Violence and representation

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In the wake of the controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket, my comment on an artist’s right to make images of other peoples’ suffering, for artreview.com

“What effect can paintings have on politics? It’s a recurring, never-really-resolved question, since as an artform, the history of painting is one in which the question of its power as an agent of social or political comment, comes up against its awkward cultural status – its ambiguous history of exclusivity, luxury and leisure. And while painters continue, more or less self-consciously, to want to assert the medium’s capacity for addressing the political realities of the world, when it comes to picturing human suffering, particularly suffering produced by political violence, their attempts to acknowledge political solidarity often appear to be tokenistic gestures.

That, at least, was the predicament of Dana Schutz’s oil painting Open Casket (2016), on show as part of the recently opened 2017 Whitney Biennial. Schutz is well known for her fragmented, psychedelically weird, often deeply neurotic take on figurative painting. Overt references to the world of history and politics don’t get much of a look-in. So by contrast Schutz’s Open Casket takes its reference from photographs of the disfigured body of Emmett Till, the black fourteen-year-old who, in 1955, was murdered for the alleged slight of flirting with a white woman in a shop in Mississippi. Till was abducted by the woman’s husband and an accomplice, beaten, shot and dumped in a river. Images of his horrifically mutilated and bloated face, on view in the open casket his mother had insisted on for his funeral, would become an icon of the nascent American civil rights movement. Schutz’s painting flattens and schematises the key elements from the various documentary images of Till’s in his casket – his black jacket, the white shirt buttoned up to the neck, and next to it a head made up of a gnarled and bruised contortion of facetted browns, blacks and streaked…”

Read the full article here

Feeling safe? Defending hate speech for artists

all_hi_res_finalMy Friday 26 January comment for www.artreview.com

Only a few days after they had been published to support the women’s march day, artist Paul Chan’s publishing house Badlands Unlimited found that their anti-Trump protest posters had been pulled from Facebook and Instagram. The four posters aren’t exactly polite: ‘GOD HATES TRUMP’ reads one, along with ‘FAGS HATE TRUMP’, ‘TRUMP HATES GOD’, and, not forgetting everyone’s most-loathed art collector, ‘GOD HATES IVANKA’. Continue reading “Feeling safe? Defending hate speech for artists”

Public Vs.Private

My column for the January-February 2016 issue of ArtReview, now online. Read it here (requires free registration to artreview.com)

‘The purpose of the public museum is to ensure the long-term availability and display of art.’ With his first sentence, Chris Dercon, soon-to-be-former director of Tate Modern, had already lost the argument. Back in June last year, Dercon gave a speech as part of a symposium made up of international art-museum big-cheeses, at the private Louis Vuitton Foundation, to consider such burning questions as ‘What are the challenges facing public and private museum collections today?’, ‘Who makes art history now?’…

The End of Human Experience

My column for the summer issue of ArtReview, now online. Read it here

“What this seems to mean for contemporary artists is a peculiar approach to seeing humanity: either as just one more ‘thing’ among others – resulting in a fascination with other types of nonhuman entity out there – or as something already long dead and vanished, seen from some (virtual) future perspective in the form of its archaeological record. And you don’t have to look too far at the moment to see how artists and the artworld are lapping up this new zeitgeist…”

‘Phantom Limbs’ at Pilar Corrias

My review of ‘Phantom Limbs’ at Pilar Corrias, London, on Art Agenda. Read it here

“People who have lost arms or legs often report experiencing a “phantom limb”—the sense that the limb is still there, or that they can still move or feel it. It’s a good metaphor, too, for current post-internet art debates concerning the shifting relationship of real to virtual, digital to material.“Phantom Limbs,” Pilar Corrias’s smarter-than-most summer show, does a concise job of mapping the various poles of this cultural and theoretical inquiry…”

Subjects v Objects

JJ Charlesworth & James Heartfield

First published in Art Monthly, March 2014

Recently, objects seem to have taken on a life of their own. This man thinks that another slice of cake will make him happy. That woman thinks that a better school will get her son good qualifications. This man has thousands of girlfriends stored on his hard drive. This girl thinks that a Hollister top will make people like her. Goods fly off the shelves. Exports boost Britain.

Continue reading “Subjects v Objects”

How not to make public art

My column on the latest sculpture commissions for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth on ArtReview.com. Read it here

“The Fourth Plinth committee appear to imagine the public as a strange fusion of bored teenager and angry mob; restless, distracted, excited by bold shapes and colours and thoughtless political truisms about the state of the world.”