Ai Weiwei at the Royal academy

This week I visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I am a bit late really, most of my friends were there weeks ago and if you haven’t been yet, well get a move on!

Ai Weiwei needs little introduction and there is so much written about him by people who know a great deal more than me so I shall not even go there.   However, I think the exhibition is worthy of a blog.  As an aspiring artist I am always intrigued by the work of people who have become household names.  What makes them so famous that we must flock to see their exhibitions?  Is it what they stand for or the beauty of their art?

Ai Wei Wei, art review
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/20/ai-weiwei-royal-academy-bicycles-world-goes-pop-review

Weiwei’s work is his expression of his campaign for free speech and human rights.  But I wonder how many of the people gazing with wonder at the Bicycle Chandelier spend any time at all considering the thinking behind it.  The art speaks of conditions in Weiwei’s homeland but its mesmerising beauty risks masking something of that for me.  I find myself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the repetitive patterns in the bicycles and also in his marble that I fear that it is too easy to forget the story behind it.

I still remember seeing his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern back in 2010 and the stir which they caused.  When I visited the Tate it was still possible to interact with the seeds and people of all ages were to be seen lying in the installation, creating ‘sunflower seed angel pictures’ sieving them through their hands and simply sitting within the drifts of ceramic pieces.  But precisely how many of them were giving a single thought to the message behind them I wonder.  Correct me if I am wrong but is it not true that if one turns a comment into a thing of beauty or fascination, does one risk almost everyone missing the point?  And if I am correct, should art which speaks of ugly situations, such as the consequences of an earthquake or suppression of free speech be so beautiful?

https://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2015/september/sharing-in-a-series-of-small-acts-ai-weiwei-at-the-royal-academy/
https://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2015/september/sharing-in-a-series-of-small-acts-ai-weiwei-at-the-royal-academy/

Mind Who You Tread On . . .

imagesLA5P4DUFEarlier this week I visited Edge, a ceramics and photography exhibition in Truro Museum by Paula Downing and her husband Antony Hosking.  There was lots to like.  The colours that Downing uses are very close to my heart.  There is something extremely Cornish and rugged about her work.  Where I prefer the sense of fragility and delicateness of porcelain, she works in quite thick slabs of stoneware and earthenware clays and yet I feel an affinity to her work; I love her edges and I am intrigued by her range of slips and mark making.  The exhibition blurb emphasises how much her pieces are influenced by her ability to look properly and this certainly comes across.  Each work begins with copious drawings and with in depth studies of her husband’s photographic images, which have a soft, ethereal feel to them, very different to Downing’s interpretations but related to them by their sense of place.  All in all, there is plenty to consider in the exhibition and, if you find yourself within hailing distance of Truro, you should definitely pop along and take a look.

But one thing pained me greatly:  As is often the case, there is a comments book for people to voice their opinions and to leave little messages for the artists.  Now I wonder about these books.  Who are they meant for?  Is it intended as a bit of an ego trip for the artist?  Is it so that the visiting public can be seen to have taken note?  Why DO people write in these books?

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Bedruthan by Antony Hosking
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I love Downing’s edges and also her colours.

There were many charming comments about the work on view; quite a few of them by children.  Well, it is half term and it has rained a lot in Cornwall so children have been frequenting the museum.  But what shook me was one rather acrimonious comment about Hosking’s images.  The remark implied that the images were poorly composed and out of focus. Well quite apart from the fact that I don’t agree about the compositions and the lack of focus is, I am certain, intended, I feel that this kind of comment is out of order!  To make matters worse the author had not left their name; a flippant remark filled the signature box instead.  I suppose that it is just possible that this was written as a joke by somebody who knows the artist well and with their knowledge.  If so, it is in pretty poor taste to set it down in a public place.  I do not believe that these books are the appropriate forum for such jokes, if joke it is.  Surely, what ever else these books are for, they are not for that kind of negativity.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines criticism as the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work, the word ‘critic’ coming from Greek κριτικός, meaning ‘able to discern’. This being the case, a critic needs to be able to make some kind of scholarly judgement about the work, not simply pour vitriol all over it, and do they not also need to own their remarks? 

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I hope I can take what is offered but I also hope that it is offered constructively!
I hope that if ,or when, I am in the position to to have such a book available for comments at my exhibitions, the people who chose to leave remarks do so in the spirit of being helpful and that I will be able to receive them with a view to refining my work, not as something which only serves to get in the way of how I feel one way or the other!