Friday, 17 December 2010

The king's new clothes

We went to Nottingham during the week to visit Nottingham Contemporary which, with two other galleries in Nottingham, is showing the British Art Show 7.

It's a wonderful building and the people are great. Modern art can be inspiring, challenging, bewildering, annoying, but this, I'm afraid, was just banal.

The subtitle of this exhibition is 'The Days Of The Comet'. In the Days of the Comet is a 1906 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells in which the vapors of a comet are used as a device which brings about a profound and lasting transformation in the attitudes and perspectives of humankind. The main Character, William plans to kill his ex-lover and the man she has run away with.
"After making thorough plans to find and kill the two lovers, he follows them to another village along the coast. Finding them bathing in the sea at night under the comet's green light, he begins his final contemplations on the acts he is going to commit: two murders followed by his suicide. Before he can carry out his plan, two battleships appear on the horizon and begin shelling the coastal town. Amongst the chaos of the shelling and panicked people fleeing, William almost loses Nettie and Verral as he decides to try and shoot them amongst the distressed crowd. The comet begins to melt as it enters the atmosphere, releasing a mysterious green gaseous fog that quickly envelops most everywhere. At this point the fleeing people are not running from the shelling but from the foreboding fog. William is swallowed by the fog and subsequently falls asleep.
He awakes with a great clarity of mind, feeling rejuvenated in almost every way, and curiously remarks on the short-sighted and ill-conceived notion that he deliberately tried to kill his only love. Finding other people who are waking themselves, it is realized that the green gas has changed the air somehow, and brought simplicity and understanding to humankind."

I'm afraid I saw nothing in the installations that might have taken any inspiration from the novel or its subject matter. Why, then, bother with it?
The various installations seemed disparate, inarticulate and pretentious. I realise that saying such things is going to raise the usual arguments that I don't understand what ther artists are getting at... what modern art is... why it's important. These things might be more, or less, true but what is clear is that most of what was here was inaccessible, confused and confusing.

There was general agreement among our group that one item (we had to have our attention drawn to it) a slit in the wallcovering that looked like the paper was beginning to lift, was actually stuffed with minute amounts of cows' brains. There was no way of knowing this nor of understanding what the artist wanted to say or to have us receive. I note that nowhere in any of the critical essays about this exhibit in newspapers, magazines, blogs etc., is there any comment on this particular artwork. Plainly I'm not the only one who's baffled.

The one item that, I feel, might draw people in from outside is Brian Griffiths’ huge bear’s head.
A quote from a newspaper crit - sorry I can't remember which...
"Brian Griffiths’ huge bear’s head made from faded orange canvas is viewable from the street through a full-length window. Suspended by thick ropes, it’s a curious, maudlin thing that looks as if it has got lost on the way to a funfair, separated from the rest of its body by some violent storm. It’s not quite huggable, not quite scary, not quite right."
I think the reason this makes an impression and has been put where the outside public can see it is precisely because it's representational and people have some chance of being touched by it in many ways.

The rest is just so much 'king's new clothes' and some innocent child needs to say so.

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