Abstract Critical

It’s Show Time! John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre

Written by John Bunker

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Those interested in abstract art who are after some kind of essential visual truth from  singular art works, who don’t give a flying urinal for Duchamp and his legacy should probably click and move on. But if you have been genuinely perplexed, annoyed or interested in debates centering around notions of how abstract art sits now in wholly new, complex realms of culture, history and politics then Armleder’s show at the new Dairy Art Centre just might be for you.

The best musicals are always the ones about putting a musical on and Mr Armleder certainly knows there’s no business like show business! One gets the feeling that we are getting the full force of ‘The Show About The Show’. This suits the opening of a new art space that celebrates the owners’ collections and their upbeat approach to showing ‘contemporary art’. But be ready for a visual/aural assault – an assault which is an important aspect of the installation art born out of a particular lineage of abstract art… See ‘The Legacy of Jackson Pollock’ by Allan Kaprow.

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

It could be easy to forget that Armleder has been around a long time in terms of contemporary art. Fluxus haunts this show. Imagine a history lesson with Duchamp at one end and Warhol at the other. But it’s the ghost of Beuys that gives this exhibition a deeply unnerving aspect; a dose of anarchic venom missing in much 90s art (think Koons) or later so called ‘slacker art’. From reading the convivial text on the hand-out, it is notions of popular culture and the everyday objects that litter our world which are celebrated here. But there is a deep uneasyness and jarring lack of slickness to the whole ambiance. And it could be said (whether this was the artist’s intention or not) that Armleder has found an interesting way of turning an aggravated dystopian eye on what has happened in art since the late 60s. Make no mistake: this show is a real rollercoaster ride through the clashes, coagulations and machinations of high art, the commercialisation of culture and the mechanics of the entertainment industries.

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

That brings me on nicely to what you might meet when you enter the gallery.  We are confronted with a large sculpture. But is it sculpture that has become social furniture (a bar with stools) or furniture that has become ‘social sculpture’? Then we get the  glitter balls (!) – emblems of Disco and 70s hedonism, overt symbols of kitsch. Armleder has suspended 12 of them, at around head height, straight down the middle of a largish but oddly shaped room leading into other spaces. If you stare long enough into the rotating balls they become strange vision enhancing machines. The thousands of tiny mirrors shatter and fragment the already strained sense of space. The ‘gallery’, the objects, the sculptures and paintings become atomised, ready to be reconfigured by the viewer.

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

It is difficult to get a sense of the real dimensions of the Dairy. Armleder has split, cut and cropped off oddly shaped spaces. Disco lights run riot in one roped off enclave. Harsh white neon tubes hum in uncomfortable piles on the floor or in strict alignments on the walls of another room. In a larger space shelving units, sometimes boxed off by various shades of coloured Perspex, contain a few stuffed animals and wilting flowers in vases. Cartoonish figurines squat beside TV screens that run footage of old B Movies. They all sit in their own little worlds amongst piles of art books and magazines. It’s as though the collected fragments of a domestic front room have found themselves in a disheveled Mondrian inspired shelving unit, itself languishing in the far corner of an Ikea warehouse. In contrast much harsher, almost clinical spaces contain CDs and album covers neatly arranged in glass cases. Christmas songs produced by a record label created by Armleder blare out. Yet again, apocalypse might only be one cubicle away! I can’t possibly cover all the surprises to be found here so I’ll finish up with the paintings on offer.

