Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times
Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.
“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.
This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:
“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…
Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”
A member of my family recently visited a sleep clinic. The machine she was given to take home in order to monitor her oxygen levels and so on during the night included an instruction sheet. The first side is fairly straightforward, albeit messy. I like that all the “other options” are there for you to see but they’re all crossed out; it’s the NHS in a nutshell.
The reverse side, though, includes these… shall we say… vernacular… additions. Yes, we all know it’s difficult to draw fingers that don’t look like sausages, but it looks like a serial killer has been doodling here. The dismembered hands. The dehumanised, puppet-like people. The cryptic, unexplained diagrams. It puts the tape and lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again…
It was slightly surreal to read one of Guy Delisle‘s other books about being a temporary resident among famished, fearful citizens in an oppressive Communist country (Pyongyang) while I was a temporary resident sitting among beautiful, healthy Scandinavians in an extravagantly equipped, wonderfully comfortable and relaxed public library in über liberal and progressive Norway. It was in some ways even more surreal to read more recently his similar graphic memoir about working as an animation director in the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to realise that he’d had almost identical experiences and reactions to the place as myself. I don’t mean I identified with it. I mean he had exactly the same experiences as I did. Delisle was there in the late 1990s and I lived there ten years later (2007-2008), but surprisingly little seems to have changed. Probably a lot more buildings went up, and the metro system wasn’t there, and the population was smaller, but I could still even recognise some of the places from his drawings. I was there as an artist in residence at a gallery in Shenzhen. You can read about the (mostly ludicrous) experiences I had at that gallery in my book.
Delisle mentions the occasional blessed escapes to nearby Hong Kong where it feels like a massive weight has lifted from yourself and from everybody else; the fine Communist art of doing the absolute minimum amount of work (or less if you can get away with it), what’s called in Russian tufta; the pathological Chinese aversion to the sun, “as if it’s radioactive” to use Delisle’s perceptive phrase; the worrying amount of time you spend, with hindsight, lying on your bed in your underwear doing nothing, just for some respite from the dirt and the difficulty and from people randomly shouting HELLOO at you on the street when it’s clearly a kind of racist dig rather than a genuine greeting. I experienced all this too. When I finished this book I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him with relief that it was OK, somebody understands, I felt exactly the same. Continue reading
From Berlin gallery Fruehsorge (who came to my attention thanks to complaints from other arts professionals about their, shall we say, relaxed attitude towards financial relations with artists* see footnote) comes this splendid slab of bullshit about their current exhibition of drawings by Matthias Beckmann. This is a verbatim cut and paste from the English version of their site, but I speak German as well so I can assure you this is a fair translation of a German write up that is also brimful of crap.
“Matthias Beckmann is a draftsman. He meets his counterpart as a discreet dialog partner who then turns into a silent observer in front of the motif. Beckmann looks for places and finds pictures right there. “The draftsman Beckmann, who finds what he wants to see in everything, has an anarchic wit that flashes up time and again …” There is never only one picture, there are always mostly larger series, so that his drawings expand and condense to a larger visual narrative. Thus a fundamental characteristic already of the individual sheet augments itself, for Beckmann’s drawings give the impression that for the draftsman “at least on paper … no thing as such is significant. It is only the attention it gets that lifts it out of the arbitrariness of “all sorts of things”.” Exactly this is one of the crucial preconditions for relativizing the documentary gestus of these drawings. Beckmann’s pencil lines are contours, lines which directly refer to an extra-pictorial object. Nevertheless he succeeds in liberating the drawing from a one-dimensional object reference and transforming what is seen into a solely pictorial reality. That is why one should never reduce his drawings to their mere depictive function, even though Matthias Beckmann certainly, and not least, is a drawing documentarist. But the big achievement of his drawings is an intensified sensitization of seeing. The viewer has to renew the way he sees the drawn objects and their spatial contexts, has to readjust his view of the world.”
“He meets his counterpart as a discreet partner…” It’s rare for an art text to accurately convey how blithely sordid, mercenary and pervy many artists are about exploiting other people to make their work, but this is a pretty good distillation of it. It almost sounds like a phrase from a disturbing Craigslist personal ad. Continue reading