Notes on Contemporary British Art
Summer School 2019 @the Courtauld Institute of Art
Change-Makers: Contemporary Art in Britain and its Institutions
Summary I was attracted to:
In the decades since the founding of the ICA as a post-war ‘workshop’ for radical artists, London’s galleries, art colleges and institutes have played an ever-increasing role, both in the promotion of contemporary art and in its creation. The notorious Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 expressed the creativity of young British artists, but also reflected the formative influence of Goldsmiths College, and the cultural prestige and commercial acumen of the Saatchi Collection. This course tells the story of British contemporary art through the institutions that shaped this development. In a series of lectures and gallery visits, Change-makers will explore the work of leading contemporary artists, the creative role of individual museums, galleries and art schools, and the cultural impact of annual events such as the Turner Prize and the Frieze art fair.
Each day we shall focus on a different institution, exploring key movements and landmark events, and then visit a relevant current exhibition, archive, or artist’s studio. The course will offer a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the arts establishment, with the opportunity to meet curators, artists, and gallery directors, and to explore the creative achievements and controversies of British contemporary art.
What I got:
- Four visits to different galleries
- Five talks by gallery curators, different experience, equally engaging
- Wonderful group of people, with their own opinion and strong interest in art
- Early morning discussions of the exhibitions visited;
- Selected list of the artworks based on one topic;
- Polarized opinions (the greatest possession own can have – opinion :) ;
- Broadened understanding on contemporary art.
If you prefer live discussions on art rather than reading books - go ahead. This course was well-planned, and the group has elevated the overall experience a lot.
Well, see my notes below.
L1: The contemporary moment: British art in the age of anxiety
Definition (I). Art is what goes in galleries.
Definition (II). The term contemporary art is loosely used to refer to art of the present day and of the relatively recent past, of an innovatory or avant-garde nature. In relation to contemporary art museums, following the definition (I), the date of origin for the term ‘contemporary art’ varies. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art from that year onwards. Whereas the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York chooses the later date of 1977.
Definition (III). Contemporary art is made by a living artist.
Description. Aesthetic novelty; radical; future orientated; paradoxical; international rather than nationalistic (in Britain).
Period. Fuzzy boundaries; subtle background; 1990 – now.
Media. Performance and installation art flourish. Paintings are freed from burden to be the main medium
Values. Humanism, no celebration of power, no promotion of privilege; more focusing on community rather than oneself (also, marginal vs mainstream).
Topics and themes. Contemporary artists give voice to the varied and changing cultural landscape of identities, values and beliefs.
Contemporary politics. Meaning depends on the context.
Habits. Self-referentiality and references to other artists’ work.
Audience. An active role-player in the process of constructing meaning about works of art.
Prizes and Fairs. Turner Prize. Frieze art fair.
Evaluation of art. Resolution (based on degree in which art is resolved; confrontation (which topics it challenges); authenticity; exclusion.
Art is anything you can get away with, - Marshall McLuhan.
· Ydessa Hendeles - Canadian philanthropist; she founded her name gallery earlier than she starts creating art. Toys and illustrations merged into installations. Artist’s subjectivity is downplayed – more about society.
Exhibition Death to pigs, 2018
· Rose Wylie, Pin-Up and Porn Queen, 2015
Rosemarie Trockel of West Germany is one of the few contemporary European women artists whose work has received exposure in the United States. Highly original and idiosyncratic, her art eludes categorization. She prefers to work concurrently in a variety of mediums, and has treated a broad range of forms and themes in drawings, paintings, sculptures, fabric pieces, and installations. Trockel acknowledges Sigmar Polke and the late Joseph Beuys as important influences, and resonances of their work are apparent throughout her oeuvre.
The meaning of Trockel's art is not, however, presented in simple, straightforward terms. It is rather the result of an intricate visual strategy whereby the combination of seemingly unrelated images elicits multiple associations that reverberate on aesthetic, social, political, and art-historical levels. Trockel’s work encourages a paranoid type of looking: you can’t eradicate the suspicion that there are connections that you are not sensing.