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

Installation view of John Armleder at Dairy Art Centre, photo credit Paul Raeside

You would think that abstract painting would be the art that would suffer most in this strange realm but it’s surprising how Armleder’s paintings assert themselves, how they seem to suck up the order and the chaos around them. Take, for example, two strands of paintings by Armleder on show. We have paintings liberally laced with glitter that give us a taster of time honoured staining, dripping and pooling from the history of abstract painting. Then we see others that are harsh, hard-edged and stylised. Cartoon splats are mechanically repeated across empty dry white canvas à la Pop. Once upon a time an artist may have spent an entire career plumbing the depths of one aspect of these painterly approaches. But here Armleder forces these divergent themes into the harsh new world of the Dairy. For a start these canvases hang on walls painted as halved diagonals split between a white top half and coloured lower sections, echoing the design of the entry doors and roofing supports that crisscross the ceiling. The paintings are visually forced off and back on to the wall via this simple optical tug of war. Maybe because of this I feel pushed into the paintings – always looking for some kind of anchor in painterly space that the gallery space will vehemently not provide. As colours merge with the glitter on the long journey down the upright canvases, a yellowy, brown mud glistens through the chaos. This unholy combination of glitter and paint reminiscent of fecal matter feels very Beuysian. Beuys famously used fat and felt as the materials most apt for physical and perceptual transformations. Is Armleder suggesting that kitsch could somehow act in the same way? There’s no business like show business indeed!

John Armleder is on at the Dairy Art Centre during Spring and Summer 2013.

  1. John Holland said…

    John- No, the Magik is not in “the operation of value judgements”. The Magik is in the taking of something with little in the way of dense or considered visual content, something commonplace, and believing that changing it’s geographical location will give it significance. It’s the Magik of the powerful Institution, the holy space- it’s the act of ‘giving’ significance to that which had no special qualities before.

    The value judgements happen long before you get to see the work- once an artist is considered relevant to the discourse, value judgements are rare- how do you make value judgements about an artform that’s lost faith in its own medium, in the ability of the visual sense itself to convey meaning?
    This loss of faith is unique to fine art; no other arts- music, literature, film- have suffered this crisis of confidence. So much visual art now, like Armleder’s, sees the investment of meaning in specific visual properties as somehow inherently conservative, and the reduction of the visual to the sign as progressive. Why is that? Why are Fiona Banner’s texts, for example, presented as painting and not literature? Is it because literature is a reactionary medium, or is it because literature hasn’t suffered fine art’s crisis of means, and so has little interest in re-presenting bits of the extant, quotidian world and calling it writing.

    The high-low thing is worse than a red herring. As a general rule, if a work is about collapsing our notions (always notions, for some reason) about high and low culture, you can be pretty sure that, again like the Armleder, it’ll be utterly obscure to most people, radically undemocratic in it’s blank obscurity to the casual observer- in other words, High, in the worst sense. Other art forms, high and low, are concerned with the potential and integrity of their specific medium; why doesn’t Scorsese regail us with two hours of unreconstructed bits of TV footage and adverts, or Dr Dre (yo kids) simply appropriate a copy of Now That’s What I Call Music 36 and) put it out as his next album? Because they have faith in their media, that they can use it to say things that couldn’t be said in another form, least of all no form. They don’t make signs to illustrate verbal concepts, and then hope that the Magik of an officially-sanctioned institutional space will transform a bit of the stuff we all see around us into a pinnacle of human creative achievement.
    If an art cannot be recognised as anything more than a contingent part of the everyday world unless it’s put into a special, sanctified space that tells us it is (as Armleder’s wouldn’t), then I think there’s a major problem, a fundamental, dead-end decadence that no amount of official radicalist verbalising will help.

    Yes, a lot of the alternatives are still knawing at what little is left of the carcass of Modernism,(a boat I think both of us are in, to badly mix metaphors), but something will happen, something that believes in the meaningfulness of engaged visual contemplation. Maybe a new medium, maybe painting has run its course, I don’t know.

    In the meantime, collections of found or pastiched objects looking for official sanction to be read as signifyers , free-floating or otherwise, is not much of an answer to anyone except those invested with the powers of interpretation- and I don’t think that it’s inherently reactionary or narrow-minded to say so. Imagine perambulating around the RA circa 1870 and being admonished, when you objected to yet another grandiose, symbol-laden illustration of the Fuzzywuzzies getting it up ‘em, or a fallen woman prostraiting herself at the feet of her hubby while his dog plays the violin in the corner, for being too fusty and judgemental about the art of now. Good grief.

