1. Rock Stackers. Your skills are amazing. You can stack rocks higher and prettier than I ever could. You’re even kinda like Andy Goldsworthy, yes, of course. And I’m sure the process is amazing for you, and that the stones talk to you, and you get that beautiful in-tune-with-nature hum. But I’ve see so many rock stacks at this point they blur together. My eyes glaze over.
2. Tr-art. This is a combination of terms: “trite trash art.” Thank you for rescuing all of those bottle caps, six pack rings, and other crap from the landfill. Thanks for making them into portraits, blankets, sculptures and people. Trash is now a viable medium. But you are not always making eco-art: sometimes you just happen to make art with trash. Conversely: just because you made it with trash doesn’t mean it is powerful art.
3. Statistic-a-thon. Recycling one can saves enough power to watch 6 episodes of Law and Order. At this rate all of our children will be dead in 20 years. We need 16 more planets if we want to keep watching Comedy Central. Etcetera, etcetera. I am so inundated with guilt-soaked statistics. Stop finding new ways to slap me in the face with them. If it’s powerful to you then help me understand why. See: Chris Jordan, who does an excellent job of making numbers real.
4. Eco-Snobbery. As a recovering eco-snob myself, I understand how hard it is to stop calling everyone out on their perpetual green sins. It sucks. There are to-go containers everywhere, and everyone drives, and not everyone composts, and what the hell?!?! The icebergs, people! The icebergs! But just because you make eco-art does not mean you have license to aggrandize. We’re a population of pots and kettles. Don’t mistake your good work for a kind of personal superiority. This is true of green culture in general, but it’s especially apparent in accusatory or guilt-trippy art.
Ben Street at Art21 | Blog is among those who sneer at Antony Gormley’s One And Other, the sculpture which will be installed on the Fourth Plinth from July 4. The piece consists of 2400 members of the public standing on the fourth plinth, one at a time. Volunteers submit their names to the One And Other website and have their names chosen, apparently at random. Street sniffs:
Only a culture so profoundly in love, as the UK is, with the process of celebrification could endorse a proposal that equates mere self-expression with art. The project description is full of phrases that are begging for qualifying air quotes: “Participants will be picked at random, chosen from the thousands who enter, to represent the entire population of the UK” [emphasis mine]. Gormley has the temerity to suggest that he has been the victim of press “snobbery”; surely pomposity of that Meatlovian scale is crying out for some leavening criticism. The use of the political buzzword “participant” shows how neatly the rhetoric of contemporary art has, since 1997, dovetailed with the rerouting of political discourse towards an emphasis on “openness,” “transparency,” and “interactivity” while actually being none of those things. The suggestion of the term participant is that the person has an active role in the creation of the work of art, whereas the truth of much participatory contemporary art is that the participant simply becomes the medium for the artist to express whatever it is he or she is expressing (usually a toothless critique of the patron rubber-stamped by same).
For Gormley’s project, as for much contemporary political discourse, language is bent to purpose. That dreaded term empowerment is so beloved of official arts bodies when angling for funding is dragged in, but what does it mean here? And to what extent is this, in Gormley’s words, “about the democratization of art”? It means that after what will certainly be a protracted screening process, members of the public, who have conflated exposure with success, will be allowed to spend an hour of their time gesticulating slightly out of earshot above the tinkling fountains and rumbling buses. Some of them will moon Nelson. Gormley and the subsidizing bodies will feel good about “democratizing” art and “empowering the public.” That all this is happening in the shadow of the National Gallery, one of the world’s best collections of painting (and free to enter), has a ring of embarrassment about it. We get the public art we deserve, I suppose.
Leave aside, for a moment, the much gnawed over question of whether Gormley’s oeuvre is any cop or not, and consider whether it’s entirely reasonable for Gormley to claim he’s been the victim of snobbery, as ridiculed here by Ben Street.
The art world’s and the broadsheets’ invective against Gormley – where it exists – has grown in perfect parallel with his popularity. That would suggest either that his work has become worse as his popularity’s grown, or that there is a disagreeable horror of populism in the art world.
Q1. Which of those two propositions above is the more plausible?
Q2. Might the assumption that the British lumpenproletariat are too vulgar to be trusted to behave properly with art, and that when Gormley gives them the opportunity the best they will achieve is to “moon at Nelson”, not be a perfect example of the kind of snobbishness Gormley is complaining about?
PS. I’ve signed up to to be one of the 2,400. In the slim likelihood that I’m picked, I welcome suggestions about how I should spend that hour. No mooning, please.
PPS. Michaela Crimmin, who has been involved in the Fourth Plinth from its inception – it was, lest we forget, an RSA initiative, promises to blog further on the Plinth some time in the next couple of days.