I start with Anselm Kiefer here, because I experienced it too:
“”Art is difficult,” says the 66-year-old firmly. “It’s not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art – it’s very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it’s art or not. Buying art is not understanding art.”
I extend that to new curators like Philip McCrilly who installed 17 works of art in the Project Space of the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast. On the left of this installation view, next to the plant in the pot is Sharon Murphy’s Portfolio, 2014 complete with white gloves for turning the pages. The plant “domesticates” an object whose inner hierarchy places it into cabinets, museums, and esoteric collections.
On the shelf on the far wall are two objects by Stuart Calvin, bottle of Kombucha tea, sharp angled construction by Michael Sheppard, and Paul Moore’s acrylic painting on i Phone.
On the right, on the floor, is Martin McCrilly’s record player providing a sound of CAN, Ege Bamyasi, 1972.
The second installation view looks in the opposite direction towards the back wall. The record player is now on your left. The first shelves house – from the top left – John Rainey‘s 3D printed objects of museum pieces Putti and Goat – Phases 1-4 2014) – next to an animated film Interlude 2014 (duration 3’22”). The grey somnabulent heap is Unresolved,2015, by Erin Hagan. Just about visible are few parts of the sculpture by Sinead McKeever. The second shelves house – from the top- sculptures by Christopher Campbell, a ten minutes film (2012) and a plastic model (2015)by Michael Sheppards and a sculpture by Sinead McKeever.
This display of 16 works of art (plus one not visible on either shot by Bronagh McGuiness) is utterly utilitarian, even if Erin Hagan introduces Unsolved,2015, acrylic,PVA – it is the greyish matter with an opening at the top,
half denuded pyramid, half a sea creature catching some oxygen –
on the shelf beneath the monitor. Keeping private its identity, the form resists one meaning, in some long distance whisper to the wooden shelf opposite, to the IPhone positioned near the window. Paul Moore placed abstract blobs in vivacious hues on it and called it Plastic Data (2016), acrylic on IPhone.
Object could have easily swapped placement and this freedom from any particular order breaks down any stable attempt for hierarchy of value or aesthetic experience. Nine artists thus co-operated, or were made to accept, the curator’s will. Phillip McCrilly aims to question the legitimacy of the group show format as a ground for “productive exchange”(see the gallery handout).
McCrilly, eager to promote a group show as an alternative mode of representation makes it compete with a display of art by a single artist’s oeuvre in addition to other modes of representation like discussions, interviews, writing, documentation, video and TV programs.
Sheppard works like JS Bach – variation of a theme – the materials repeat like melody in a fugue. The shared materials however end up with two different styles of making something visible – abstract and descriptive. hence – there is an exchange already “inside” one artist’s way of making things visible.
It appears that the curator is more, not exclusively, concerned with the possible “exchange” of different kinds: when a private artist’s intention manifested in an object meets another and results in a sublimation of intrinsic value into an instrumental one. I am aware of a loss that also influences the second kind of exchange – when every work is at the same time on its own to safeguard its own aesthetic impact aginst the influence of a neighbouring object. . At times, McCrilly makes it compete directly with natural forms, plants or vegetables.
By the way – the shadows on the wall work as a visual supplement imbued with visual poetics. But back to the Groupshow aim. Is there anything to be gain by rough confrontation amongst works of art of similar “style”? Are the exhibits sharing a style?
I borrow for a moment Meyer Schapiro’s definition of style:
“Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personality of the artist and the overall outlook of a group are visible. It is also a vehicle of expression within the group, communicating and fixing certain values of religious, social, and moral life through the emotional suggestiveness of forms.”
Emotional suggestiveness of forms is charged with communicating values grounded in life. The curator’s decision to juxtapose art with living forms is a promising strategy for success, which is immediately undermine by the art not made to his order. Regardless what art was available for the selection no work of art can be directed so precisely to all different viewers. This, in turn, makes Schapiro’s definition dependent on slippages from one subjective view to another. The question is whether his first part of definition fares better, that style is a shared way to make something visible. Surprisingly, the machine made bottle and hand made plaster bowls share the curved outlines willingness to fit your palm. The machine aesthetics does not dwarf the irregularities in the handmade bowls, opposite, it is working together, like a duo, given different melodies but on the same sheet of music. Calvin‘s respect for the will of the material and modelling hand does not diminish each bowl’s confidence to abandon the utilitarian function and become an aesthetic autonomous object – just to looks at, or perhaps handle it carefully. The one on the left even flirts with tromp l’oeil!
Schapiro also offers an fluid exchanges between art and nature as between result and material used.
“Nature and abstract forms are both materials for art, and the choice of one or the other flows from historically changing interests.”
( accessed on http://www.theartstory.org/critic-schapiro-meyer.htm)
Near enough to McCrilly’s productive exchange? If the system of forms is shared – what else may be that productive exchange? Or does it work only if the group has not shared system of forms?