    • John Bunker said…

      Sorry John but I need to find a way out of a particular ‘siege mentality’. I’m absolutely for the “meaningfulness of an engaged visual contemplation”and I do have faith in my media. Like Dr Dre’s it is a hybrid form that has absolutely no problem with using disparate elements from vastly different fragments of culture and bringing them together in new and what I hope are vitally alive and vitally visual experiences. We all know there is nothing new in this approach! Is it just another symptom of the degenerate Academicism that hangs heavy on your experience of contemporary art? Probably! You chart a kind of hypothetical journey of the artist/conman (again) making his way up the slippery pole of institutional recognition eloquently enough, but I’m not buying it. It seems to suggest that our experience of art is hopelessly mediated by evil institutions. That’s wholly patronising and I believe very far from the truth of the matter. I think the general engagement with art by so many more people has created some wholly new and amazing, complex dialogues between people and the world at large. I’m really interested in the role of abstract art in these processes.

      I’m always on the look out for a bit of engaged visual contemplation. I’d have to admit that these ‘radical’ moments of transformation can be had by looking at some of the oldest paintings in the world or even some of the most orthodox ‘Modernist’ Academicism. I guess I like to think value judgements are always ripe for transformation. I don’t believe this only happens because Mr Cohen or Mr Serota has thrown a bit of their ‘Magik’ dust over a bronze cast of a bin liner or a glitter ball.

      Your last paragraph is a persuasive argument that I have heard many times before when an artists work of Armleder’s ilk raises its ugly head on this site. But something in it smells a bit off to me. But I’ll have to get back to my tea leaves.

      • john holland said…

        Blimey, you’re up early.
        I don’t want to suggest Armleder, Serota or anyone else is a ‘conman’. It’s all far more complex than that. And like you say, a siege mentality gets you nowhere.

        But I do think the reduction of artworks to signs (sometimes retrospectively- see Robin’s experience in Yorkshire) is a major problem, and I made the Victorian analogy to emphasize that it isn’t a uniquely contemporary thing. And I do think the larger ‘Artworld’ and it’s ever increasing proliferation of secondary workers- interpreters, curating courses, the whole expanding economy of it- has a vested interest in encouraging this; as well as cultural changes engendering a desire for more or less instant apprehension.
        So many things described as challenging our perceptions and revising (interrogating?)our views are actually packaging a remarkably small range of received (verbal) ideas.

      • john holland said…

        By the way, I don’t find anything remotely Academic or symptomatic of the malis about the approach to making your work that you describe- your work doesn’t strike me as being about verbal signification, quite the opposite.

      • Emyr Williams said…

        Haha, you’re in danger of becoming an Art junkie John – getting a fix off trashy installations such as Armleder – or should that be Armloader? I recommend some cold turkey; maybe the Cezannes at the Courtauld? … fight it, fight it!

  2. Robin Greenwood said…

    John B., you seem to want to paint a picture of yourself as the militant in the pack, able to take on board the radicalism of Armleder’s ilk, whist casting aspersions of conservatism on others (I’m the new Brian Sewell out of Caro etc.). But, as seems clear to everyone except your good self, the work of Armleder when properly scrutinised (rather than breezed over in your wonderfully insouciant style) is akin to much new art in its deep conservatism. How could it be otherwise when he dips in and out of all sorts of genres (a trait you seem to admire) without resort to any depth of insight or feeling in any one direction? How, for example, can he be radical in painting when he is just importing second-hand ideas? He may well be a super-intelligent guy, but his art, because it makes no attempt to progress any of the stuff that he appropriates, remains extraordinarily dumb. He certainly has not created anything new. What really surprises me is that you cannot see through to this fact; you cannot see that he is yet another hyped-up product of the capitalist art-market you presumably (and rightly) despise. Therein lies the real academicism of today, which the Frank Cohen’s of this world are desperate to uphold because of the big money involved. The Julie Mehretu show reviewed elsewhere on abcrit is another good example – massively overblown, overhyped, content-less art, which is not in the least bit new, and where no true visual discoveries or breakthroughs have been made. The art market loves formulaic work, and dig a little deeper and you find that Armleder is formulaic too.

