2 Apr

Hayward Gallery, London, 16th February-17th April 2011

What does ‘In the Days of the Comet’ mean? There is a waffling, bullshit explanation by exhibition curators/perpetrators Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton, but in typical artbollocks style it leaves us none the wiser. Some drivel about H.G. Wells and going around the same sun. Whatever planet these people learn to write English on, it’s not orbiting the same sun as the Earth I live on or the one that Wells lived on. Essentially it’s just a cool and/or ominous-sounding strap-line that bears no palpable relation to the content of the the show whatsoever. I should imagine one of them just had the startling(ly obvious) insight that the BAS comes back every five years, like some kind of… duhcomet. Not that all the work in it should have been about comets, obviously; just leave out the pretentious justifications altogether and we’ll decide for ourselves what we think and what conclusions to draw, OK?

One thing the curators should be complimented on is recognising that many of the most interesting artists in Britain are working in video, in performance or exploring history and narrative, often all of the above. Admittedly, BAS7 is at least five years and possibly even ten years behind the actual practice of working artists, but the majority of other institutions and curators appear not to have noticed this fact at all. Either that or they’re pointedly ignoring it because it doesn’t fit with their arid, dated, Modernist take on what contemporary art is, or should be. So, yes, +1 Curator Points each to Tom and Lisa for actually having some semblance of a clue about what contemporary artists are really doing and what they’re really interested in.

Unfortunately you immediately both get a -1 demerit because the selection here is so skewed. None of the aforementioned interesting artists working with narrative are represented at BAS7. I haven’t done a detailed statistical analysis, but anecdotally (based on visiting the exhibition and my knowledge of the artists and galleries involved) I would say that at least 50% of the artists whose work is in the show are part of a very particular, specific age group and East End/Hoxton clique, and that there is little or no representation here of galleries or artists working anywhere in England except for London. A lot of interesting London artists don’t get a look in either, because they’re not lucky or sucky enough to be part of this cosy little closed shop.  This is an egregious injustice for an exhibition that’s intended for touring throughout the country over the next year or so. The clue for which artists should really be in this show is in the title: British Art Show. Not London Art Show. BAS7 is a catalogue masquerading as a survey.

Further demerits accrue because many of the artists shown here are playing with narrative without having any apparent understanding of what it is or how it works. If an artist is going to move into the world of narrative, directing actors and so forth, it would probably behove them to learn how to tell a story, how to write convincing dialogue, how to get good performances out of actors, when and what to cut, and everything else that goes with the territory. I’m talking to you, Nathaniel Mellors, although you’re not the only culprit or the worst, just the one with the biggest budget. The Mellors work shown here condescendingly apes that ‘Eastenders’ soap opera the proles adore and plays out at tedious length with all the finesse of a sixth form drama class, without being as interesting or intelligent as either. The acting is absolutely bloody horrendous, although this may be deliberate because demonstrating any kind of skill or craftsmanship is bourgeois or something.

As if to specifically prove this point, Emily Wardill’s films are woefully amateurish and dull. Elizabeth Price’s ‘User Group Disco’ is one step up from a teenage girl sitting in her bedroom of an evening and videotaping her feet because it seems wacky and creative. ‘User Group Disco’ is actually a video of junk on a turntable, accompanied by a bad MIDI of ‘Take on Me’ by A-Ha- it’s 1985, teenage Elizabeth gets stoned for the first time and puts random things on her record player. She stares at them, drooling, until dad comes up to ask what that smell is. This was one of the BAS7 offerings that actually made me so angry I had to walk away.

Christian Marclay’s ‘The Clock’ is currently one of the most celebrated works in the exhibition, although I don’t really know why. A large number of people appeared to be making a pilgrimage to it and sitting reverently but slightly awkwardly with it because whatever was supposed to happen wasn’t happening to them. Incidentally, the room showing ‘The Clock’ is one of the few video rooms where it’s even possible to sit comfortably and watch for any significant period.

In most other cases it’s that old art gallery standby: the pitch black hole where three lucky people get a plywood box to sit on and everyone else has to either squat on the floor where they get trodden on, or hover nervously by the entrance where new new visitors inevitably crash into them. I don’t know why galleries can’t get it into their thick heads that showing video work means you need to provide proper seating and viewing facilities, especially in cases such as BAS7 where the duration of some works is an hour or more. Lisa, Tom, Hayward people, would you like it if the next time you went to the cinema, all the seats had been ripped out and they made you sit on the floor in the dark?

‘The Clock’ collates thousands of clips pertaining to the telling and passing of time in Hollywood films. It’s conceptually interesting, a great feat of clever editing/research and it’s fun but (apart from the fact that it’s being shown with undue pomp in an art gallery) I really don’t see how it’s at all different from any of the equally witty, obsessive, slyly satirical and usually anonymous or pseudonymous Supercuts that regularly pop up on YouTube. Nobody’s selling artificially scarcified “editions” of these, which is what Marclay has apparently done with ‘The Clock’. No major art gallery is clamouring to show them. One can only assume that people who run galleries in this country never look at YouTube and have no idea what’s happening in international mainstream culture.

