Public Art

One of the best things about the British and particularly the English is their sense of humor.  They even spell it differently.   There is an interesting dichotomy of pride and self deprecation, slapstick and satire with double entendres a given.  Therefore it is not surprising that the Fourth Plinth Commission has announced the winners of the next two commissions which provide some humour.

The Fourth Plinth Commission is a project that seeks to place temporary artwork on a statue plinth in Trafalgar Square which is located near the very center of London.   With the National Gallery on its north side, Whitehall which leads to the House of Parliament to the South and The Mall which leads to Buckingham Palace to the south-west, it is a center for tourists and Londoner’s alike.  Many people like to welcome in the New Year at Trafalgar Square from where you can see Big Ben.  So it is a wonderful spot to place art for the people.

The Fourth Plinth project started in 1998 and has provided contemporary art in many guises including Anthony Gormley’s popular “one and other” where every hour, 24hours a day for 100 consecutive days, different people occupied the plinth, with whatever props they needed that they could carry up themselves representing themselves and humanity as a whole.  It was a commission that provided great debate and emotion.  Doing what art should be doing – being a vehicle for communication.

Currently the plinth is carrying Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”.

The next two new commissions were won by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset with a bronze statue of a child on a rocking horse titled “Powerless Strucktures, FIG. 101” and by German artist Katharina Fritsch with a Klein-blue cockerel titled “Cock”.  These were chosen by the public and the Commissioning Group chaired by Ekow Eshun, the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Coline Millard of Artinfo UK suggests that the “lightest and most humorous proposals” were chosen “perhaps to cheer Londoners up when drastic cuts in government funding are about to take effect across the board.”

Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculpture is said to be elevating the child to the status of a historical hero, but not commemorating history but hoping for a better future and celebrating expectation and change as well as the heroism of growing up.    They suggested that they updated the traditional rocking horse to a more IKEA like version and were mocking the other martial statues on the other plinths.

Fritsch’s sculpture is explained in the press release:  “The cockerel is also a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength and finally, the work refers, in an ironic way, to male-defined British society and thoughts about biological determinism.”  However Fritsch does admit to the fact that her deliberate title has caused speakers difficult moments as many try to call it a cockerel to avoid the double entendre.  There is also discussion surrounding the symbolism of the rooster which is usually associated with the French which was Horatio Nelson’s nemesis as he was shot and killed by a French sniper during the Battle of Trafalgar against a Franco-Spanish fleet.  Some have asked why a German would be allowed to bring a French symbol into the heart of London.

“I wanted to do a sculpture which is on one side serious but also humorous,” she has said “to give an optimistic perspective [without] becoming too severe.”

Whatever the comments and explanations, these commissions have certainly engaged the media and the public in heated debates about art.  This has to a good thing.

Read more about the announcement  in The Times.

2 Englishmen and a Wall

Two English friends have bought a wall from a construction site in south London.  It sounds like the start of a joke and may yet turn into one.

The wall has a stenciled image of a punk rocker reading an instruction booklet for an Ikea furniture flat-pack.  It looks very much like a Banksy graffiti and the pair thought that they might be able to sell it for around $780,000.  It took the two men nine days and nights to dig the wall out of the ground and then had to hire a crane to lift it out in a specially made metal cradle spending a total of just under $47,000. 

Now the joke is that Banksy, despite having an image of the wall on his website some time ago, has refused to authenticate this as his work.

The problem is that there have been a lot of Banksy “fakes” of late and selling unauthenticated pieces may be difficult and face a lot of opposition. However there are also organizations that are offering their own authentications.  

Read more on the Telegraph

The Ghost of Duchamp Present


Appreciating that we’re still on the 11th day of Christmas, I feel validated in using the analogy from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, in that the spirit of Duchamp’s urinal seems to be unusually strong particularly in England at the moment.

Kane Cunningham a landscape painter and the head of the fine art degree course at Yorkshire Coast College has bought a house that is on the verge of falling into the ocean, following in the footsteps of neighboring houses which have already succumbed to the effects of nature and fallen 200 ft into the North Sea. The house has been rigged with cameras to capture the house as it falls and the sunrise on that fateful day which may be in a couple of days or in a few months. Cunningham’s investment of $4500 in the property was made to create an “installation” titled Last Post “as the address will one day cease to exist and so it’s a rare opportunity to participate in an original and unique work of art”. In an interview with The Times Cunningham said that that the house symbolized “lost dreams, financial disaster and threatening sea levels. Its global recession and global warming encapsulated.”

