Friday, April 28, 2006

A work of artfulness

click photo to enlarge
I have had a deep interest in art for most of my life. I've looked at it, studied it, tried to understand it, got enormous pleasure from it, and I have a go at it myself. Consequently I am uncomfort- able writing what follows because it makes me sound like a Philistine who shoots his mouth off from a position of ignorance. But, since it's what I believe, here goes.

It seems to me that much of what passes for contemporary art, particularly that which has been feted under the "Britart" name, is worth very little. It is shallow, gimmicky and trite, producing works to catch the public eye and promote the celebrity status of the "artist". The grasshopper minds of the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin produce work that not only has no depth, it has no challenge either. What you see is all there is. Rarely do these artists develop themes: their aim seems to be to outdo each other in "outrageousness" or "difference", but for no reason other than novelty. These people are artful, but not artists.

The work above is by one of Britain's most famous contemporary artists, and is currently the most talked about piece of art in the country. It is Rachel Whiteread's "Embankment", at Tate Modern in London, and it fills the former turbine hall. The work comprises thousands of plastic casts of boxes in various piles that the visitor can walk around. It's apparently "an exploration of the universal quality of the box", which in piles "invites parallels with the museum as a keeper of collective memory"! The charitable, might say it's interesting to walk round, and unusual to look at. But, would the artist's apparent intention be clear to anyone if it hadn't been stated? And what does it really offer apart from piles of plastic boxes? Would the art work be any the less if the piles were smaller or arranged differently? And if not, what does that say about the value of the original conception.

My wide angle photograph from above is designed to show the scale of the work and its substance (or lack of it). The public are expected to walk through it, and my shot shows children playing hide and seek! I imagine many industrial warehouses might offer a similar experience. However there the boxes would be arranged more conveniently!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen