went looking for Lewis' piece and found, rather than
the piece of cheap tabloid sensationalism I'd been led to expect, a long, reasoned, intelligent
article clearly backed up by extensive researches. Who's misrepresenting who here? 

Higgie understandably alights on the very small bit of Lewis' piece that pertains to Frieze, but
then, indefensibly, blows this up into a smear of the entire piece and the man – in doing so,
leading a largely unified charge from her cohorts. It starts in her first paragraph. Lewis does not
[confuse and conflate] 'market forces with what is actually being produced on the complex and
multi-layered stage that comprises the contemporary art world' – his entire piece is about market
forces as they play themselves out in this decidedly idiosyncratic and unregulated context. To call
this a perpetuation of 'the kind of anti-intellectual resentment against art that is usually to be
found in the tabloids' isn't just conflation; it's a pure act of the imagination. Higgie objects to
Lewis’ demonology leaving out some notional honour-role of art world saints, which is silly – this
was journalism, not a May-Day parade – but also unfair given that a stated part of Lewis’ concern is
that the dubious machinations of the market are harming talented artists. She suggests Lewis seems
not to have read the magazine, but one can’t help wonder how carefully she read his piece before
launching her broadside. Dan Fox, with his generalised sneering at the press’ myopia on the art
world, looks like an even less close reader.

The pity of it is, Higgie might have a point if she could only zero in on it. Lewis is undoubtedly
guilty of conflation: without, perhaps, quite being libellous, he implies a failure of journalistic
objectivity caused by vested interests – a serious charge, backed up by only the flimsiest and most
ambiguous of circumstantial evidence. Still, that evidence is a charge in itself and one with which
I’m in sympathy: the criticism in Frieze just ain’t very critical. 

In the surprisingly vicious swelling of the ranks that follows, it’s heartening to see that, on this
point at least, the Frieze contingent are not completely of one mind. Higgie baldly refutes the
allegation, stating, ‘Reviews are often critical’, then hits out with another swipe, ‘but unlike
Lewis, we back up our criticisms with facts’ – cheap given that she doesn’t back this statement
itself up with anything at all and given Lewis’ extensive weight of concrete material on art world
wheelings and dealings, though fair enough on the single material point of Frieze’s objectivity or
lack of it.  The negativity Higgie claims for ‘some reviews’, meanwhile, will no doubt be of
editorial concern to Dan Fox, who sees the criticality of criticism as just so yesterday: ‘Criticism
is not just about being negative or positive – the old-fashioned connoisseur-critic presiding in
judgement over the worth of a given artwork’. 

And, actually, except for its oddly arrogant sense of history (when was serious criticism ever just
about being negative or positive?) who’d quibble with a statement like this? Well, it’s all about
context. No, criticism isn’t just about negative or positive, but, in Frieze, when is it ever about
the former? I used to read the magazine at art college and just after quickly fell away in boredom
and have been checking in periodically ever since to see if the situation’s changed; which, up to
the present crop of reviews, which I’ve just had a look at, it apparently hasn’t. If, as Higgie
seems to claim, there is often negative criticality here, why, since it became possible to interact
with the online version, have the reviews provoked almost no debate at all? Couldn’t be because
there’s nothing much there to contend with could it? Well, that’s how it’s always felt to me. 

I don’t think it’s mean-mindedness or even anger that makes me want a bit more aggression in my art
criticism. About the worst charge you could level at me is a naďve attachment to the analytical
force of the dialectic. Well, hey, it’s always worked for me. I also think negativity’s making this
particular Frieze thread a lot more piquantly readable than most of the others, even if the critical
knives have only come out in response to a foreign body intruding critically. Besides, if subjective
identifications of the negative and positive are good enough for Greenberg, Judd, Krauss and, hey,
Searle, whose perhaps hastily penned position here is the most surprising part of this fracas, then
pension me out and call me old fashioned. 

The point is, Lewis’ charge, however poorly substantiated, feels plausible because Frieze’s
glassy-eyed absence of criticality looks corrupted even if it’s not. I don’t know what’s behind the
policy of excluding negativity, if policy it is, and I wouldn’t be in anything like Lewis’ hurry to
blame filthy lucre, but it sure looks like a love in for an in-crowd. Who knows? Perhaps it’s like
that because of the concern Higgie evinces for the art types who have it so damn hard. Whatever it
is, if actively negative criticality is being actively discouraged, that’s an unusually controlling
and numbing blanket editorial directive. Sorry if this seems a cheap shot, but I’m thinking Pravda.
As Jasper Joffe indicates above, there are a hell of a lot of us out here, most of whom probably
fall into the ‘have it so damn hard’ category, who feel alienated and bored by this kind of thing. 