The public have been invited to participate in the installation by sending letters, which will be pinned to the wall as part of the work, then destroyed as the house disappears. Cunningham is also using the house as a studio and creating paintings of the property and the view.

He very kindly asks the question himself: “People might ask can a house that is about to fall into the sea be a work of art? I say it can.”

I would like to ask another question: Is it good art?

Michael Landy on the other hand who in 2001 took “everything” he owned included holy water from the Knock shrine, in Ireland, his car, his clothes, various works of art, his passport and his sales tax records and burned it all in an empty store in London’s busy Oxford Street, in the name of art titled Break Down, is on a new mission of destruction in the name of art.
This time Landy has taken a large garbage bin in which people will be invited to come along — or apply via the internet at — and throw away works of art. These can be their own works or works they just own; in the latter case, they will require evidence of permission from the artist and/or evidence of ownership. Landy has specified that only art will go into the garbage bin and not just any old junk and he will approve what goes in. In an interview with The Times he said “I suddenly got protective about the bin, and I thought, ‘I don’t want just anything to go in.’ So there’s this completely subjective thing that only things I like will go in. There’s not hard and fast rules, to be honest.” He has decided that only “good stuff” will go in as a matter of pride.

So Landy decides what is good art. Who decides whether Landy’s art is good art?

And then there’s the Serpentine Gallery of London, home of contemporary art which is hosting “Design Real” curated by German designer, Konstantin Grcic until February 7th The show is displaying 43 everyday functional ‘real’ items all conceived in the last decade: mass-produced products that have a practical function in everyday life. The exhibition presents a wide range of objects by leading international designers and manufacturers, from furniture and household products to technical and industrial innovations including a battery, suitcase, step ladder, an IKEA flat pack chair, fishing bait and a lacquered designer humidifier by Naoto Fukasawa.

Grcic explains “What interests me about industrial design is how these things are made, in what material, and how this has affected their language and their quality. Some objects are very technically-driven; the function really determines the object. Other objects have much more of a signature or an authorship; you see the handwriting of the designer who made it and that’s what makes it so special.”

According to The Times’ review of the exhibition the Serpentine Gallery “is asking the obvious question: what happens to the urinal (Duchamp’s Fountain) — or some other piece of everyday matter that we barely glance at — when you remove it from the “real” world and place it on a pedestal?”

Does it make it art? If yes, does it make it good art?

Artist Rivalry


Rivalry can often provide the catalyst for improvement in both parties. Let’s hope that the latest clash between King Robbo and Banksy is positive, motivating each to raise their standards ever higher.

The latest clash occurred at a graffiti site that King Robbo tagged way back in 1985 under a bridge over Regents Canal in North London.

Banksy last week, covered a mural that had been undisturbed for 25 years with a man pasting over the graffiti. He’s had a lot of flack online for “vandalizing” art work created by one of the well loved pioneers of graffiti art in London from the 1980’s. Rumors abound that the two artists find little love for each other.


However, on this occasion it looks like King Robbo had had last laugh, finishing Banksy’s picture by working his name into the work, making the man look as if he is painting King Robbo’s name on the wall.


In a world that is dominated by soloists with little opportunity to work as a team, or inspiring co-operation between artists, this sort of interaction is a rare event.

The Times suggests the last rivalry of this magnitude was between Matisse and Picasso.

(all images courtesy of The Times)

Metropolitan Police Exhibit


The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a very unusual exhibition planned for later this month. It is an exhibition from a very different sort of collector, London’s Metropolitan Police Force. To be exact it is the Art & Antiques Department’s collection of forged art work.

The exhibition 23 January – 7 February 2010 will showcase some of the investigative methods involved in detecting and preventing the increasingly sophisticated crime of art forgery. Using historical and contemporary criminal cases, the broader financial and cultural impacts of art forgery on modern society are considered and explained.

Some of the works of John Myatt considered to be perpetrator of one of the “biggest art fraud(s) of the 20th century”, Shaun Greenhalgh who with his parents and brother was named as “possibly the most diverse forgery team in the world, ever.”

It is an interesting concept for a museum show, especially as it exposes some art world experts and establishment as being fallible. Good Gracious! What a thought!

Quote From Frieze


Adrian Searle, the chief art critic for the Guardian’s quotes of the week at London’s Freize Art Fair were:

“I encourage young artists to go to fairs……..because it’s like toilet training………you need to know where your sh*t goes.”

