“Monkey pump varnish” 2008
Art is in the display of the object and not the creation of the object. Whether we like it or not the gallery or museum are intrinsic to the value (financial or critical) of the art object. The artist seeks the exhibition and the attention. They may not seek the associated celebrity status, they may not seek the extremes of financial reward that can be generated through engineered publicity but they do seek the exhibition of their work.
If these arenas are important, then they are important for a reason, and the only common reason I can think of is that it puts the notion of the creator of the work, as an artist, in the public domain. Put plain and simply – recognition and/or communication with a public audience is what is sought when an artist works. Would an individual want to be recognized as an artist without consideration taken of the value of the work? Or again, put plainly, do they just want celebrity status for having work on display? Probably not, or at least that’s what most would claim. Most artists want their work to be evaluated by an audience and found to be worthy of entering the common memory (for whatever period of time) so art plainly has to engage with the audience at some point in the exhibitive process.
I call this art/viewer engagement ‘communication’. It does not necessarily have to be the didactism of BANKSY. The work of the American Abstract Expressionists equally communicated with the viewer but in a visual manner through the aesthetic level of non-figuration, Damien Hirst’s ‘The impossibility of death in the mind of someone living’ communicates in the sense of spectacle when the viewer is first confronted with the monumentality of the installation; the ‘Pieta’ of Michelangelo communicates in a multitude of ways to differing viewers (religious inspiration, the artist’s love of his work and his capability to transform his medium).
What seems to be lacking today is an awareness of the art object to be able to stand on its own merits without mediation through a critical interpreter. A viewer can appreciate a Caravaggio without having to read the accompanying wall note, in fact without even knowing that it’s a Caravaggio. With almost all the work created today in this country, that passes for ‘significant’ and worthy of entering public collection the same cannot be said. Most honest viewers wonder what they are looking at, they wonder what their appropriate response should be, they take note of the approved reading of the art object and they accept it as the wisdom of the elders.
Don’t accept what you’re told as a viewer (educated in the history of Fine Art or otherwise), take the work at face value and see if YOU the viewer can engage on a personal level with the work. If you do like the work for any reason then take one of two courses of action. Either walk away, happy in the knowledge that the artwork has added in some way to your life experience or go and read the wall note and see if your interpretation was the appropriate response.
If not – don’t assume that you, the viewer, were wrong. There’s a problem with the visual language being used and the artist is at fault. If the art work is meant to be communicating you would have thought the onus would be on the artist to use a language that the audience might understand.
Art works made for the benefit of an art critic audience is not honest work if it’s shown in a public arena. It’s grandstanding for career accolades and probably little more.