'It was rubbish! Just a huge pile of crap!'. At the risk of making it sound like an understatement, I would dare to say that my wife has a very strong opinion about modern art. We had just visited an exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre (which, by the way, is not in Camden as such, but on the border of Hampstead and West Hampstead, still, though, the borough is Camden, so, let's not get too pedantic about it) and my other half was giving me the rundown on what she thought about the mano-a-mano displays by the artists Angela de la Cruz and Anna Maria Maiolino.
I could, though, see where my wife was coming from. She was not being a philistine, no way, what with being a dancer for many years, teaching creative dance to children and having two brothers who are very good artists themselves (one of them had a highly successful exhibition last year). No, my consort's opinion might have been strong but not unfounded.
Because if there's a subject that gets up people's noses and makes them regurgitate last night's dinner it is visual pieces from the second half of the nineteenth century up until now. More pertinently the period comprising Dadaism with its anti-cultural works (Monsieur Duchamp, c'est avec vous qu'on parle),
abstract expressionism and postmodernism. The intention behind these movements was to explore art's relation to architecture, advertising and urban design whilst at the same time rejecting the dominant standards in art.
I admit that of all modern art trends the ones I always found more appealing were impressionism and surrealism. The former because of the effect of the brush strokes, the fact there's no clear demarcation and how all colours fade into or merge with each other. The latter because of the unexpected juxtapositions, which, once you get over the initial surprise begins to make sense in the same way a dream does. Sometimes.
However, occasionally you come across works like those on display by the likes of de la Cruz and Maiolino and your mind goes into overdrive. In the case of the former, her pieces sit somewhere between painting and scultpure. Her 'starting point was deconstructing painting... One day I took the cross bar out and the painting bent. From that moment on, I looked at the painting as an object'. De la Cruz's work carries a lot of emotions and even if I had not read the leaflet I would still have felt somewhat disoriented as I did. There's some humour, too, in that some of her pieces (left) are criticisms against the art world for being unsympathetic. The contradiction is, though, that her work is being exhibited at a first-rate arts centre. That was one of the issues that upset my consort, the fact that here was an artist enjoying the privilege of showing her art at a popular venue, however she was still critical of the system that allowed her to be commercially successful. 'Why not give the opportunity to someone else who would really appreciate it?' my wife asked.
But at least de la Cruz's display made sense somehow. By contrast, Maiolino's work (right) was conceptual to the nth degree. Her theme focused on the creative and destructive processes in art. Besides her clay pieces, there was also a selection of short films made over the last thirty years that dealt with various topics such as identity, society and language. I admit that I was baffled by the explanation our enthusiastic guide gave us about the meaning behind Anna Maria's art. Which is not to say that it was not relevant.
Or was it? Recently David Hare pointed out the difference between daily life objects and art thus: 'You must not think that I sharpen all my aesthetic thinking by attending to Norman Tebbit, but on another occasion, Tebbit showed impatience with some fellow guests in a radio studio by declaring that he was tired of hearing about the claims of art. In his view, a Rolls-Royce aeroplane engine was far more beautiful than most things living artists had created. Why was an engine not a work of art? There are certainly many different answers to his question – plenty of people would say it was – but my personal response would be that an aeroplane engine is an object without metaphor, and without metaphor we have no art.' (The Guardian Review, Saturday 17th April).
Obviously David has never seen Emin's 'My Bed', Warhol's 'Empire' or Daniel Spoerri's banquet from 1983. The problem here is not the pieces themselves, relevance notwithstanding, or whether they have any value (artistic, monetary, sentimental, you decide) but whether they are a metaphor for something. And there's still another dilemma: that of the artist's intention. Sometimes I feel as if I'm part of a big, massive unfunny joke on the creator's part. How else to explain Martin Creed's 'The Lights Going On and Off' which won him the Turner prize and twenty grand in 2001? If I had a penny for everytime someone told me after the ceremony that they could have made the same installation ('and I would have put on nicer lights, too, mate, even strobe flashing ones) I would be rich by now. In order to reproduce Martin's piece, all you need to do is pop by your local cornershop and buy a few lightbulbs. Where's my grand, guv?
My wife's reaction was not exceptional amongst the people who attended the exhibition, especially in regards to Maiolino's work. If truth be told, after seeing so many kilogrammes of clay of different sizes and shapes scattered around the room, the The Rolling Stones's song 'Turd On the Run' made an unwelcome cameo in my head. It probably shows how challenged and baffled both my spouse and I felt by the pieces on display (although, I still maintain that Angela de la Cruz's exhibition was very good and its message quite apposite for our modern times) that we both reached the conclusion that the outing (sans enfants, they were both camping) was far more enjoyable than the actual event. Now, could I possibly create a piece of artwork from that short excursion to the Camden Arts Centre? How about 'The Preservation of Small Moments on a Sunday Afternoon by Mr Cuban In London and His Wife'? Turner prize, here I come.
Pandora's World Cup Box
Thanks for your encouraging words about this short-lived new section whose lifespan will be exactly the duration of the World Cup.
And in a very strange case of butterfly effect (you know the one that states that Tom Cruise's recent booty-shaking at the MTV Movie Awards will very likely cause the ozone layer to crack, the ice caps to melt and polar bears to man telephones at call centres in Delhi) we have news that the recent oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico has finally reached the tournament being held in South Africa. How else to explain Rob Green's howler against the USA or Faouzi Chaouchi's, the Algerian goalkeeper, against Slovenia? But despair not, my dear football fans, Pandora reckons that since Tony Hayward, the BP boss has described the Gulf of Mexico as 'a big ocean' (he didn't say which one, Pacific, Indian, Atlantic? let's go with the latter) there's still hope of further gifts by goalies' slipppery hands as the dark, compact, oily mass moves slowly eastwards and downwards. Not even the mighty vuvuzella will be able to stop it.
Maybe it's the general, skewed perception of Africa as a vast savannah. Or maybe, Pandora reckons, Saint Bob Geldoff had something to do with it, you know, the drought, the flies on children's faces, the swelled bellies. But this World Cup - at the time of writing - has seen the lowest goal tally ever at this stage. Is it solidarity with the desert people? Or is it a (mis)conception of Africa as arid land and nothing else? To fix what could be teething problems (all projects have them, and this is a major tournament, c'mon, guys, we're hosting the 2012 Olympics here and Tessa Jowell still doesn't know what to do with Stratford after the Games finish), Pandora suggests as compulsory reading for players and managers alike 'The Rough Guide to South Africa' by Barbara McCrea, Tony Pinchuck, Donald Reid, Greg Salter. Its fantastic cover features a beach and lush vegetation nearby. Pandora thinks that after reading a few pages, goals will gush out in games like paps' photographs of a knickerless Paris Hilton on a night out.
Baseball play of the tournament so far: Maicon, one of Brazil's fullbacks, throwing a screwball at the Nort Korean team. Only that he used his feet instead. But the famous baseball pitch, favoured by just a handful of pitchers (it can cause injury), was there: pointed finger (toe, sorry) on the seam, pronation of ankle and the result is a reverse curveball. Christy Matthewson would have been proud.