Monday, August 9, 2010

In defence of modern art, again.

I spent some time at the Kilkenny arts festival this weekend, however the shows I had intended on seeing were sold out - so instead I spent my time perusing the many art exhibitions and street performances available and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

The first exhibition I saw was by a movement by women known as the Guerrilla Girls( ) who "... use their wit, website and interactive multimedia events to combat sexism, racism and social injustice, focusing attention on such taboo subjects as workplace discrimination, armed forces recruitment tactics in schools, and abortion access.". It was fascinating and inspiring to finally see an exhibition on feminism without the overscribed attachment to sexuality and instead focusing on the issues as those of women as a gender. There were few people wandering around, but those who were were interested and respectful of a gallery setting, reading, educating and perusing with wonder, or so their faces said. There was no air of pretension, just onlookers interacting with a statement on the world in which we live. Refreshing. And so on I went to my next exhibition, in the castle.

"Tony O’Malley holds an important and distinguished position in the history of twentieth century Irish art. A highly respected and beloved artist, his works are represented in all major Irish museums and included in the most significant public and private collections of Irish art. " ... And really I would have to say that the sculptures in this exhibition were mesmerising. I am struggling to find images of the newly unveiled show, but you can get a sense of it here What I found about this exhibition launch was the stark contrast between it and the one I had just come from - This was the kind of exhibition that invited the most pretentious kinds of people, mixed in with those who just wanted free wine and would not get served for being underage.Wandering around it was difficult to get lost in the pieces, it was overcrowded with poncy aspiring middle class art heads standing in the way of the pieces, drinking wine and discussing the "metaphysical levels" of the individual works and how they appealed "deeply", of how when they knew him when he was alive that he was such a friend, and of course how his wife Jane, in attendance, used to look so much better years ago. It was snobbery of the highest order. all of which detracted from the exhibition itself. But the pieces were spectacular - driftwood painted and loved and transformed into living instruments and characters - the Sea Harps genuinely sang and the faces really did stare out at you as you stood there in judgement and wonder. Though there was a sad feeling wandering around, that this art, real art from real wood and created purely was being judged on the most pretentious levels going, it is still an exhibition well worth seeing.

And so we moved onto a jewelry exhibition. I am not even sure where to start on this one. The jewelry was beautiful, expensive, but beautiful. The point at which I left was when we were patronisingly called over for a "private public showing" to ogle wooden bowls and discuss how the smooth texture of the creation set it apart as almost fantastical. It was a wooden bowl. A nice bowl, but just a wooden bowl. ( - This isn't even the particular bowl we were invited to ooh over, this one looks far more detailed)

Five minutes later we were in another gallery off the beaten track in a two room enclosure with "modern art". The first room I entered had 4 pieces on the walls. I could have made them myself, and be really rich and important now. One wall held 2 canvasses, identical black bordered smudged only at the edges ivory canvasses - one called "The Lane" and the other "untitled". Facing them was a red canvas with a large (, but symmetrical and proportionate, white square in the top right corner. On the wall perpendicular to that was the red canvasses mirror image canvas, except it was blue. I will admit that the other room held some rather nice pieces of art, but again nothing that would set them aside as the next Francis bacon. All in all an extremely disappointing exhibition.

And so ended my tour of modern art in the Kilkenny arts festival. I spend so many days defending "modern art" and speaking about how it can really affect you if you open up to it - talking about amazing artists like the aforementioned Bacon and indeed the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, or the endless list of worthwhile shows in the Tate Modern - all the while being met with arguments like"Isn't all modern art just blank canvasses, why would I want to see that? It's not art" and me crying "Nooooo, you're missing the point!" and trying in vain to convert those who have had the experiences I just had in Kilkenny, where some absolute muppet paints a blank canvas and masquerades it as art, worthwhile art, and dares to patronise you because you just do not understand it. Bullshit. Art is supposed to challenge you, to call on something in you that either makes you reassess your morals and outlook on life, or else appeals to something in it with which you identify - it is not supposed to make you sit there and wonder are you smart enough to really understand what is going on, and if it does do that, then it has failed, I think. There is a difference between being challenged by a piece and being made a fool of.

I feel certain that those people in the Tony O' Malley exhibition would have thought the mono-coloured canvasses were wonders of art, that they too spoke on many "metaphysical levels" and were worthy of high praise. Those people would also have told the emperor that his new outfit was a marvelous fit and think that Bono is a god, simply because the masses say he is. The world needs to grow some individuality genes and cop on. You are not a lemming. Take the art, look at it, appreciate it if it's genuinely worthy of that, and say it's rubbish if it is - do not take my word for it, and do not take theirs.

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