Last night to Wimbledon school of Art for a private view; an exhibition of staff work. This was an interesting proposition, for artists that affiliated to an institution tend to have accepted the fact that their art isn’t good enough to earn them money, but are in the enviable position of having the resources and the atmosphere to produce work of some sort. Art that is state-sponsored in this way would, I hoped, produce different forms and practices to that which is distorted by the demands of the marketplace.
The vicious-but-entertaining journalist, Brian Sewell, once commented that real critics go to private views early and leave early to write their article. All the rest of the people who go there – whether guests or those working for obscure art journals are there just for the conversation, the canapes and the booze. I am objectively the latter and was suitably impressed by how lavish an affair it was, with endless champagne, a live jazz band and more canape-bearing waiters than in the whole colonial India. It was also full of people with interesting artistic schemes burning away in them:
There was a man who is entirely rewriting Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel with the emphasis on his detailed illustrations. We spoke about the idea of squandering time and he told me about a vision he had thirty years ago. He had died and was greeted in heaven by St. Peter, who guided him into a room filled with paintings and drawings. St. Peter sighed: “This is all the work you could have done in all the time you wasted.” And then sent him to purgatory.
Another man was, after seven years work, just about to complete his PhD, on Shame and Commemoration in art. Investigating the way modern artists have reclaimed those who died dishonourably, whether by desertion (shell-shocked WW1 soldiers) or scandal (Oscar Wilde). With him, I spoke about the new TMC magazine that I am currently putting together.
He asked: Would you call it avant-garde?
Me: I don’t think so, it’s more avant-gardening than avant-garde (a distinction I will doubtless write about at a future date).
The work itself was intermittently interesting and far better than the pale pastiches you see in MA and BA shows. Every kind of art form was represented, from computerised works to pencil drawings; from conceptual sculpture to oil painting. My favourite piece was a collection of old kitchen scales lined up on five plinths. The first plinth had an iron cast of very old scales. The second had pop arty Sixties scales. The last plinth had about 8 scales all balancing precariously on top of one another. It was a brilliantly illustrated metaphor about valuation in art. From old aesthetics, virtually set in stone, to the modern version of competing values all weighing down on one another.