Friday, 18 December 2009

Art nouveau

When is art not art? A tricky question. Edinburgh sculptor Kevin Harman thought that heaving a metal pole through an art gallery window was an artistic tour de force. The director of the gallery didn't agree - she took him to court for breaching the peace.

Kevin's sponsor Richard Demarco was outraged. "There has obviously been a profound level of misunderstanding of the raison d'être of Kevin's work. His whole ethos is about making things which are negative into things that are positive."

Many others, including those with a wide knowledge of art such as myself, might say the misunderstanding is Kevin's. He has failed to grasp that smashing a window is not a work of art, it's merely a safety hazard to passing pedestrians.

Of course a sign saying "Ce n'est pas une fenêtre brisée" might have added an artistic dimension*. But presumably that was too passé for our Kev.

Kate Gray, Director of the Collective Gallery, certainly failed to see her shattered window as a ground-breaking oeuvre d'art. She thought petty crime was a more accurate description.

Admittedly, whether something is a work of art or not is often a matter of opinion rather than a self-evident fact. Kevin has his admirers who would stoutly defend his moment de folie as a pièce de résistance.

Try as I may, I can't see it as anything but une dêbacle monumentale.

* René Magritte, anyone? And we can all throw in a bit of pretentious French....

Pic: not the actual window but a similar "work of art". For the real thing, go to the link.
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Can you believe it? Five Eurostar trains (yes, five) broke down in the Channel Tunnel and 2000 passengers were stranded overnight. The official explanation? The trains couldn't handle the change from cold air outside the tunnel to warm air inside. You couldn't make it up.

Update, Saturday evening: A sixth Eurostar train has broken down in Kent, and the train towing it has also broken down.

27 comments:

Jenny Muir said...

Reminds me of Michael Stone's defence when he tried to get into Stormont to throw explosives at Gerry Adams - it was performance art, honest.

Baino said...

Sounds as if the gallery weren't aware of his 'installation'. Surely they were aware that he was going to pull this stunt? The window looks pretty though!

Nick said...

Jenny - The artist himself doesn't seem to have explained his artwork. "Performance art" would fit the bill nicely. It can mean just about anything but it sounds good.

Baino - Apparently they were told twice by letter and once in person but they weren't sure if he was serious.

Suzanne said...

Ha. In the US that would be a felony!!! However, it would also be perfomance art!!! I attended UCLA where performance art was king!!! I hated it because I just wanted to do regular...well...stuff! Oh, Nick,you crack me up b/c performance artist don't really explain much. Have you ever been to a critique???!!! I sure have!!! But I'll be honest, if he did that to my gallery I'd kill him! However, as an artist, GOD THAT'S WINDOW'S GORGEOUS!!! Yes, I'm obviously conflicted. And honey, welcome to my blog. It nice to have you there. ;)

Suzanne said...

Also "it's."

Bunc said...

I am not a great fan of "conceptual" art. For me much of it is full of artifice but lacking in substance. It attempts to reate art in the mind of the observer but forgets that much great art is the product not only of artistic inspiration but is also produced by great craft.

Calling an untidy bed, a pile of bricks or a broken window art stretches the concept of art to the point of farce.

Too many artists are simply concerned with shock as a means to notoriety and cash rather than pushing forward the real boundaries of their art.

e said...

The window is interesting to look at, however, the gallery owner, whether informed or not, has an obligation to consider the other artists whose work could possibly be damaged if someone broke into the gallery after Mr. Harman's installation or if anything other than the intended window was damaged.

Mr. Harman could have built a model and pierced the window of that, or he might have chosen to do this at an otherwise vacant storefront. He obviously chose his performance piece over the objections of the gallery owner, a poor choice that in the US, as Suzanne noted, would likely result in a felony conviction.

As a writer, I am rarely in favour of prosecuting people over artistic endeavors, but Mr. Harman needs to take a lesson here.

kylie said...

ummm

Megan said...

That's not art.

Los Angelista said...

Whatever. He's wack. Throw that mess in the hood and it's a broken window, a sign of neighborhood degeneration and crime.

Nick said...