Searle, while professing not to be bothered by art world corruption (alright, so I’m not sure how
seriously to take this), objects that Lewis’ findings are not new. Well, maybe not to you, Adrian.
Until a week or so ago when someone told me about similar trading activities to those Lewis
describes, I knew nothing about this – and I’d be surprised if most readers of the Evening Standard
did either. Bank used to talk about the art world money obsession, of course, identifying a giant
elephant in the room that no one else seemed to want to talk about (as Matthew Collings pointed
out), and now Lewis, in his rather different way, has done it too. Why, exactly, shouldn’t we see
more of this and why should art world publications be so reluctant to enter into it? And why should
Lewis, for having the temerity to turn over the rock, be castigated with so little nuance if he
hasn’t got his taxonomy of the squirming life beneath it absolutely right? 

Fox implies that it’s because this kind of critique is never about anything but a validation of the
public’s philistinism: ‘Charles Saatchi and Nicholas Serota are frequently mentioned in the same
breath, as if they are high priests of a shadowy crypto-Masonic sect who meet to decide who’s in and
who’s out, what is validated as art and what is not. Money is the central topic of discussion –
record auction prices, is such-and-such a piece of sculpture really worth the six-figure sum paid
for it – not enquiry into why an artist made something the way they did, what their ideas are, where
they’re coming from.’ None of this is material to Lewis, who has extensive experience of talking
about contemporary art, clearly likes a lot of it and doesn’t engage in any of this populist
conspiracy theorising in his piece. Strange. Make no mistake, I’m not conspiracy theorising either –
just pondering the odd phenomenon of defensiveness making its proponents look even worse. Why are
they panicking, ordinary people will say, these effete Frieze people. Or would if they bothered to
read any of this. Why are they being so haughtily nasty?

I remember what it felt like myself when I still bought the idea that the slightest negativity about
contemporary art was somehow a threat to all tolerance and complexity of thought. Contemporary art
is a tough sell and often subject to unfair brickbats and this does instill an almost cultish bunker
mentality. But actually, of course, this mentality is a failure of complexity in itself and
encourages more than its own fair portion of BS. No surprise that a magazine that eschews negativity
in general wouldn’t have its bullshit detector turned on. 

Suicide note to the British Art Establishment on the occasion of "How to improve  the world" 60 years of the Arts Council Collection at the Hayward

From:     Robert Shell
Category: Art
Date:     07 September 2006
Time:     08:29 AM


I kill myself because of the British Art Establishment.

60 years of British Art disinterred from the Arts Council Collection and grimly entitled "How to Improve 
the World", like the ghastly double-speak of state power: Guantanamo protects freedom. Arbeit 
Macht Frei.

The longest queue was for where they were serving sponsored pies. Starving graying YBAs crushing 
and trampling and gouging each other in a frantic effort to get their cannibal hands on some pastry 
containing the ground-up remains of failed artists and the gravy of their pathetic dreams. 

A man, a moustache, an adminstrator, and art bureaucrat, Sir Christoper Frayling, MBE, order of the 
garter etc, made some tedious remarks boomed out on speakers, while the crowd of notables and 
art school lecturers stood in obsequious quietude. The new director, Mr Ralph Rugoff, modest in 
crumpled American academic garb, said some other boring nothing words, and the daring world- 
changing brilliant talents of shocking Art Britain, the world's greatest art superpower, stood around 
respectfully daringly waiting to get there hands on more free drinks and pies. 

This is it baby, the centre of it all. These people in all their thrilling diversity represent most of what is 
happening. Look a man in a dress! Look sour-faced old Nick Serota! Look a queue of people to get 
IN and a women with clipboards keeping uninvited scum rif-raff OUT.

Look at this art: an Ian Davenport and Lucien Freud, a Hockney done at college, a Sarah Lucas and 
a tatty Damien Hirst, a Doig and Ophili, the painty double act, some people you haven't heard of, that 
guy Titchner who's up for the TP, Bob&Roberta Smith has made a funny sign out of bits of old wood, 
ha ha! A bucket by Craig-Martin.  This is the best. This is art. This will be remembered. If you're not 
here, you haven't made it. You're just a feeble art student. This great art is not that great, however, 
unfortunately, sorry to tell you.