“Your $5000 is the new $50,000.”

Just so you know Searle also contributes to the Frieze Art magazine

Taking the Temperature of the Contemporary Art World

With the Dow hitting the psychological 10,000 point barrier today and banks reporting or about to report healthy profits, talk is about whether we are on the road to recovery and how fast that journey will be.

Frieze which previewed today and officially starts tomorrow and the associated London auctions this week-end will be an interesting litmus test of where the art world stands currently. This is followed closely by FIAC in Paris and contemporary and modern art auctions in Dubai.

Frieze in its 7th year appears to have weathered the storm in terms of attending galleries. Only 28 galleries declined the invitation to exhibit this year and 165 galleries from 30countries accepted. This is not a cheap fair; Art & Auction suggested that an 80 sq m booth could cost about $100,000 for the 4/5 day event. The attendant fairs however such as Scope, Red Dot, Pulse and Bridge have not survived this year.

FIAC the international contemporary art fair in Paris starts on October 22nd and is in its 36th year with 196 galleries from 21 countries attending this year. The main part of the event is hosted in the Grand Palais, with several satellite locations.

Initial reports from Artinfo about the preview day today suggest that respectable sales were being made and Judd Tully suggested that “the mood felt better, and a slight aroma of optimism was even detected in the air.” However Tully then continues as he hedges his bets saying “but forget about a complete recovery — or a firm belief that the market has hit bottom. The yellow caution light is still flickering, and the old, (and some might think) glory days of the contemporary bubble are still a thing of the past.”

The New York contemporary and modern art auctions in November will round out the series of tests of the markets. Interestingly, Sotheby’s will have several significant works in their auction from Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol and Hockney.

Let’s sit back and see how it unfolds.

Has the Wallace Collection become a Vanity Gallery?


The Wallace Collection housed at Hertford House in London is a collection of 15th – 19th century paintings, furniture, armory and porcelain collected mainly by the 4th Marquis of Hertford. Included amongst the Old Masters are paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Titian, Poussin and many more.

Damien Hirst has managed to arrange an exhibition of 25 of his latest works that opened this week and continues until January 24th 2010. He spent £250,000 (nearly $400,000) to help refurbish two rooms of the museum which including £60,000 worth of silk wall paper from France which will be removed at the end of his exhibition.

Hirst has been painting on his own, without anybody’s help since 2006 and this is the culmination of his efforts. The paintings in the exhibition titled “No Love Lost, Blue Paintings” are all predominantly deep Prussian blue. The motifs include Hirst’s well known signatures of skulls, shark jaws, dots, ashtrays and even butterflies.

According to the Guardian Hirst admitted that for a long time he had been afraid of painting, even though he admired painters more than other artists. “I was always very dissatisfied with my paintings; I always thought they weren’t very good. It was a big uphill struggle. But I suddenly thought, after everything I’ve been through, there was nothing to be afraid of. I did two years of absolutely rotten paintings and I wouldn’t want anybody to see them. They were just awful. For two years when I was painting them I thought, fucking hell, if I die now they’re going to come in here and go, ‘Oh, he fucked it up at the end. He was brilliant up to that point and then he did these and they’re awful.’ I was painting skulls and I couldn’t paint them properly so I put a fag in their mouth and a red jacket and it was like ‘Death having a fag’. And then I started painting the smoke and they were just awful. And then I told myself, just go back to the skull.”

Many of London’s critics feel the same way about the end result. The Time’s critic Rachel Campbell Johnston started her article “The paintings are dreadful” and gave one out of five stars for the exhibition. She continues scathingly, “these works are utterly derivative of Bacon (give or take a dash of Giacometti), but they completely lack his painterly skill. And their metaphors are as ham-fisted as the application of pigment.” Sarah Crompton of the Telegraph says “the paintings simply don’t pass muster”.

It is interesting that the Wallace Collection would host this exhibition. They have shown some modern and contemporary art over the years. The last living artist that they exhibited was Lucien Freud and there are several Francis Bacon paintings in the collection. Maybe there is a hope that a new generation of museum visitors would visit Herford House drawn by the Hirst exhibition and learn of the excellent permanent collection here.

Why Hirst would choose this venue is also of interest. Is he looking to validate his work with Old Masters? Does he want to compare himself to Francis Bacon, who he says influenced him? Or is it a prank, trying to get the public, critics and art establishment to go and see some mediocre paintings just because it’s by Damien Hirst? Is he brave to return to painting or should he have continued with his team assisted creations?