    You say now that you don’t want to go back to what Armleder offers, but you brought the guy to the table. As far as I can tell, I don’t think anyone else round this table wants to revert to anything from the past, and we are all here taking part in this discourse to press onward with abstract art. Exploring “our complex and conflicted feelings toward our ideas of ‘high and ‘low’”, as you put it, is just too vague an aspiration for me. When you start to look hard at such statements, which are rife in all forms of commentary on art – catalogues, criticism, revues – and which I have been critical of before on this site, they fail to give real insight. We need, in my opinion, to strive to be more specific about what we think is good (and bad), and why.

    • Sam said…

      Though I partly agree with you on Armleder’s conservatism, and certainly on his place within the art-market, I’m less certain about the ‘new’ in relation to abstract critical. I certainly think like John that your work is pushing in various interesting and exciting directions, but I think if we are talking about the abstract critical ‘table’ it would be a bit more sensible to acknowledge that the ‘new’ it is looking for is one which is very much rooted in the art and attitudes of the recent modernist past.

      Is the following statement really completely true?: “I don’t think anyone else round this table wants to revert to anything from the past, and we are all here taking part in this discourse to press onward with abstract art.” I know personally that if I am honest with myself that I have what John calls ‘complex and conflicted feeling’ about this. We could cover it up with statements (that are true, but perhaps just generally so) to the effect that all art involves an engagement with the past, or with polemic, but I think these feelings stretch across the site. I see this more as an galvanising tension (the tension within abstract critical I am most aware of, even if in my writing I find it hard to control, or get enough distance from) than a problem, but I think it would be honest to admit its existence.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I take your point, and indeed there may be all sorts of attitudes at this ‘table’ which my comments have rather over-generalised. But maybe as a writer rather than as an artist you do not share the imperative to be progressive or original which most of the artists I know are to a greater or lesser extent possessed by?

      • Sam said…

        Yes, but the framework of ideas, assumptions, prejudices which determines whether what is ‘new’ or ‘original’ is seen as having value is more or less modernist, is it not?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Well, I’d like to think we could (collectively?) move on to something new – abstraction without/beyond modernist aesthetics, perhaps? – but no doubt you’ll tell me I’m mything myself.

      • Sam Cornish said…

        What mean is that though your work (very much less so your ideas and responses to art?) may move beyond certain strands or traditions within modernism, and is certainly not a practice that slavish repeats the recent past, I really don’t see that it is in anyway removed from attitudes which could be fairly directly characterised as modernist. An extension of modernism (Late late Modernism) rather than a completely new way of working, a completely new attitude to art. I don’t see it as a problem – all artists need a stream of ideas which they work within and against; and perhaps a very productive way for modernism to be approached now involves artists who are both heavily implicated in it and uncomfortable with this fact.

    • Sam said…

      PS I think you are too harsh on Julie Mehretu. I’ll post my own thoughts on it next week.

  3. Terry Ryall said…

    Well said Robin Greenwood. Straight Red for you John Bunker!

  4. john holland said…

    John- you may have ‘ruffled a few feathers’ on this site, but the work itself conforms closely enough to one of the common tropes, as they say, of contemporary art- fill a big space with piles of nick-nacks variously arranged to refer to the last 50 years of art, and wait for the sympathetic magik of the Gallery Space to imbue it with significant ideas.

    You very generously give it the benefit of the doubt, but the visual qualities of the individual parts seem pretty arbitrary at best- I enjoy glitter balls as much as anyone, but is that really enough? I like the fragrent Sewell’s analogy of this sort of art- it’s like the tea leaves in the bottom of a cup awaiting the interpretation of the clairvoyant.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Where I come from we call them dregs.

