Sunday 20 June 2010

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

'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.

© 2010


  1. Fascinating thoughts about art, Cuban. I am wary of judging pieces that I have never seen. I agree that they must have some metaphorical resonance or at least layers of meaning, but those layers and metaphors may not be so obvious to all or even to many.

    Tracy Emin's exhibit, which again I've not seen but have read about seems to me to capture something of this meaning and layering.

    Thanks Cuban.

  2. Your wife married you. (how could she be uninterested in intellectual pursuit or be hostile to cultural values) (I just looked up the definition of "philistine")

    Happy Sunday Cuban and family.

  3. Very stimulating conversation to go with my early macchiato coffee. Intersting juxtaposition and analysis here. Is that a urinal picture? If so, I can understand your wife's snubbing its artistic merit. Yes, I'd respond, this is utilitarian and well made for its task, but not art as "this speaks to me of more than itself!" What ever we call art at any moment seems to be related to the shock element, rather than the WoW, I didn't thnk of this, element.

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  5. I could see your post this way. The “crap” was the leaven that allowed me to soar with your wonderful Stefani video. Interesting post, and I’m afraid I find myself in your wife’s camp more times than I even want to acknowledge.

  6. Several urinals were exibited at MOMA a few years ago. Reviewed in the NYTimes too..what to say? Don't pause, keep walking..the artist is being paid attention to. Somehow finds a curator who's in on or creating the joke.
    I don't feel like a Philistine (so what if I am?) but sometimes we have to say..the Emporer has no clothes on!! Doesn't really upset me, just keep walking...

  7. Art is a fascinating subject and your article very interesting. We know that Camden Arts Centre... my brother-in-law works and lives close by and I think exhibited there.

    I love the World Cup section!

  8. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    The urinal is by Duchamp, one of the 'enfants terribles' of the art world. Dead and gone for many years now. I agree with the emperor's clothes analogy. Sometimes, he just doesn't have any. :-)

    Enjoying the match Brazil vs Ivory Coast. Sadly for DD and Kalou (the both play for Chelsea) I'm rooting for the cariocas.

    Greetings from London.

  9. Thought-provoking post on many levels, as always. I'm not keen on modern art and would probably agree about the Rolls-Royce engine as a work of art. I think I am a functional philistine.

  10. The Rolls Royce engine may not be considered fine art (Wiki definition: "an art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than practical application"), but I think a beautiful industrial design can be considered art. I consider many Apple products, like the iPhone or iPod, or the old glass Coca Cola or Perrier bottles to be beautiful works of art.

    The urinal you show here is not particularly beautiful in design. It almost seems as if the only purpose for exhibiting the urinals as art is to incite controversy. If Duchamp was the first to think of the concept, I suppose I can call it art. Maybe.

    I had not seen that live clip of beautiful Gwen Stefani singing with such passion. I thank you for posting it.

    As for the World Cup: Hup Holland Hup!

    Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Cuban!

  11. Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them. And that's all I have to say about that. Excellent post, as always, Mr. C.

  12. hello London from Seattle!

    Is there nothing you cannot write about knowledgeably and well?? I enjoyed this post quite a lot, since it addresses a big problem I have with certain art, and I appreciated your absolute lack of snobbism about it. What's more, I needed to read the 'metaphor' quote because I was thinking that Rolls Royce engines were pretty damn artistic myself.

    All too often I find myself comparing (certain) art with the story of the Emporer and his new clothes, admittedly an uninformed and snobbism opinion, although of a different sort. Please forgive me if this makes little sense - it's late over here on the West Coast and I'm in no shape for thoughtfulness. Sorry I have neglected you lately!

  13. Ah, the famous urinal. It still provokes. I remember coming into class one day and finding a sink on the seminar table. One of my students hauled it in from somewhere in order to provoke, and it did.

    As for myself, I'm open. I believe in quality and agree with Susan Sontag when she writes, 'No one says a sunset is interesting.' We say it's beautiful. She was arguing against relativism and avoiding making judgements about art. Yet I wouldn't dismiss any art work just because it's "modern" or "post modern." I'd look closely and judge.

  14. By coincidence there's a very good article in the current issue of Prospect magazine by the filmmaker Ben Lewis. It's called 'The Dutsbin of Art History' and his feelings are similar to those expressed in my column. He also mentions Duchamp's urinal ('An object could be used to subvert fundamental definitions of art').

    I agree with Willow and beauty being in the eye of the beholder. And Mim, I'm also with you on the idea of judging art individually.

    Greetings from London.

  15. Oh, Cuban, I don't dare speak my mind for fear of being thought an ignoramus. But oh well... whomever wishes to designate me thus is entitled. I do sometimes wonder about certain "art" pieces. I ask myself why I can't produce such "rubbish" and "crap", as your wife calls it. I could make a millionairess (is there such a word?) of myself. But I don't think that's in my cards...

    It's so nice to come back to blogging on such a fascinating discussion. I can always count on you for that, Cuban. Good to be reading you again...


  16. You made me chuckle. I have several issues with the stuff called modern 'art' that would require another day and several blog posts to get out. So I'll spare you and just say that I'm glad to hear your (and your wife's) thoughts on the matter.


  17. Many thanks for your kind comments, Nevine and Jai.

    Greetings from London



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