Some of the artists have even brought their gallerists (did you know that gallerist is not even an official 
word), a fine bunch of coiffeured specimens, make sure you don't tread on their toes, and don't even 
speak to them, they don't like to be bothered by artists. Some gallerists have even brought their 
artists, and don't bother them either, they are busy talking to someone who might give them a grant or 
be on a committee that will buy their work, busy with sacred business.

I kill myself because of the British Art Establishment. 

Because the only thing that matters is success (something I am economizing on) which is defined by 
success which is defined by success, which is what matters.

Because a small group of mediocrities is pumped up by reviews, scholarships, prizes, attention, 
money, collectors, and galleries, while I watch flaccid. The whole system, art school, funding bodies, 
institutions, galleries etc is staffed by the dumbos, the asslickers, the turgid bores, the hard core self-
promoters, the cynical, the insanely determined. They fly ever higher, while I stunted, die.
Because these people define success, and I won't ask them for a favour. Because it's not a conspiracy,
just a bunch of people doing what's best for themselves. Because when I was a child, I thought art was being a 
genius, like Picasso or Matisse, not ass-licking in the pub or going to the right party. Because those in charge
are boring and I can't be friends with them.

It's true that history is for winners, and I am a loser. Daring dreams, bold art, rebellion/revolution are 
slogans for knowing artists to turn into ironic posters, please stop taking them seriously.

I kill myself because the British Art Establishment have established an aggressive culture of success 
based on a few bureaucrats, a few collectors, a few galleries, and a few artists that matter. Too few 
for me.

The Revo;ution Continues - New Art From China at the Saatchi Gallery, Sloane Squ 0ctober 29th 2008

From:     Rodney Ward
Category: Art
Date:     30 October 2008
Time:     06:54 AM


The time has come , the Walrus said, well, thats the inferred directive from the Central Office of Artspeak, apart from an 
extremely shoddy little apology by Julian Schnabel - who no one ever took at all seriously anyway, the work is of Contemporary 
Chinese Artists whose exhibits are installed in this amazingly beautiful building. I'm surprised how much I liked this show but 
rather disappointingly I can identify the actual reasons for my attraction to it, disappointing because theres not a lot of wallop in 
the content - now I know you will say, that that is what contemporary art should be dealing with - "surface", etc but it does feel to 
me as though Charles Saatchi has looked at what the likes of Hirst and his army of nar'do wells have done to the Warhola 
Factory ethos, reincarnated as the rather shabby now, Britart or YBA and given a brief to the SinoArt or YCA and this is what 
they've come up with.
All so wretchedly knowing, but through it all there are some sparks, I think its a good show for anyone interested in technique 
because these materials have been manipulated by "otherness", the materials themselves are quite familiar, oil paint, canvas 
etc even the much vaunted Dog Chews are actually sheets of hide which any book art practitioner uses as vellum but it made 
good media copy I guess, its just that in the hands of these artists the material speaks in another language - so to speak, my 
favourite artist is Wang Guangya who's reworking of the pop idiom produces some very striking painting, again, its quite 
interesting to peer through the tangible object and meditate on the approach. The subject matter - influenced by our perception 
of Chinese Politics tend to seem nieve or blatantly ignoring the elephant in the room, but then, that kind of work is blithely 
extolled in western galleries too, look at Sam Taylor Wood, I mean, the only people interested are the vacuous so called 
celebrities she "works with".
This is the problem, I keep comparing the Chinese work with western art, and Warhol simply persists in my equation, I know I 
should'nt but whats a flower farmer to do?
Love it Bite it is a very good piece and that work itself and the building are worth the effort (Liu Wei) (dog chew piece), the scale 
and the light conducting qualities of the vellum are outstanding. At this point , because it is saliently connected to the 
aforementioned Love it Bite it artwork, I have to mention the sanded floorboards in the Old Duke of Yorks H Q now the Saatchi 
Gallery, they must be original and they are about two feet wide, do you realise what sort of a tree can produce that much timber 
in a lovely long and totally straight line ? Well, never mind, its a sodding big one, I'll wager a jumped up pantry boys annual 
income that those floorboards are an imperial inch thick or even thicker to boot. 
What does this say? The floorboards are not nailed or glued or screwed. No. They are wooden pegged, using the same timber 
the royal carpenter would bore (as I'm doing now) a hole and force a peg of the same wood just as us plebs would use a nail, 
these pegs can be seen if you really look hard, anyway they look some handsome and are the ideal domain for the large floor 
Some how those posh floorboards say something interesting about the Saatchi presence, not just Corporate Glob Heads riding 
on the coat tails of Royalty but other stuff about the foundations of our disintegrating society (wether you think its disintegrating 
or not you'll concede its ever changing).
The most wonderful exhibit, an outstanding painting entitled Gift by Li Songsong, rather oddly reminiscent of the germ of genius 
that so quickly died in Schnabels first (albeit late) stirrings, an expressionistic painting utilizing a photographic device in its 
monochromatic execution. (there I go - comparing again)
I recommend a visit because the entrance is free and the experience is positive, the shop is mercifully low key and there are all 
those rather dubious cafes just outside to reflect on those floorboard sizes. As we say on Samson, "why did'nt Saatchi include 
BANK in the SinoArt YCA brief ?

