Showing until April 9th, Anna Barriball's exhibition 'Exhibition' fills both floors of the gallery. Walking in with no foreknowledge, we were at first perplexed and then, finally, made somewhat angry by what we saw. Two dimensional objects, such as a five pound note, coloured in with ink; pencil rubbings made of doors and windows; rolls of graphite or paint-covered paper placed against the walls; found photos spotted with ink; a whole wall of stencil-patterning.
Here is art that is made using techniques common to primary education, masquerading as interdisciplinary work where "drawings are also sculptures, sculptures are drawings". These are basic techniques being exhibited as elitist art and I was utterly disengaged by them.
Without reading about the work, I saw nothing here but surface; a gallery of superficial 'art'. After reading the exhibition guide, which uses several hundred words to say almost nothing, I felt no more disposed to the work. More to the point, the long-winded descriptions of the pieces in fact angered me.
|Anna Barriball, Untitled, 2009. |
Pencil on Paper, 218 x 134 cm.
Of the ten paragraphs in the guide, of which this is one of the shorter ones, there is little more explanation of the work than this. Barriball's techniques are laid bare in rather grand eloquent terms, that try to disguise what could be seen as rather infantile mark making processes. If anything, rather than serve as an intermediary, an explanation that helps the views to enter the work, the guide slams the door in our faces. Like the art, it simply says that if you do not know and use the word 'liminal', you have no place here.
This exhibition is a retrospective and one where the majority of the pieces are called 'untitled'. There seems to be almost no evidence of artistic development, over the ten year period covered. Looking at the work, and the overblown claims made against it, it all seems like an inside joke that is trying really hard to be clever. This is exclusive and arrogant work and there is nothing here for anyone beyond the elite of the art world.
A few weeks ago, I commented on more conceptual art that is currently being exhibited in Edinburgh. In particular, I was unimpressed by Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #1136, a large mural concept that has been licensed to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for eleven months (does anyone know if LeWitt works with Ikea?). At that time, a phrase popped into my head, which I kept to myself. That phrase, 'fashion art', returned to my head after seeing Barriball's work.
Fashion as we understand it in terms of clothes, is a superficial world. There is nothing beyond what you see on the surface. As a label, Fashion Art could be thrown at any art form, however this morning I want to throw it at Conceptual Art, because for me it seems the closest fit. When a piece of art looks bizarre or ugly to the majority, when it makes no impression on us, does not move us, when even the artist seems to have no explanation for it, who would call it anything but Fashion Art? There is no depth here, no meaning. It is not holding up a mirror to life.
The more I am exposed to the world of Fashion Art, the more come to I dislike it. Who is this work made for and who is buying it? It feels like a giant house of cards, waiting for the slightest wind to knock it over, when we shall see the emperor's new clothes for what they are.
Another place we may well see at least the first part of that horribly mixed metaphor is in our banking system. Yet it is not the house of cards in banking that first drew me to writing this piece. The similarity I see in banking and art is in the people who populate it. In both worlds, the mass of those working there are simply doing what they can do to get by. The motivations between the two groups may well be very different, but we all work and eat and live in the world. However, it is at the top of the ladder than I see the biggest similarity.
On both sides are groups of people, whose importance and renumeration are impossible to justify. It is hard to see why they are in the positions they are in. To many, it appears they have reached their positions by either bluffing their way to the top, or having known the right people and said the right things.
In both practices, the existence of these people bring their entire worlds into disrepute. They grab all of the headlines, as well as farcical sums of money, while at the same time having almost no connection to those that make up the majority of their worlds. It hardly seems to be a balanced system.
For some time, top artists have been thought by the masses to be in this unjustifiable position. Only lately have top bankers been recognised as being similarly located. At this time, following a seemingly endless cycle of banking crises, many are questioning why we have such 'top bankers'. In the world or art, where fewer and fewer artists are able to make ends meet, I think we need to ask a similar question.