Examples of Supercuts (none of which are being exhibited in an art gallery, all available as free, infinite editions on YouTube):

‘Not in Kansas anymore’

‘We’ve got company’

‘It’s Showtime’

These edits compile numerous instances of clichéd stock phrases that we obviously hear in movies more often than we consciously realise. Even though to the best of my knowledge they were all made for the idle amusement of fickle strangers on YouTube and the makers have no pretensions of being capital A Artists (as far as I can tell, anyway) they actually have more artistic merit and intellectual sophistication than most of the video work in BAS7.

They draw attention to Hollywood’s lazy reliance on cliché with an economical and subtle wit. The more or less context-free repetition of these phrases quite rapidly makes them lose all meaning or relevance, almost to the point of becoming radically empty, zen-like mantras if you really want to take the high road. This truly artistic and thought provoking effect is even admiringly attested to by numerous YouTube commenters, who aren’t noted for their perspicacity.

‘Mirror Scare’: This one is probably the most similar to what Marclay, or rather Marclay’s large number of employees, did with ‘The Clock’. There are many, many more including several cell/mobile/telephone’s dead variations, other dialogue clichés including “it’s gonna blow” and “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you”, Arnold Schwarzenegger screaming and Shia La Beouf saying “no no no no” in every single film he’s in.

As for the rest of BAS7, pfft, whatever. There’s a token smattering of paintings that are so dull they may as well not be there at all. I’ve spent longer contemplating the art work screwed to the wall at Travelodge than I was inclined to do with any of the painting or assemblage work on show at BAS7. There’s a zero-effort, random and pointless collection of newspaper and magazine clippings under glass on wallpapering tables by Wolfgang Tillmans. His gigantic ‘Freischwimmer 155’ is quite nice, though. It’s not great, but it’s one of the few genuinely abstract and unpretentious things in the whole building.

I was “lucky” enough to see Roger Hiorns’ publicity-baiting “naked man on a bench watching something burn” thing with an actual naked man and a fire in situ. It was a total bore. A nearby placard pompously announces that the metal bench on which the man occasionally sits is not to be sat on by anyone else because it’s not a bench, it’s a work of art. Out of respect for Marcel Duchamp I’ll concede that the concept is sound, but whoever wrote that sign really needs to get over themselves.

The best that can be said of Charles Avery’s works is that they’re impressively big. As with most of the so-called narratives in BAS7, the breadth and ambition of Avery’s imaginary worlds are on a par with what I’d expect from a ten year old after they’d been watching telly all day and drinking too much pop. Sarah Lucas’ wormy tights sculptures are the most engaging and artistically heavyweight things in the whole show. I’m talking about Sarah Lucas. Sarah Lucas. I’ve always hated her work, but her contribution is the best thing in the whole exhibition.

Poor H.G. Wells, being used as an excuse for this farrago. Come, comet of doom, destroy the Hayward Gallery.




    […] And the whole exhibition has proper bloody seating, unlike the vast majority of video exhibitions wh…. Accompanying texts tell us what the work is called, when it was made and why, with nothing extraneous and no pretentious bullshit. Other galleries would do well to follow the example of this exhibition’s curator Ann Gallagher in that regard, too. I know they won’t because too many curators are too invested in justifying their wages and making themselves sound clever. It’s about the art and the artist, dummies. […]


    […] We could try (if we must) to talk about about the video work on show instead, but it’s hardly any easier. There is some in the Arsenale, but none really worth speaking of except for Emily Wardill’s. [Adopts disappointed head teacher voice]: We’d prefer to talk about you for the right reasons, Emily. She’s got form as well; she’s is a repeat offender who also perpetrated some of the crappest moving image work in the …. […]


    […] reward at the arse end of the Arsenale is Christian Marclay’s grossly overrated Youtube Supercut/massive copyright violation ‘The Clock’: another repeat offender from the British Art Show at the Hayward gallery. As in London, the room […]


    […] or critic does precisely the same thing sometimes. She’s yet another repeat offender from the British Art Show and clearly another flavour of the month, or more accurately “oppressive soapy stink of the […]


    […] with the pretentious drivel and disastrous staging of video works in the Hayward’s own British Art Show from earlier this […]


    […] BRITISH ART SHOW 7: IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET Although they mostly did it in secret for fear of being blackballed, a lot of people really hated […]

  7. WHAT THE DUCK? | CAREER SUICIDE - 21/05/2013

    […] of the formulaic work done recently by critical young darlings like Haroon Mirza, Karla Black or Elizabeth Price who can apparently do no […]

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