Baffling, obscure; hidden meaning
Highly polemic practice
· Lubaina Himid, the Cabin
Highly political works
Turkish, feminist, b. 1938
· Whitney Bedford, Untitled (Daylighting), 2015
· Tom Howse, Rosebush, 2017
Art and design
o Mary Kelly (b.1941) [if you are talking about women, don’t use pictures of women; artefacts, texts can describe women; connection between history and lives]
o Langlands & Bell(collaboration started in 1978) [architectural plans like logo, structure of power; chair contains plan of prison; modernity – flow of information/data]
o Marc Camille Chaimowicz(b.1947)
o Isaac Julien (b.1960), ten thousand waves, 2010 [self-referentiality]
L2: Shock value: the ICA and its controversies
Institute of Contemporary Arts: ICA
- Art as a cultural project
- Historical ideal
- Cultural outsider like in 18thcentury idea of modern art, but new, shocking, difficult response to changing times.
- Founded after the WWII; oppositional and confronting
- Historically defined what modern art is about, but also shaped contemporary practice
- Avant-garde – military term (borrowed by French philosopher around 1825)
- Social and political activism: stone breakers. No dignity of work but physicality of labour; making beautiful pictures is past tension.
- 12 exhibitions per year;
- First time surrealists in London, 1936
- Classified specimens of culture; mocked by our naïve ideas; next best hope of civilization
- Modern science opened many possibilities and ideas for the artists
- Denying naturality
- Radical curatorial practice: no money – just photographs
- The use of photography – new and innovative
- Invited visitors to perform
- Transgressive, breaking taboos (they meant to be broken)
The ICA was founded by a collective of artists, poets and their supporters, including Peter Gregory, E.L.T. Mesens, Roland Penrose, Herbert Read and Peter Watson. Often referred to as the birthplace of Pop art, the ICA supported very early on proto-Pop artists Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, as well as staging first major British institutional exhibitions by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso and Alison and Peter Smithson.
Francis Bacon, Two Figures in the Grass, 1954, oil on canvas(first solo exhibition)
An Exhibit, ICA, 1957(exhibition about exhibiting)
Oh What a Lovely Whore, ICA, 1965, (performance art event)
Ralph Ortiz and Paul Pierrot demolishing a piano during the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), 1965(period of Vietnam War)
Cybernetic Serendipity: the computer and arts, 1968(pioneering computer based arts)
Art into society: society into art, 1974(art and society)
Joseph Beuys, Art into Society, 1974(conceptual art)
Advertising Poster for, COUM, Prostitution, ICA, 1976(performance for four days)
Advertising poster for, Issue: Social Strategies for Women Artists, ICA, 1980
Simon Deny, Those Who don’t change will be switched off, 2012(from analog to digital)
L3: Tradition and change: British painting in the twenty-first century
Otto Dix, Metropolis, triptych, 1927(influencer)
Max Beckmann, the Night, 1918, oil on canvas(influencer
Peter Doig (very expensive)
George Shaw, the man who would be king, 2017
Cecily Brown, Untitled, 2000
L4: This year’s winners: The Turner Prize in contemporary culture
The latest honour in contemporary art;
The prize, an equivalent to the Booker Prize, only for visual arts was first awarded in 1984;
It is given to ‘a British Artist’ (an artist working in Britain, or an artist born in Britain working globally);
A new panel of Judges each year;
The jury decides the winner on the day of the announcement;
No age limit, except the period of 1991 – 2016, when an artist had to be younger than 50;
The Turner Prize provokes debate about art (?)
- The first winner Malcolm Morley was a New York resident for 26 years, when he was awarded the turner Prize in 1984. Also, as a teenager, he was sentenced three years at prison for housebreaking and theft.
Sean Scully [abstract painting] nominee
Christine Borland [fabric sculpture, installation] nominee
Simon Patterson nominee
Grayson Perry winner
Few points from the book ‘The Turner Prize and British Art’, by Katharine Stout with Lizzie Carey-Thomas, 2007
- Grayson Perry: ‘When you have won a prize, there is a spotlight on your work, and I get now what I call ‘Picasso napkin syndrome’, which is that feeling that every bit of stuff I make in the studio has intrinsic value and significance just because I am who I am now.