So am I going to go and see it when I’m in London later this year? Do I believe all the naysayers? Do I believe the critics? Or do I have to see it for myself? And if it’s as bad as they all say, will it have been a waste of time? Or will I learn something? Will I be a better and more knowledgeable person for having seen it?

All I know right now is that it’s given me a headache!

Art for Everyone


I recently quoted the Director of the Edinburgh Festival, Jonathan Mills as saying that British life had become trivialized and that in essence art amongst other things had to be “dumbed down” for today’s public.  It may be true to a degree at one end of the spectrum, but I’ve also noticed that there has been a many initiatives to make art available to many more people; encouraging the public to participate.

Pianos have been placed strategically around London allowing anybody to sit down and play.  The BBC and Fallon collaborated to create the Blast Studio which allowed the public to manipulate paintball guns via the internet to fire paint to create paintings. The 4th Plinth project randomly picked 2400 members of the public to perform anything they wished on an empty 23 foot high stone statue plinth just to name a few. 

Now the Guy Fox History Project Limited, an educational charity has launched a project titled “SEE an Artist, BE an Artist.”   Nicola Taylor and Carlos Calvet Ortin have been commissioned to spend the summer painting in a studio located in the glass walkway on Tower Bridge high above the Thames River.  The view is stunning and very inspiring following in the footsteps of many famous artists who have painted the vista before them such as Monet, Whistler and Canaletto.  They have been paid to work, free to indulge their own style and interests but while they do the public are being allowed to watch them work and ask questions.  Then they are encouraged to have a go themselves.  Paper and materials are being made available on tables further along the walkway where anybody can have a go at recreating their own interpretation of the famous view of London.  

None of these may be what some consider “high art” but it seems to be introducing more people to the concept of art and may take some steps towards de-mystifying contemporary art.  I love the trend.  


The Times  also writes about the See an Artist, Be an Artist project

Is it Art?



There’s an art project going on in London which started on July 6th and will continue for 24 hours a day, for 100 days.  The project is called “One & Other” by Antony Gormley. 


It takes place on a 23 foot high stone statue plinth in Trafalgar Square in central London, not far from Charring Cross which is the official point from which all mileage measurements in the UK are taken.  There are three other plinths in the square occupied by statues of King George IV, and two 19th-century generals Charles Napier and Henry Havelock.  This fourth plinth has been empty since it was built in 1841 to support a statue of a horse, but funds were never made available to finish the project.  


Gormley’s aim is to create a democratic work of art.  One member of the public chosen randomly from the application web site is given the opportunity to stand on the plinth for an hour, to be replaced by another and another; continuously so that there will be 2400 “plinthers” (as they’ve been nicknamed)  by the end of the project.


In an article by the Telegraph, Alistair Sooke says “One and Other is participatory, democratic and perfectly in tune with our reality-television age, which worships ordinary people for nothing other than being in the limelight.”  Some people have just stood there with signs, a woman blew up and released helium balloons for a charity, a man dressed up as a town crier, others danced, a man had a cup of tea and another took photos of the crowd looking up at him.


Gormley says “My project is about trying to democratize this space of privilege, idealization and control. This is about putting one of us in the place of a political or military hero. It’s an opportunity to use this old instrument of hierarchical reinforcement for something a little bit more…” He pauses, searching for the right word: “Fun.”   He goes on to ask some intriguing questions: “This is also me testing myself, calling into question everything that I’ve done. Is this sculpture or isn’t it? Can you use time as a medium? Can you use real life as a subject?”


The interview concludes that possibly as a result of the democratic message of his work, Gormley suffers a fraught relationship with the art establishment, who often look down on his output. Sookes asks if Gormley believes that he is the victim of critical snobbery.  “I’m very – what is the right word? – suspect,” he says, with a bitter snigger. “There is still huge snobbery in this country and a division between high and low culture that means, yes, for me, it hasn’t been so clever being a news item as opposed to a critical item.”


Gormley wants to classify the project as a sculpture of life rendered in time, or is it just a form of performance art?  Or is it art at all?  In the words of “Rembrandt” who commented on the blog yesterday……“what is the artist trying to ‘say’”.  I think he’s welcoming the ordinary person, by  giving them an opportunity to become a part of what shouldn’t be but is, an elitist world of art.  



For a live link up, statistics and record of the project go to the Guardian.