Currently listening to: Reith Lectires 2013: Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry. Lecture 2: Beating The Bounds
Recorded at St George’s Hall, Liverpool. Broadcast 22/10/13, Radio4
The award-winning artist Grayson Perry asks whether it is really true that anything can be art. We live in an age when many contemporary artists follow the example of Marcel Duchamp, who famously declared that a urinal was a work of art. It sometimes seems that anything qualifies, from a pile of sweets on a gallery floor to an Oscar-winning actress asleep in a box. How does the ordinary art lover decide? In a lecture delivered amidst the Victorian splendour of St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, Perry analyses with characteristic wit the common tests – from commercial worth to public popularity to aesthetic value. He admits the inadequacies of such yardsticks, especially when applied to much conceptual and performance art. And he concludes that in his opinion, the quality most valued in the art world is seriousness.
In the second in Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures for Radio4, he provides some interesting ‘boundary guides’ for establishing if something is art or not.
Perry mentions Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (1961) as a boundary in what has been made/considered art: “And since the Sixties, really truly anything has gone. I mean Piero Manzoni in 61 famously canned his own faeces and sold them for the weight, equivalent weight of gold. […] And since then artists have used their bodies, other people’s bodies, they’ve walked, they’ve slept, they’ve got shot, they’ve got sunburnt, they’ve used the landscape, they’ve done light, they’ve got film, video, computer code, doing nothing. Even pottery has been declared art. So art has become this incredibly baggy idea.
Continuing on the bag theme…
“If you think … When I think of the sort of bag that art might be, it’s one of those very cheap dustbin liners you know the ones that when you drag it out the dustbin and you’re walking towards the front door, you’re praying that all the rubbish won’t spill out all over the whole carpet. That’s what kind of art is. It’s become this incredibly sort of permeable, translucent, fuzzy bag.”
Near the end before Q&A (around 30:00), Perry includes the ‘rubbish dump test’:
“Right the next test I have here, the next boundary post on our trawl around the boundary, is the rubbish dump test. Now this is one of my tutors at college. He had this one. He said, “If you want to test a work of art,” he said, “Throw it onto a rubbish dump. And if people walking by notice that it’s there and say “Oh what’s that artwork doing on that rubbish dump”, it’s passed. But of course many good artworks would fail that because the rubbish dump itself might be the artwork. Jean Tinguely in 1960 made a piece called Homage to New York, which was this big metal mechanical sculpture that self-destructed itself into a load of scrap. And many artists have used destruction. So that’s not a particularly reliable test, the rubbish dump test, but I do like it.”
So I suppose my criteria for research is the opposite to this test…
Interestingly Perry associates destructive tendencies in art practice to the (re)presention of rubbish as art.