12 NOVEMBER 2012
YES - BUT IS IT ART?
This week I want to take the opportunity to stop and smell some flowers – or at least, one in particular.
Over the last month or so I have been focussed on resurrecting my writing career after my holiday away. But things are currently in the doldrums - Agent 002 has failed to respond to the email I sent him a fortnight ago and seems to have gone into hibernation for the winter, while my publishers (God bless them) have gone to America to vote. God save them too, as they’ve been caught up in Hurricane Sandy. I hear that their house has been damaged and this all means that my attempt to have CAROL’S CHRISTMAS ebooked in time for the festive season has been delayed. As you may recall, I too visited America in September and their adventure has caused me to fetch out the notebook I took with me and review some of its contents.
I’ve already mentioned that my Dear Lady Wife studies the History of Art. This association has led me to take an interest in the subject and I often accompany her when she visits the galleries. Besides enjoying looking at the paintings etc., I’m sometimes able to add an untutored and side-on view of things that she doesn’t always see. Occasionally I have a point but more often than not there’s a good explanation.
When we were in New York, we naturally visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, both of which lived up to expectation. We also went to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) and it was our trip there that furthered my long-standing problem with ‘conceptual art’. I don’t understand it, I don’t much care for it, and even DLW can’t tell me what it’s about – in fact, no-one I’ve met so far really can and it causes me to doubt whether it’s actually ‘art’ at all.
I clearly remember where and when I first came across it. It was December 2010, we were visiting London on the occasion of a special birthday (it would embarrass me to tell you which one) and as part of our celebrations we had decided to visit Tate Modern. It was at the time of the ‘wobbly bridge’, the gallery had just opened and there was an enormous amount of interest. Rightly so, as the project to convert the old power station was a great event.
Two things stand out for me from that visit. Firstly, the Turbine Hall. What an impression it made as we walked into that huge and uncluttered space! It felt as if we had entered a modern cathedral cleared of its pews. To make any sense of it at all the installation it housed would have to be massive – and it was. A huge metal spider, some twenty or thirty feet tall towered over us, presenting both a physical and a mental challenge. We could have been on a set from Star Wars and I remember being simultaneously intimidated and exhilarated. It was brilliant!
My other recollection was not so agreeable. In one of the later rooms, we came across a glass of water perched on a small wooden shelf screwed to the wall some nine feet from the floor. A notice nearby proclaimed this to be ‘an oak tree’. The reason it was an oak tree, the artist told us, was because he said so. Utter bilge. It was not an oak tree and no matter what the artist said, it never would be, but I was being asked to accept this delusion in the name of ‘conceptual art’. I refused. I felt cheated and my response when we discussed it in the cafe later over a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate cake, was to arrange two of our chairs next to the wall, put the empty cups on the seats (one of them carefully made to look as if it had been accidently knocked over) and sprinkle the crumbs from the cake on the floor. Had I been able to find something suitable, my intention was to rope this ‘installation’ off and put up my own notice declaring it to be an octopus. My future as a modern artist would then have been assured.
There are parts of modern art about which I have long harboured suspicions – hopefully at some point in the future I’ll come back and talk about them, too – but let’s for the moment focus on ‘conceptual art’ and this example in particular. I want to start a debate about it and I’m anxious to see if it’s just me or whether anyone else has similar views. Or perhaps there’s someone out there who can tell me (in plain English) what exactly ‘conceptual art’ is – if so, I’d love to hear from you.
So, what do you think? A glass of water on a shelf screwed to the wall - is it an oak tree? Is it art? Or is it bilge? Your thoughts please in the response box below. Provided they’re ‘decent’ I’ll publish them all.