    • John Bunker said…

      Come on John! You could fill a space full of steel sculpture and the same processes would be in play! The ‘Magik’ is in the operation of value judgements. No one is beyond them. Armleder’s work belongs to a particular history of making that plays directly on this anxiety. Whether you like it or not this work explores our complex and conflicted feelings toward our ideas of ‘high and ‘low’. I guess I tried to articulate this history and anxiety in my review. Sewell belongs to a tradition of punditry (Robin is warming up nicely in the wings for this role) that believes that they are the person chosen to tell the deluded world that the emperor is without his clothes. But that particular form of vitriol is hopelessly small minded. I’m just not interested in the mindless rhetoric that comes out of the fake gladiatorial traditions of the House of Commons or the Barrister at The Bar. I want to see a more dynamic, and dare I say it, positive interaction with multifarious cultural production. I too think it is time to move on from notions of art typified by Armleder’s approach (its been really interesting interacting with the art that springs out of the 80s lately) but I can’t go back to a sort of vacuous classicism that steel sculpture has wallowed in for donkeys years (although I have to say RG’s sculpture has something different about it)or the itsy bitsy provisional approaches that are all over what we call ‘contemporary painting’ like a rash either. How many forms have I seen that have been endlessly recycled in both these genres? You should take a long hard look at your own tea leaves or ‘dregs’ mate. Or better still throw them out and make a fresh cuppa!

  5. Terry Ryall said…

    I don’t know what the ‘proper’ debate is or indeed if chatacterising any debate around visual art in that way is ever going to be constructive. Armleder at the Dairy allows us to see the simple contrast between two visible features-that of an industrial roof structure and that of an art exhibition. Whilst the function of one is visually clear, elegant and without fuss the other, although visible transmits little in the way of an equivalent functional purpose in a visual and artistic sense. There appears to be much in the way of visual sensation in the materials/objects used by Armleder but visual sensation does not necessarily equate to convincing visual purpose (witness op-art). In contrst to our tension-rod trussed roof-structure (thank-you fot that Robin!) Armleder’s show lacks purpose and is unconvincing because (if I may steal some words here from Tim Scott’s excellent essay Where is Abstract Sculpture)it is totally reliant on the “facts of its subject” and is not in any sense abstract. I might be completely wrong here but I’m guessing that what Peter Hoida is suggesesting by posting his poem as a respnse is that if you want the sort of experience (and probably better) that Armleder is offering but without the artistic pretension then go visit your nearest shopping mall and generally keep your eyes and ears open and ready to receive what is all around you in the world.

  6. Robin Greenwood said…

    I did start out by asking for John’s opinion on the relative merits of Armleder’s and Bowling’s poured paintings. I would have thought that was an interesting place for John to go. Apparently not. Maybe you’d like to comment, Sam? No poetry, please.

    Roof trusses would be more real to talk about than being “interested in debates centering around notions of how abstract art sits now in wholly new, complex realms of culture, history and politics”, which sounds good, but is eyewash. What exactly are those debates and why hasn’t John actually started them off? Why mention them? Why not just have them?

    I don’t even know whether I’m discussing this with someone who likes Armleder or not. Supposing, John B (or Sam, if you like) we were stood in the show, looking round. What bits are you going to point to and say “That’s good, because…”?

    • John Bunker said…

      That’s better! Good points to explore! I’m glad a few smug feathers have been ruffled. Now let someone else have a go!

    • Noela said…

      I haven’t seen this Armleder show, not sure if I will, I feel I can get the idea from the photos. I have seen some of Bowling’s work though and his poured paintings seem to have purpose and consideration whereas the ones illustrated here give the impression of being wall space fillers rather than worked on paintings. Of course I could be completely wrong, has anyone else seen them?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Thanks Noela, my thoughts entirely. And so we have a comparison. Care to refute the “wallfillers” tag, John B, which is pretty damning? And I agree with Emyr, let’s get some pics of Larry Poons up here too and do the job properly. How about the guy who started it all, Morris Louis? Maybe we could have a ‘notes’ section on poured paintings, including Armleder… Sam?