Historically, groups of artists came together to share work on large medieval commissions, or confront and improve upon some hostile attitudes to their art during the conflict between academia and early Modernism. There were many groups of artists during the European art of the first half of the 29th C rooted in the need for psychological and social support for a particular art practice. However, this groups show does not face those needs, as it gently develops already established art practices.
Take illuminated manuscripts as shared by a group in a monastery. They had a fixed content, available tools, accommodation and food, and enough time to make art perceived as a duty.
The marginalia were the play area for freedom to escape the rigid ideology. Until the Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean painted the calender for the Duc Jean de Berry with images of earthly life.ann and Jean. They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.
They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.
Medieval sculptors/ stonemasons worked in groups travelling from a cathedral to a cathedral, painters journeyed from a workshop to a workshop, from a commission to a commission. They were organised in guilds – with St Luke the patron saint who is often represented as a painter.
With the rise of academies, salons arbitrarily accepted or rejected a work of art – hanging all from the ground to the ceiling in clusters utterly divorced from any regard for what each work of art could cope with.
As a revolt against the dominant power of salons and academies, artists searched for spaces – not just galleries – to exhibit esp after the authorities refused Manet’s paintings. A little later the Impressionists held their first exhibition in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar.
The 20th C added a powerful private art dealers to the mix. While they made some artists famous and well off – they could not do that for all living artists. Moreover, the younger generation was often displaced by artist from the distant past. Art dealers both in Belfast and Dublin have a continuous history of supporting living artists. As an example I shall introduce here Jamshid Fenderesky who started at the cellar of a terrace house on Malone Road with the sad assessment that people of Belfast do not like art.
Until 26th February 2016 Fenderesky hosts AIRMAIL – an exhibition of small works on paper by 23 artists curated by Richard Gorman. It is a full of beautiful stubbornly individual slivers of beauty, sometimes sounding a brutal alarm of strong hues juggling their own building power with restrains of the format. I admit the huge variety of art suits me as a visitor – it is not just an aesthetic diet controlled by ideology, it is indeed Schiller’s Kingdom of Freedom engaged in domestic setting. It is neither white cube nor a factory hangar – you need to switch on ceiling light as you may do at home.
The AIRMAIL and GROUPSHOW are both curated by an artist. While Gorman simply delights in exquisite watercolors by Roisin Lewis and importance of the “immaterial ” in paintings, pastels and prints, McCrilly offers greater openness to less usual materials and the insecure discoveries. If Groman’s selection is like a gloria choral, McCrilly leaves the art in the cold light of the day to wait for a sympathetic eye. And there are rewards.
The curator added a piece of purple vegetable – incongruous, and not too impacting on/ nor interfering with, the aesthetics of McKeever’s elegant wave with an animated eye.
As if looking over the shoulder at siblings in the trade, like Alberto Cavalieri Pipeline, 2014.
In turn, Pipeline reminds me of “personages” by David Smith even if these three are angular. It is the immersion of one unfinished form in an embrace of another that suggest the complete sculpture that I find shared by the two concepts of sculpture in metal. How far they both are from the history of the traditional bronzes…
If McKeever offering caresses the eye by drawing in the air, an idea that revives and is emotionally different from David Smith’s take on that, she is still equally faithful to the material that allows her to make immaterial visible. Both the wave and the spiral resonate with living forms in our associations.
No contemporary exhibition is ever without a video. here we have two: Traditional Route (2012) by Michael Sheppard is ten minutes with sound of a 16mm film transferred to DVD.
The second is an animated film by John Rainey Interlude 2014, 3min 22 seconds, sharing the subject of putti and goat with his 3D printed objects based on models in a museum.
These small objects are denied the the communication Calvin’s bowls were effortlessly using because of the way they were at eye level and near the viewer. The grey shelves and high up placement mitigate against a delight of recognising what is made visible – it is as if both the artist and the curator colluded in creating a disadvantage for what may be visible.
An opposite is given to visual loud figurines by Christopher Campbell.
Simulacrumming all over my face and teets, 2016, resin, polymer, acrylic paint
are faithful followers of Campbells art practice developed over the decade or so. On a miniscule scale, they handle themselves well even in two – dimensional view on a screen.
By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson
By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson ( see http://www.braskart.com)
I am not sure whether Campbell saw Johanson’s paintings, but let me assume that he did not, for a simple reason that his own style developed over years and stayed resolutely off two-dimensional images. The two artist shared similar forms, similar emotional detachment that easily slips into its opposite, and simplicity charged to treat complex cultural contexts.
The resonance between the two is not then a result of productive exchange described by McCrilly – it is more akin a mysterious way of imagination not fully conscious.
Images courtesy GTG