Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mark Quinn moves White Cube into the green

First published on theartsdesk.com

'Archaeology of Desire' by Mark Quinn

'Archaeology of Desire' by Marc Quinn

Thanks to the wonders of council applications, theartsdesk can bring you an exclusive preview of Marc Quinn's new sculptures to be placed outside the White Cube gallery on the grass of Hoxton Square.

Quinn will be putting two colossal orchids (over two metres squared each), cast in bronze and painted white, in Hoxton Square as part of his new show Allanah, Buck, Catman, Chelsea, Michael, Pamela and Thomas (7 May-26 June).

According to the application, submitted to Hackney Council, The Archaeology of Desire is "based upon a naturalistic Phalaenopsis, a genus of the orchid family, which has been rendered in exquisite detail. The fine, papery petals, each distinguished by unique venation, defy the properties of the bronze medium in which they are cast to appear almost weightless and ethereal."

The piece will continue Quinn's work which strives to create the ideal beauty of nature yet, by the grossly artificial means of production, undermines this beauty. Garden, where flowers were cast in silicone, is one such work.

Quinn is one of the best-known YBAs, for such works as Alison Lapper Pregnant on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and the bust of himself made with his own frozen blood (which melted when Charles Saatchi's freezer broke).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Culture Show: Henry Moore, BBC2

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (1951)
Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (1951)
(c) Andrew Dunn, 9 September 2004

What emerges from tonight’s Culture Show on Henry Moore, which examines how the sculptor exploited the media (and vice versa), is not the difference between the media of sculpture and television but the similarity.

Rather than a simple programme on Moore’s career – one fawning talking head after another – to coincide with the retrospective of his work at Tate Britain, Alan Yentob has instead chosen the meta-route, talking about TV talking about art. It is a topic which resonates today, where the one thing we love as much as looking at art is hearing people discuss art, and is well chosen.

Moore was cannier than one might assume for an early star of television (his first appearance was on the BBC in 1937): he does not give himself a televisual disembowelling, pouring his emotions out into the camera as one must today, Stoicism be damned, and he quite reasonably deflects probing questions about his motives. He says that if you talk about your reasons for working, they may disappear, a common belief among artists: the unexamined life may be a productive one.

The films about Moore by John Read – six over 40 years – were groundbreaking because they showed an artist’s creativity and process in action, but they do not take us much closer to what lies behind the work. In a later film, Moore recalls massaging his mother’s back when he was a young boy, and, thanks to Yentob not intruding with a statement of the obvious, we draw our own conclusions. But this is much later in his life, when memories cannot harm the artistic drive, or his own persona.

John Read hits on a vital point when making a defence of himself for (let’s say) creatively editing a key scene for one of his films. A plaster version of a sculpture has cracked, but as Read had not captured that moment, he cuts from the complete sculpture to the studio cat to the cracked sculpture. Yentob says he’d be fired for that today, but Read responds with: “To tell the truth you have to cheat sometimes.”

If anything is an artists’ mantra, it is this. Artists can summon all the resources of artifice to make something real, from Illusionist curtains over paintings to sculptures with hollow interiors. Perhaps Moore learned this from Read, for later we find him erecting sculptures made from polystyrene on his garden’s artificial mound, but it is anyway clear that this basic principle of television – make it look like truth (even if that truth is mental or emotional rather than physical) – has also been basic to art.

Moore also quite deliberately “manages his image”, as Yentob suggests: the omnipresence of his necktie, the relegation of any talk of the sexual or political aspects of his work. He was beatified in Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation. Clarke was a true Mephistopheles, seducing Moore with his patronage and – in the opinion of some of the talking heads – turning his work into public-sculpture banality. Moore clearly did not respect Clarke just for his high standing on TV, but it couldn’t have hurt.

The talking head contribution from Sir Anthony Caro is moving: he talks about his experiences as one of Moore’s assistants and recalls how he signed a letter protesting against Moore’s demand that the Tate build a new wing for all the work he intended to donate to it. He seems genuinely regretful, speaking slowly and looking away: “You shouldn’t do that to another artist.”

Yentob carelessly or thoughtlessly falls victim to the clichés of today and sets up straw men: Moore is “a global superstar”, it is a “paradox” that his reputation can be low critically just as it is high popularly. Anyone watching the Culture Show on Henry Moore will not need such inflated language or cheap sophistic devices to get a better understanding of the artist: the programme itself does that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Variety spikes own critics

From theartsdesk.com

, the most venerable entertainment trade journal in America, is sacking its chief film and theatre critics, including the man for whose film reviews many people read the magazine, Todd McCarthy.

According to a leaked internal memo from editor Tim Gray to editorial staff, “It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers, but Todd [McCarthy, chief film critic], Derek [Elley, senior film critic] and Rooney [David Rooney, chief theatre critic] have been asked to continue as freelancers.”

The memo prefaces this by saying: “Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers,” which manages to insult both the departing critics and Variety's readership. The leading Chicago film critic Roger Ebert blogged yesterday that he was unsubscribing from the magazine on the news of McCarthy's dismissal - if it could fire its best-known critic, he said, could Variety itself long survive?

What is most worrying is that Variety, even with its new paywall business model, doesn't feel that it can support full-time reviewers. Variety's paywall means that you can only access up to five articles a month before you have to pay to subscribe; paywalls are being rolled out across media brands on the internet.

There is also a clear degree of panic in the memo: “Ignore the bloggers (who obviously are trying in vain to steal our readers and our advertisers).” Those bloggers almost certainly include the acute, fearless and favourless Nikki Finke, with her Deadline Hollywood Daily, which has been screwing Variety to the wall for a while now. And – in possibly a valuable lesson to Variety – her blog has just been sold to a large media company.

Variety, founded in 1905 in New York to cover vaudeville, before evolving into the leading entertainment weekly for Hollywood too, has not covered itself in glory lately anyway - what with a director threatening to sue after he paid $400,000 for an ad campaign in the magazine to promote his movie, only for the magazine to turn round and give it a terrible review. Revealing its integrity, Variety pulled the review when the director starting making noises.

Nevertheless, Hollywood runs through Variety’s veins, including the hometown principle which requires you to shut up about your problems: “Be sensitive to co-workers," the memo says. "Doom-&-gloom helps no one. It may make you feel better to talk about your darkest fears, but it might make them feel worse.” One may almost be certain it is the sacked critics who probably feel the worst.