  7. John Bunker said…

    I can understand why the ‘expanded field’ might be very upsetting for an unhappy conflicted Modernist sculptor. Proof is in the ‘pounding’ Mr Greenwood! Are you an artist or just a pundit!? I don’t think anyone in your particular enclave has gone beyond Gonzales, Picasso, Smith or Caro. I think Greenberg gave far too much love and attention to an idea of modern sculpture that never really happened. Your place in that history of art is a perfect dead end….Until proved otherwise……

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Ah yes, the ‘expanded field’. Would that be the one that recycles everything for the fourth time around, things that were crap first time around, like, say, ‘poured paintings’, this time with irony? These things we know about already, there is absolutely nothing new here. Are spot paintings new? Are glitter-balls new? Are piles of junk on the floor pretending to be sculpture new? Flourescent tubes? (Yawn) I hardly think so. More contracted than expanded. You’ve been conned.

      As for a perfect dead-end, that would be collage. Of any description. Nowhere to go with that, just keep piling on more ironic metaphors…

      • John Bunker said…

        Oh merrily go I slipping and sliding up and down the signifying chain! I do love a dodgy metaphor, I know! Oh Robin! Why are you going on about being conned all the time?! Stop being so patronising. When we see a show ( especially when reviewing it!) we are bringing our values with us aren’t we? I fully expect those values to be tickled, re-enforced or wrestled away from me by this experience of looking and sharing a space with art. Could we drop this notion of somehow being hoodwinked, it comes straight out of the not so great British tradition of suspicious insularity. I don’t believe for one moment that we live in some twisted version of Foucault’s panopticon or the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ ( although sometimes I wonder?). But nor do I believe that ‘presentness’ is necessarily ‘grace’ (and all the ‘cod spirituality’ that comes with it).

        Excuse me while I go away and have my collaged cake and eat it…..

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Well, I have to provoke you because you won’t engage in the proper debate. But you are right, I’ll give up. For the moment.

      • Sam said…

        I hope you don’t mind me butting in, but what is ‘the proper debate’? Is it something to do with roof-trusses?

  8. Robin Greenwood said…

    Thank you, Terry. The tension-rod trussed roof structure does indeed have an elegance and simplicity which puts the idiotic pretensions of the art here to shame. Its economy of means in fulfilling its function in the real world has a kind of truth and beauty to it (an aesthetic?) to which Armleder couldn’t even begin to aspire.

    Your perspicacious comment is a reminder, too, that our business here is to cut through the verbal crap about art, not add to the pile.

    Well done, Mr. Ryall!

    • John Bunker said…

      I liked the idea of a poetic response to a work of art a la Mr Hoida. So here’s a poem about the ‘pile’ of crap these good brothers of visual truth have to wade through as they courageously journey on up their little scrap metal mountains of righteous indignation.

      “Sometimes there is too much irony all piled up in the barn, and you have to / pitchfork another steaming pile of irony on top of it all, and you have to / pitchfork another, and another, and another / when the world is shit-streaked with irony that is when beauty will emerge / love is irony / purists sure hate farce / but pushing against things is the only possible way to live”

      Mark Leidner

  9. Terry Ryall said…

    It took me a little while to realise why I kept returning to images 3 and 4 in the hope of finding something that might be in this show for me. Then my ‘eureka’ moment, that fabulous roof structure, elegant, strong, purposeful, alluring. It will take some powerful art to hold it’s own underneath such a visual delight.

  10. Pete Hoida said…

    In response to this article, I offer my poem, written in 2010 and published in Summer 2012. (By courtesy of The Rialto ISSN 0268-5981):


    In the shopping mall
    Is the site specific work
    We do not think it
    And walk.

