Run by Painter/muralist Nazir Tanbouli and film maker Gillian McIver, Studio 75 is a working studio and an artist – run space, located on the ground floor of a block of flats in London.We set up Studio 75 to reinvigorate and renew the definition of the “artist-run space,” as neither gallery nor institution. studio75.org.uk follow us on twitter @Studio75London
A really important article from the Artfund website on the invisibility of Black British artists in the art history, by Eddie Chambers.
I have written on here more than once about the apparent lack of recognition of non-white artists in the art world, so Chambers’s article is timely. He has also published a book Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present.
Last weekend I attended a discussion ‘Challenging White Supremacy Within The Media & Arts Industry’ presented by sociologist Kehinde Andrews.* The first task was simply to acknowledge that white supremacy exits in the media & art world. I could list here too many instances and examples of how it operates, but let me offer just one.
I friend of mine approached a gallery owner to show them some work by another friend, a North African artist. She believed that the work was good and the gallerist might be interested in working wht the artist. Now this happens all the time and the gallerist can have many reasons fir accepting or declining an artist. But this one’s response was so utterly odd, it went something like : “Ah that is really good work. I like it very much. But I can’t really take him on: I already have an African.”
I already have an African????
Now let us unpick this. Does she mean
1/ “My clients are pretty racist and I find it very hard to sell art made by Black (and black-ish) people?”
2/ Or does she mean “There is only really space for 1 or 2 Black artists in this town and I have got my share already.”
3/ “Oooh, I dont want to be associated too much with Them. Try a gallery that specialises in Blackness.”
I would argue 2 things:
- that all of the above are true
- that she does not think of herself as racist
It is very difficult because if ’1′ is true, then it’s hard to argue that the gallerist should be a charity and take on the Black artist knowing she can not sell his work to her racist clients.
We need to have a big, huge, ongoing conversation about the white supremacy that permeates our cultural institutions. As I argued before, racism in the arts impoverishes the arts.
I have more to say about this. Especially on how our repositories of art (museums and national collections) are so deeply in bed with the dealers, like our gallerist, who serve the interests of private collectors and reflect those collectors’ tastes rather than the national interest.
* It was part of the excellent TINAG festival at Bishopsgate Institute.
My god, it has finally happened. A major art prize has shortlisted an artist NOT from the Big 6 (the 5 major London art schools of RCA, RA, Slade, Goldsmiths and St Martins, plus Glasgow – which figures only rarely anyway).
I almost didn’t click on the page for The John Moore Painting Prize since I have come to expect more of the same-same same in these prizes. And some of the best painters I know never bother even applying since they don’t come from the Big 6 and therefore expect there is no point except to throw entry-fee money down the toilet. (And to date they have been right)
But in this case my expectations were ill-founded. I opened the page and saw the list, then searched the artists. One really stood out, Mandy Payne. What awesome paintings! Yes, The John Moore Painting Prize has shortlisted Mandy Payne, a terrific artist based not in London but in Sheffield. Payne’s career is rather different – her bio notes that she has been a practicing dentist for some years and did her BA Hons in Fine art part time.
To me this is an interesting and refreshing way of being an artist. There must be something about dentistry – one of my favourite contemporary novelists, Alaa Al Aswany, is a dentist in Cairo and an internationally renowned bestselling author as well.
Looking at Payne’s pictures I was immediately struck by how different they are from the “saw it before” stuff that the big schools inevitably produce. It is is a personal vision, borne of long observation of both nature and culture. The urban landscapes are deep, thoughtful, observational yet they are really all about the texture and patterns of everyday life. Superb.
So, I’ll go up to Liverpool and see Payne’s work. (The other stuff is good too, but does not – for me – particularly stand out).
I wonder what it will take to break the dominance of London and of the Big 6 in the British art world?
What artworks do artists like to have around them? What artworks do artists buy, trade with other artists, or otherwise acquire, and why? Do artists buy artworks?
I was thinking about this when I went to an exhibition recently in Hoxton arches. This was an exhibition called Stomach, a one-day extravaganza featuring a whole host of artists.
There’s a lot of good work in the show, but I was particularly struck by an artist called Maggie Williams. The Art Book is a project Williams has been working on for some time, détourning the pages of the well-known art history compendium The Art Book published by Phaidon. Each individual page features a single famous and important artwork from art history. Williams has carefully excised elements of the pictures and reconfigured them, so that the pictures are subtly changed in adroit and often insightful ways.
I found the display of 15 of Williams’s pieces together really fascinating and, dare I say it, entertaining. I mean, ‘entertaining’ in the best possible sense. I was intrigued, riveted, and made to feel completely engaged; I started to have a kind of dialogue inside my head about the work as I inspected it. Good entertainment is meant to do just that, it’s not about passive ‘looking at’ something, it’s about really engaging with it. Engaging with your sense of humor, your emotion or your intellect, or possibly all three.