Suzanne - Good to have your informed opinion that performance art doesn't explain much! Just to clarify, that's not the actual window but a similar so-called "work of art". To see the real thing, go to the link.

Bunc - I share your scepticism on conceptual art. I agree much of it has no substance, it prompts nothing whatever in the observer's mind, it's no more than what's in front of you. In other words, a big con.

Nick said...

e - Good point about the possible damage to other artists' work. It looks like he never even thought about that. Indeed, why didn't he use a vacant storefront? You have to conclude he had something against the gallery owner, maybe he saw her as artistically conservative?

Kylie - Ummm to you too. Are you sitting on the fence again? It'll start digging into your bum....

Megan - Definitely not. Just a nice little earner for the local glazier.

Liz - Exactly. it could only be a "work of art" in a poncy, loads-of-dough middle class district.

Cinnamon said...

Ummm... you gotta say- it's provocative- is that not what art should be ?

Nick said...

Cinnamon - Hmmm, I think that's true, good art should be provocative. But unless it has some obviously artistic content as well, isn't it still just provocative vandalism?

Scarlet Blue said...

I love conceptual art - some of it is very funny. Did you watch 'School of Saatchi' - I disliked the winner, but I concede that her final piece was art.
Anyhow... probably best if I go and hide under the duvet on my unmade bed now!!!
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - No, I missed School of Saatchi, but I've just looked out the winner, Eugenie Scrase, and I rather like Trunkated Trunk. The precariousness of the log resting on the railings is fascinating.

Grannymar said...

I see it as an act of vandalism. The then broken window may indeed produce some interesting artistic lines, but it is not ART to my eyes!

Leah said...

I have a mixed relationship with conceptual art. I think some of it is very lazy, but then some of it can be awe-inspiring. I did a blog post awhile back on the artist who transported his mother's little hut and all her detritus from China, and displayed it--and to me, it was most definitely art.

This is a big debate in our house, actually. Sarge gets frustrated with conceptual art, the idea that artists can create art without having a particular artistic skill base to back it up, and I am willing to defend it. It definitely has its place, and some examples of it are remarkable. Plus, it makes going to museums and galleries an interesting and lively experience, and gives food for discussion.

I guess this piece falls somewhere between conceptual and performance art. I liked the film.

Nick said...

Grannymar - That sums it up nicely. Some artistic lines but not art.

Leah - I remember that post about the Chinese detritus, it was really intriguing. I think you're right, an artistic skill base doesn't matter if there's an original and engaging idea or situation that, as you say, gives food for thought (or some emotional resonance).

Rummuser said...

What does that piece of French mean?

Nick said...

Ramana - Which piece of French? If you're referring to "Ce n'est pas une fenêtre brisée" it means "It is not a broken window". I was thinking of the famous Magritte painting "Ceci n'est pas une pipe".

Scarlet Blue said...

What I liked about the trunkated trunk was the materials i.e the natural object impaled on the man-made railings, I thought that that was quite poetic. And it was startling to look at.
Sx

Hullaballoo said...

I go to the Fruitmarket gallery in Edinburgh all the time, but wouldn't consider a broken window to be artistic.

Nick said...

Scarlet - Very true re the natural and the man-made. Also the heaviness of the log and the lightness of the railings. Plus it's a kind of found object (objet trouvé!).

Hulla - A broken window isn't art, but it might be a window of opportunity for a burglar.

Wisewebwoman said...

I'd really like to see what artwork GM would have made out of the window patterns. H'm.

As to the trains, I feel lucky with my occasional claustrophobia that it didn't happen when I was travelling on it this past summer. Yikes.

The pileup calls for a perfect use of the word "clusterf***" though, isn't it.

XO
WWW

Wisewebwoman said...

*groan* doesn't not isn't.

Nick said...

www - Good question. Must ask Grannymar for her suggestions. Something very delicate and beautiful I'm sure.

I'd absolutely hate it if I was stuck on a train in those conditions. It's bad enough being stuck in a plane for 12 hours in reasonable comfort. But no food, no water, no lighting, stifling heat - Bejeezus.