    We pause to admire
    A hundred tv screens:
    Are they on a ship
    In a soap, and if so
    Who cares? We enter
    A cafe where coffee
    Is served in a galley.

    Modern living is thrilling
    Lean young animals
    Pass, attractively, and
    Some older also, with care
    And dignity.

    We go to language school
    And pick up our cell-phone
    Where a girl, creature
    Of pure fiction,
    Blows pink bubble-gum.

    We are not lacking
    The translation. Pronto.
    It is God. He says
    Buy, lead, futures, hosiery.

  11. John Bunker said…

    Firstly, I’m glad that you could find the time and energy to read the Armleder piece.

    As you have said in the past (tough but true to your values as always) “John, the problem with you is that you like everything.”

    I guess I don’t see a way of positively drawing a comparison between Armleder’s and Bowling’s ‘pours’. Frank has his own values to which he also remains tough and true. He imbues them with his own unique intelligence and painterly touch.

    But I’m not talking about an easy come, easy go plurality either. All these visual and conceptual ideas, forms,frameworks operate in tension with each other in the wider cultures. Maybe Armleder is exploiting these tensions in, and expectations of culture?

    I thought Mr Gouk’s essay on Manet was a fantastic piece of writing and highly rewarding for this particular reader. But I also found great nourishment from reading Foucault’s ‘Manet and the Object of Painting’. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Manet-Object-Painting-Michel-Foucault/dp/1854379968 . That’s ‘Great Art’ for you! Everyone wants a piece of the action!

    Thinkers , philosophers, historians, politicians and revolutionaries have used art as an anchor on which to tether their theories or justify they’re actions. Lets face it-the history of art would be bloody boring if they didn’t. Its what art is for. Art and artists are used and abused for all sorts of spurious cultural, linguistic and political experiments. And artists are pretty good at inventing their own! Its part of the job- like it or loath it. Abstraction is hopelessly and fabulously tangled up in these cultural tensions. Otherwise it is utterly meaningless to everyone outside of a small clique who share, what boils down to , a particular ‘old boys club’ of aesthetic preoccupations. I’m reminded of the petty people who used to run the Royal Academy (see Tj Clarkes review of Picasso and British Art). http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n06/tj-clark/false-moderacy

    Abstract art is in part defined by what it decides to deny. That’s the rub I’m afraid. You can’t control the borders of interpretation by hurling abuse at those who have articulated the doubts at the centre of the history of abstract art. Doubt is an essential component. It keeps it human and alive to the world as it is right now.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      I can’t draw you on a simple comparison, then? Does it occur to you to consider the idea that Armleder is in fact just a pile of crap, yet another con-man? Or would that be OK too, culturally speaking; just another part of the mash-up?

      I’ve read that Foucault book. It’s one of the worst art books I’ve ever read, though I know a lot of people rate it highly. Name one good insight about art from it…

      I have a feeling that you are implying I’m part of a small clique with proscribed ‘aesthetic preoccupations’. Maybe (the appearance of) a clique is right, though I never think about aesthetics. Your hero Cezanne may have been part of a clique too, whose art at one time was completely meaningless to almost everyone. It’s not something to be afraid of. Turns out Cezanne was right and most everyone else was wrong, and you can’t get much more meaningful visual art than Cezanne’s. Or perhaps that’s too clear cut for you. Is it still in the balance? Perhaps it is, to a degree, but not so much that you could compare Armleder to Cezanne. But the balance between Armleder and Bowling seems to me a quite genuinely interesting one to discuss. Pity you don’t want to go there.

      • Sam said…

        what do you mean by ‘I never think about aesthetics’?

      • Emyr Williams said…

        Barnett Newman once said “aesthetics for the artist is like ornithology for the birds”

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I mean I never think about it. I have no theory of it. I’m not interested by the theory of it. I probably don’t understand it. I think it might be something to do with ‘design’. It seems to have little bearing on the kind of art I like. Maybe, if you could explain what you think it is, I would change my mind.