Francis Bacon, Tate Britain

From:     Clem
Category: Art
Date:     11 September 2008
Time:     01:55 PM

Its Bacons self evident greatness as a painter,(even on just a technical level these paintings are 
extraordinary) ,coupled with a masochistically self deprecating honesty about the limits of existence( 
theres apparently no redemption here,sir, just blood on the pavement), that still never fails to get on 
some peoples nerves. Critical orthodoxy has it that he went downhill from the sixties on, and some 
critics still try to damn Bacon with accusations of mannerism and artificiality (Adrian Searle called him 
this week an "authentic fake"), but I hate to disappoint all you anti-Bacons, but this work lives on in the 
present tense.
     Is Bacon better than Picasso? He certainly has a greater intense identification with his 
subjects.The faces, especially the men from the 1950s, when you get up close, are disarmingly 
delicate.In the sixties its almost like he goes pop, and in comes the extraordinary saturated hues, like 
the blue in "Isabel Rawsthorne in Soho".The recent Roman Abramovich bought 44 million pound 
triptych from the 80s is dramatically convulsive, and amazing as it may sound, well worth the 
money.The centre depicts Prometheus(?) having his liver plucked by a vulture, and painful as it is, you 
can actually feel it.
    The gold frames and glass work really well, raising and dignifying the paintings and giving them a 
nice right wing elegance.Idealogues, realist painters, idealists,dogmatists and religious zealots, will 
all hate this show, almost as much as I hated Work no.850 by Martin Creed in the Duveen Galleries. 
Apologies to Sebastian Coe and those that want to bring sport and art together, but this piece of "art" 
is really, really, really  shit.

more thoughts on Robert Mugabe's moustache

From:     blp
Category: Life
Date:     07 April 2008
Time:     05:50 AM


The fact of its being virtually subliminal may be part of the point - as if he's sending the message 
straight to his people's unconscious: he is Hitler; or a complete cunt, which is not that different. 

For some reason, though, it also makes me think of him as the kind of tyrannical teacher who is both 
mocked and pitied. You wonder why the teacher leaves himself open to mockery by having, say, such 
an odd moustache/comb-over/taste in trousers. The whole point could be to counteract the hatred his 
tyranny will inevitably inspire with a sense of guilt about mocking him. 

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Hotel Kyjev Bratislava Slovakia

From:     world travel
Category: Consumer
Date:     31 January 2008
Time:     04:36 PM


A tower block hotel next to the Tescos. It must be one of my favourite hotels, not because it has high 
levels of luxury, there are no saunas or cable tvs or swimming pools, but because of the elegance of 
its 1970s interiors. The 9th floor has the best colour schemes, the rooms with their pale carpets, white 
walls, oval mirror,  low slung chairs, and high-level views may make you think you have died and gone 
to an off-white heaven or ascended the magic mountain. Avoid a room on the side with the enormous 
ad filtering the light some disturbing colours perchance to disrupt sleep.

The breakfast buffet is pleasurable too, a wide range including bacon, hotdogs, fruit juices, cereals, 
different types of bread, a few cheeses, pastries, fried and scrambled eggs, tea, coffee, fruit, and 
leftovers from the previous night's dinner. An end of level boss in muscle strained waist coat limps 
around keeping an eye on the teenagey staff who are the security guards of the hot tables and 
prevent hijinks with the toast machine (will always remind me of the university).

The wood panelling, the lift which wobbles and doesn't seem to want to stop at the right level before 
mulishly agreeing, the carpet which smooths it way up to cover the skirting, the semi-circular 
staircase from lobby to restaurant, the clocks showing times in paris, london, and tokyo, yes all the 
faded glamour of communist dignity. They are the elements which make the Hotel kyjev or kiev, (there 
is a hotel bratislava in kiyev).

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