- Section ‘Growing up in public: the Turner Prize and the Media 1984-2006’
o Routinely dissatisfied media response to the award.
o How visual arts are perceived to discuss themselves? On the one hand, the prize has been accused of courting too much publicity; on the other, the discourse surrounding the shortlisted artists and their work is routinely accused of obscurantism and elitism. <…> What is whipped up around the artists in terms of controversy, resentment fashionability or exposure, seems finally to say far more about the critics of the prize, the media and the critical language, than it does about the art.
- Section ‘Art school education and the Turner Prize’ by Sacha Craddock
o If an art student is well taught, they can visit the prize and still use the work to open discussions on the ideas and possibilities. It can be difficult for a tutor, though, who simply doesn’t understand why a particular work is successful. In response to the initial diarist, school-girl confessions in the early days of Tracey Emin, for instance, large number of young female students, suddenly found themselves encouraged to ‘run away and do their own thing’ by the male tutors who would in the past have at least questioned the value of uncritical autobiographical expression.
L5: Invisible objects: conceptualism and its legacies
Piero Manzoni, Magic Base – Living Sculpture, 1961[placed upside down: the whole world under its feet. Marks the practice when the idea becomes dominating; captures radical mood]
Sol LeWitt, Wall drawing (instructions), Boston Museum, 1971
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 118, Boston Museum, 2012
John Baldessari, Cremation Project, 1970(documented everything before burning)
Douglas Gordon, 24-hour psycho, 1993[influenced by Kounellis]
L6: Saatchi and co.: the art market and its cultural effects
L7: School for scandal: Goldsmith and the Young British Artists
L8: A sense of place: Installation art and sculpture
Direct presence in the space,
Dreamlike encounter (disintegration; fragmentation of object)
Bodily experience and response
Anya Gallacio [universal experience; ephemerality]
Richard Wilson (masculine art example)
L9: Mona Hatoum and Anthony Gormley
The work of London-based artist Mona Hatoum (b. 1952) addresses the growing unease of an ever-expanding world, one that is as technologically networked as it is politically fractured by war and exile. Since the 1980’s Hatoum has investigated place, the body, and a minimalist language of form through her sculptures, performances, and installations. Her work explores how shifting geographic borders and institutional structures limit, if not violently define, how we comfortably find a home in the world. She powerfully creates a sense of precariousness through a remarkable variety of materials that are as beautiful as they are dangerous. The fragility of blown glass, strands of hair, woven thread, and delicate beads are often juxtaposed with the menacing severity of steel plates, barbed wire, and knife blades.
Negotiating Table, 1983[political, transgressive, violent, male society]
Measure Distance, 1998[towards industrial items]
Antony Gormley (b. 1950, London)
Antony Gormley is widely acclaimed for his sculptures, installations and public artworks that investigate the relationship of the human body to space. His work has developed the potential opened up by sculpture since the 1960s through a critical engagement with both his own body and those of others in a way that confronts fundamental questions of where human beings stand in relation to nature and the cosmos. Gormley continually tries to identify the space of art as a place of becoming in which new behaviours, thoughts and feelings can arise.
Henry Moore’s tradition
L10: Reflections: 3min presentations
Mike Parr– Australian artist, representing himself as destroyed (born with one hand)
Patricia Piccinini– technology influenced, animal and beauty industry
Plenary Talk: Cornelia Parker in conversation with Richard Cork
Cornelia Parker is well known for her large scale, often site specific, installations. Her engagement with the fragility of existence and the transformation of matter is exemplified in two key works: Dark Matter, a cartoon-like reconstruction of an exploded army shed, and Heart of Darkness, the formal arrangement of charred remains from a forest fire. There is an apocalyptic tone to much of her work, but she also demonstrates a concern with the more insidious effects of global warming and consumerism.
Too much laughing, no much of the conversation.
G1: Frank Bowling; permanent display at Tate Britain 60 years
G2: Junya Ishigami and Luchita Hurtado at Serpentine Gallery
G3: Whitechapel Gallery: ‘La Caixa’, Helen Cammock, Myvillages
G4: Michael Craig-Martin at Gagosian Gallery