      • John Holland said…

        Isn’t aesthetics just a posh word for ‘talking about what stuff looks like’?
        In which case, you ARE interested in it.

    • Sam said…

      Robin – I don’t really have a good definition of aesthetics. The study of beauty / art, and of responses to beauty / art; the study (description / theorisation) of attitudes to the making or appreciation of art, which try to understand the essences or limits of these attitudes? Certain qualities which are aberrations in particular types of art-making are desired in others – one task of aesthetics would be to elucidate the distinction. (anyone got a better definition?)

      In your work (and in your writing) you are obviously concerned with how sculpture or painting should be in the world, the things it can or cannot do. Though they are not directly articulated as such these seem to me fit under my – admittedly somewhat vague – idea of aesthetics.

      But, more importantly, the reason I asked the question was that your statement seemed to me a kind of pose; implying “other artists may be interested in this thing called aesthetics, but that is not for me, I’m involved with something else.” And so I thought it would be interesting to ask what you meant by it… Is the implication that aesthetics is somehow a shallow or non-serious thing, or is that barking up the wrong tree?

      Emyr – I did hope that no one would come up with that old chestnut…

      • Sam said…

        barking up the old chestnut tree.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Maybe you (Sam) and John H are right, maybe I’m completely immersed in aesthetics. As I say, I have no theory about it. I am aware of pursuing ‘content’, but not going towards or through any particular ‘aesthetic’. Maybe aesthetics is a by-product rather than an aim. I just don’t know.

        If this position of being dismissive of aesthetic considerations is a ‘pose’ on my part, in relation to the discourse on this site, then it is perhaps to set myself in opposition to and separation from the Caro/Greenberg ‘taste’ thing, which is as near to an aesthetic philosophy of art as I can understand, and one which I think it is rather limiting rather than liberating.

        I very nearly said “Of course all artists are interested in how things look”, but then realised that’s no longer true.

        I can only say that I don’t feel in any way part of any aesthetic clique, which is what I reacted to in John B’s reply. The idea is abhorrent.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        BTW, I still want to talk about Armleder/Bowling (and their aesthetics, if you like. Does Armleder have any?).

      • John Holland said…

        Armleder doesn’t have an aesthetic as such- he organizes things from the history of art and of design into catagories, both aesthetic and epistemalogical, from which he creates stereotypical versions and combines them in such a way that viewers might think he’s saying something far more particular and interesting than what he actually is- which is, essentially, the post-modern cliche that appearence and ‘meaning’ are no longer co-determinate, that what you see can no longer be what you get.

      • Emyr WIlliams said…

        Well BN did have a point. Aesthetics seems bound up with taste, religious dogma and systematic rules, which is what a good artist will try to work against (taste is the enemy of art as the saying goes -… more nuts sorry Sam). If you accept it as wanting to make value judgements about good art then fine. Does it really matter to know one way or another though? (BN again)
        What would be more interesting though would be to compare Bowling and Poons’ poured works rather than this stuff which has some incidental poured things doing what incidental poured things do , generally look arty. John H sums it all up rather well. What is the difference between synthesis and artifice? ….Chestnuts roasting on an open….

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Perhaps Armleder does have an aesthetic if his poured paintings look ‘arty’? Not seen the show, of course, wouldn’t catch me dead going to a Frank Cohen venue and all that, but it looks like the mingiest, mankiest aesthetic you could concoct. Well, apart from Beuys obviously. Perhaps that’s the idea. Perhaps that’s why John B likes it; we know he likes to get down and dirty.

  12. Robin Greenwood said…

    Love the ‘Mondrian inspired’ shelving units, darling.

    Can’t think who you might be referring to in the first sentence.

    As a Frank Bowling devotee, John B, would you and could you make any kind of comparison between his poured paintings and Armleder’s? Or would that be, in the circumstances, an irrelevance? Would you say Frank’s are better? Or is that too specific a question?