Frankly, I don’t really know how the words ‘entertainment’ & ‘entertainer’ got such a bad rap, because frankly I can think of very few things worse in the arts than something which is actually not entertaining. (What is the opposite of entertaining? Boring.) I mean, I don’t really expect going to the bank to be entertaining. Nor do I expect doing my taxes to be entertaining. But I think it’s quite reasonable to expect some kind of heightened engagement when going to an art exhibition, a theater performance, read a book, or watch a film.
I particularly adored the collage version of The Exhibition Of A Rhinoceros At Venice by.Pietro Longhi. I always really liked that painting, with its phlegmatic, hay-munching rhinoceros being gaped at by the gaggle of Venetians clad in their carnival finery, looking far, far weirder than the rhinoceros ever could.
Williams’s détournement of the picture makes it appear that the spectators are actually watching the rhinoceros mating with its doppelgänger. This seemed to me such a perfect comment on contemporary spectatorship and society. It’s witty, clever and fun.
So I had to have it. Right now I’m in the middle of writing a book about the relationship of cinema and art, and I knew immediately that Williams’s version of the Longhi painting is just what I really needed to have above my desk. It’s keeping me grounded, keeping my writing rooted in the real world, preventing me from going into academic contortions. It’s reminding me to write with wit and humour as well as precision, and to try to make the book entertaining to its eventual readers. It’s reminding also that although the process of spectatorship changes, but our human desire to spectate never really does. It’s reminding me that what looks strange and bizarre in one era, becomes utterly commonplace in another.
I was able to arrange to meet Williams and purchase the picture, and I found out bit more about her. She graduated from the University of Hertfordshire in 2011, and now lives in London, where she’s showing her work in group shows around town. The works displayed on her website show that she explores the intersection between fine art and popular culture, without wasting time in callous irony. Her work is fresh and often surprising, with a cleverness which is both humane and devastatingly well observed. I like it very much, and I’d like to see more of it. And I’d like you to see it too.
Representation and culture, part whatever (this one’s gonna run and run, I fear … )
and so the culture wars begin …
actually they have been pretty quiet wars, but they are on nevertheless.
I started writing about the way that I have been struck again and again by how just a few London art schools dominate the “art world” here in the UK.
Given that they are all kn the public university system and charge te same feess one might wonder why the London schools offer so much better tuition that shcools in, say, Leeds or Notitngham. Do they? Well if the “art world” is anything to go by, they certainly do. But it’s impossible.
So, then I started to notice that the demographic of the London “art world” is quite astonishingly unrepresentative of London culture. I mean, utterly not representative.
I’m not terribly surprised by this. I don’t think it was ever meant to be representative.
I mean, let’s go back into history – to the founding of the RA and the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The ‘art world’ has long been about defining boundaries and creating the “in” and the “out” and pretending it’s all about the “quality” of the art. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it really just isn’t. Do I need to cite examples of stuff that was locked “out”, but went on to be groundbreaking? And more examples of stuff that was celebrated “in”, but we would not use as a coaster today?
What is “quality” anyway – that shifting, imprecise category – and whose quality, and who defines it? Does it mean, adhering to principles set down by an Anglo-American-Western European aesthetic?
Or is it something else? Is it quantifiable? Is it about price – that is, the best art is that which can bring the best price? (Er, no that’s not where we want to go is is? Is it?)
Ithas to be said that the Anglo-American-Western European aesthetic – sometimes called the “international style” is dominant. That’s why all the biennials and the blockbuster contemporary art shows look the same.
So, again, why IS the art world so nervous around the idea of a broader aesthetic perspective? And why do we just accept it?
We can not really pretend that ideology is not part of the process.
It’s the smack of “them-ness” that I don’t feel comfortable with. The idea that anything which does not fall into the “international style” but instead refelcts a different aesthetic, perhas even a hybrid one, is not quite quality enough. Or is too unfamiliar. So it’s art about and for “them” not “us”.
But come on – it’s London – the biggest “us” in the world! I refuse to see my fellow citizens and neighbours here in the UK as “them” even though their art work is not much visible. Her ein London now we have the means and the personnel to make the best most interesting most different art in the whole world! Cos everyone is here, now, mixing it up.
But I think that we are just not even talking about it. Open the conversation and you hear the sharp intake of breath. Uh, oh. Nobody wants to go there. Upset the apple-cart of the canon, and you have no hope of getting aboard.
For more on Ideology see Zizek / Fiennes latest:
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY