Wednesday, 12 March 2014

REVIEW: NEWSPEAK: BRITISH ART NOW

In this brief interlude between Newspeak: British Art Now, part one and two at the Saatchi Gallery, I trawl the extensive articles about the exhibition to get some kind of consensus. My aim is to talk about the two piece which i found most valuable, to my practice at least, but due to the schizophrenic nature of the show and reviews, i feel i better stick my nose in the debate. 

The Guardian calls the show a “ragbag of sometimes good, often bad and mostly indifferent art” and “Newspeak runs the gamut from the underwhelming to the overambitious.”  And for me, any integrity within the show, more precisely Saatchi’s, is lost upon the presence of School of Saatchi, winner/artist Eugenie Scrase’ sensationalised work- what a way to kill a career before its started!

I have chosen to home in on one of the drawings of Pablo Bronstein and one of the sculptural images by Alastair MacKinven. These two have superficial similarities, both artists attended Goldsmiths and where born in the 70’s. In previous works Bronstein created a knee high wall forcing gallery visitors to awkwardly manoeuvre around it. On the other end of the spectrum MacKinven’s used handrails to aid the visitors view. In the Camden Arts Centre MacKinven also glued his hand to the floor. “He then sat there waiting to see how long it would take until the institution's attendants offered him help” This help/hindrance approach its towards the same ends, an institutional critique.

In this exhibition both artist borrow iconic imagery to study the monoliths of society and articulate themselves. Bronstein's architectural images and depict the Ruins of The Bastille Sir Christopher Wren's Temple Bar and The Piazzas of Turin, which sit in worn out frames. The phrase stage designs have been used to describe them, perhaps suggesting some kind of theatrical authority, to reiterate, he chooses to frame the work, and to draw a frame. Although magnificently aesthetic, and inspired by a vast history of architects, Bronstein maintains his practice is concept lead. “I wanted these buildings to rise out of the rubble and to construct a fantastical history about them.”

“I chose this piece because of its story, temple bar has shifted from owner to owner, from public to private hands, and back again.” Reminiscent of the spectacle of the scaffold, it refers to the human condition, the individuals responsible for moving this great architectural feat from place to place because of the whims of its many owners. “There is something genuinely haunting about Bronstein's work. What his drawings are haunted by is history.” Bronstein is essentially trying to tell histories stories for himself. Using Lowry style depiction's of people and rows of horses which vanish into the distance. Highlighting the scale of the job, his work, and this piece in particular reveal “The normally veiled mechanics of economic and political power, vanity, indulgence, aspiration, pretence, conservatism and folly are left flagrantly bristling on the surface.”

This representation of  “the will or vision of the architects and commissioners who impose their ideas on the public” evident in Bronstein’s work is also a key concept within MacKinven’s. His Portrait of Thomas jefferson as Karl Marx refers to the first American president who in 1819 made his own version of The Bible and the writer of the communist manifesto whose portrait is crumpled into a frame smaller than the image intended. Pinned to maintain its new figure, it highlights how ideologies are made to fit, creating a crude deformity. His work discusses the assimilation of  information towards ones own ends, and makes no allowances, the work criticises the soviet block under lenin/stalin wile criticising america and the west in the same breath. This on top of Bronstein’s work suggests not a critique of a particular culture, but one of culture itself. “The discovery of the beauty and greatness of crime; in fact, it is the affirmation that greatness too has the right to crime and that it even becomes the exclusive privilege of those who are really great”

There is hence an obvious confrontation within the show and the intentions of the different artists within it “This clash of new and old, scientific and irrational, experiment and belief, is typical of the show's prevailing mood” The Times. The Saatchi gallery guide labels the return to traditional themes within the show “nostalgia”. I disagree, the pieces i have discussed amongst others, are an assertion of history and an unwillingness to accept the narrative we are being sold with the school of saatchi conception of what art is. These artists are not prepared to seduce Emin into branding them genius, the pieces i’ve mention are critiques art and society. Saatchi angel’s merely know how to spend Saatchi’s money which somehow legitimises the “artist” status. “Ideology in class society serves the interests of the class that dominate.” yes, artistic genius is not what it used to be, but those who look back at history seem to at least be trying to find out whats missing in british contemporary art today.


According to the appendix of nineteen eighty-four, “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought” the exhibition claims to subvert this, showing us what a vast language British artists today work with. This aim fails miserably for the most part, and it is at the point of explanation i find i fall into the Orwellian doublethink trapdoor. The shows claimed rejection of the confinement of art is set at paradox with the absence of video art and performance and hence really says little about the range of languages in contemporary art. The question is, will part two be more confined, like each passing edition of newspeak in Oceania?

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