Contemporary Art: A Review

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Highlights of this year’s special exhibition – Future Insights – were: 

  • 24 X 7 ≠ 360, a sand sculpture, decorated with tent fragments; 
  • Before I’m Very Much Older, the words set out in a neon sign, running down the wall of the exhibition space; 
  • Community Living, an urban garden project, reproduced to scale; and 
  • Untitled, a set of three canvases, painted in a thrilling oil-and-water mix, in unsettling shades of blue.

Sorry – this “review” is a spoof, but it sums up how I feel after a visit to Frieze Art Fair in London (not Frieze Masters, which had stunning work on display) and my first visit to Tate after opening of the new Switch House block and the thematic re-hang of works.

I know that I’ve been exposed to artists whose work I might not have encountered otherwise.  I know that some of them have shown immense skill or have made me think and make connections that I wouldn’t otherwise have made.  And I’ve experienced other cultures and influences.  But I also feel an overwhelming need to see more traditional forms of art.

I visited both Frieze and the Tate with a friend who’s a very talented artist.  Both of us left with a strong sense of bewilderment about why one artist’s work is preferred to that of another artist.  It isn’t down to talent.  Some of the works looked horribly like the shadings and painting-the-whole-canvas that I used to produce in teenage art classes.  I wondered whether it’s about the back-story prompting an artist to create a particular work, but it’s hard to hold onto that theory when faced with a canvas with a single paint squiggle on it.

I fell back on the old adage that certain things are considered fashionable and so they become collectable (and, therefore, valuable/expensive).  But I was struggling, in many cases, to understand why those works and why those artists.  Then I wondered whether other people are bewildered by works I find beautiful and moving.

I was also left pondering the irony that many of the installation (and installation-type) pieces we saw are reminiscent of scenes people can experience in their daily lives, making them more accessible to the wider public – but perhaps, also, less like art.

And as a final point, why have labels slipped out of fashion in galleries and at fairs?  Some stands at Frieze had dispensed with them completely; others bunched them together and, in the manner of a bad board game, left visitors to work out which label was most likely to apply to which work.  Tate Modern was little better.  Please, gallerists of all hues, bear in mind that some of us are trying to love your art, but we need all the clues and help we can get.

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