Saturday, 5 November 2011

24 Hours of Art

It's turning into quite an artistic weekend, here. Last night we stayed up late watching a TV documentary on Grayson Perry's Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum. Then, this afternoon, we went to the Baltic art gallery in Gateshead, to see the Turner Prize exhibition.

First, the Grayson Perry. This was the remarkable story of how Perry has built a cast iron boat - a tomb, in the spirit of Sutton Hoo, of the unknown craftsman who is, on one level, a symbolic figure representing all the unknown craftspeople who created artefacts the likes of which are now in the British Museum and, on another level, Perry's father, a man who could as Perry put it, 'fix a motorbike and "rewire the television"'. Perry's mother had an affair with the milkman, prompting his father to leave when Perry was very small, leaving nothing behind him but a shed full of tools and a motorbike.

A work of art in the form of a custom built motorbike decorated by Perry and incorporating a shrine for his teddy bear-god Alan Measles, also features prominently in the exhibition. Perry took Alan and the motorbike on a pilgrimage to Germany. The young Perry and Measles had fought many imaginary battles with German soldiers and so, he felt, it was the right thing to do - an act of peace-making. It also, very cleverly I thought, gave the bike a "backstory" not unlike many of the artefacts in the Museum which so interested the artist.

In the course of the progamme, Perry said (I think I've got this right) how although he was pleased to be a part of the 'modern art' world, he was concerned that many contemporary works of art were less interesting than the buildings they were exhibited in, relying on the milieu of the gallery space to confer the aura of an artwork upon them. This was one of the things he liked about the British Museum - the artefacts in it were interesting in themselves. These thoughts were still kicking around inside my head when we went to the Baltic this afternoon. The Turner Prize Exhibition was certainly popular. The queue to get in was twenty minutes long...

The video work on show by Hilary Lloyd was OK so far as it went. The blurb told us that "her films are often displayed using a number of projectors to create a collaged effect of moving images with various angles shown at the same time". This is certainly accurate.  However, it's not so long since I went to the Baltic to see a Robert Breer exhibition. He was doing similar things with animation in the 1960s. I have to say I found his work a lot more interesting.

I thought the work Martin Boyce had on offer, harking back to Calder mobiles, seemed a tad derivative too. I've not seen any of his work before but, judging by photos of it on the internet, I'd probably find much of it more interesting, I suspect, than the work on show at the Baltic at the moment. To be fair to both artists, I'm not familiar with either of them and there is only a small proportion of their work on show here - nothing like enough to draw any conclusions about what they do.

I quite liked Karla Black's work - a landscape that might possibly belong to another planet (not unlike a Star Trek original series set) created from crumpled thick paper, transparent plastic, dry powder paint, and crumbling "bath bombs". I particularly liked the suspended cloud created -I think- from crumpled net curtain. I felt an urge to cautiously stalk around the area with a drawn phaser.

My favourite artist in the exhibition -by a mile- was George Shaw, with his Humbrol model-paint landscapes. To quote the blurb, Shaw (as many people know, as he's getting deservedly famous these days)
paints the landscape of his childhood on a council estate in Coventry using Humbrol enamel... The highly detailed paintings are of houses, pubs and nearby parks, without people but filled with evidence of human activities.
The exhibition quoted Larkin:  "Nothing, like something, happens anywhere". One might equally have invoked Samuel Beckett. Shaw has a penchant for the great title. My favourite picture (and title) of his here was Landscape with Dog Shit Bin. To my mind, this was an artist doing what Grayson Perry wants artists to do. There were overtones of Perry, too, in the preoccupation with the artist's childhood - with regard not only to subject-matter but also to the choice of materials (the Humbrol paint, as the blurb says, "the material of choice for teenage model makers" ). Definitely worth queuing round the block for.

As was the exhibition on the floor above the Turner Prize show: a far less well-attended exhibition of work by the American artists, Mike Kelly and Michael Smith, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery. This featured videos of Mike Smith performing in the role of his famous "Baby Ikki" character, an ambiguous mute figure dressed as a baby, wearing sunglasses and sucking a dummy. There were definite overtones of Grayson Perry again, I thought, with his preoccupations with childhood and the way it reverberates through life as a whole. There is even a motor vehicle -in this case, a drab, dilapidated camper van. There are teddy bears, too. Smith's vision, though, is bleak and minimal where Perry's is lush and Rococo. (I enjoyed both).

For now, the Grayson Perry documentary can be seen here:

You can read brief bios of the Turner Prize artists here:


The Solitary Walker said...

We saw that Grayson Perry programme too - and really enjoyed it. He's so deadpan about his almost comedic bizarreness, he pulls it off totally. And he's absolutely serious about art and about his work. Love the way he seems just to spontaneously come out with what he thinks and feels.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Would love to see the work on at Baltic but really don't think I can face the journey now.

As for Grayson Perry - I have always admired his work greatly and also admired the amplomb with which he pulls off his trans-sexualness so blatantly. I think he is lucky to have been born in this age.

kate said...

what a fascinating documentary but the star has to philippa perry, who knew she was so funny?!
....i met a guy once who used to ride in the same club as grayson. apparently he would often make the prizes. this guy won a race, didn't really like the clay type prize and somewhere along the way lost it. gutted is not the word!

GOAT said...

I enjoyed the dog shit bin picture. Funny how we just accept them as part of our everyday urban landscape nowadays. Perhaps they're more desirable than the alternative underfoot, but their ubiquity (where I live anyway) says something rather bleak about our species and its eccentric ways...

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments.

SW:I really like the way his work really radically challenges what it is to be male, from that pink surface right down to its Jungian depths.

WG: It's easier getting there from here than to a lot of places that are geographically nearer.

kate: I forget what she said! Great anecdote.

GOAT: Yes! You remind me I did a course in conservation a few years ago. I became rather disturbed by it really. It seemed to be all about going into wonderful wilderness areas and erecting hardcore paths, stiles, chopping back vegetation, etc. Much as I want wild areas to be valued it seemed that I was, in a way, turning them into museums for people to go to to see what wilderness used to look like.

Dominic Rivron said...

There's an interesting Grayson Perry link here - Alan Measles' blog: