Hastings Jerwood ‘Knock Knock’ Review – time to burst the hype bubble?

First, reverting briefly to the topic of shopping, discussed in previous ‘Foxy Battleaxes’ post.
     I quite liked this ‘Husband Creche’ advertised in the window of the General Havelock pub in the centre of Hastings.
     Incidentally,  I see that this pub apparently has one of the finest tiled pub interiors in Britain. It looks very interesting, but as yet, we have not visited it.
     Back to art. In the last couple of weeks we have visited two exhibitions. First, at the Arts Forum, the ‘Breakthrough’ Exhibition celebrating the joining of the two halves of the gallery, featuring the work of local artists, and secondly, the Jerwood’s re-hang and ‘Knock Knock’ their first exhibition of 2013.
     The Arts Forum exhibition included a painting of our friend Joe Fearn, by an artist called Bruce Williams. We liked it,  and it actually looks quite like him. (Sorry Joe, if you read the rest of this post – I know you won’t agree with it!)

Joe Fearn at the Arts Forum

     We were really looking forward to the Jerwood exhibition, because, for the first time, we had been promised something related to Hastings. We had found the previous exhibitions – Rose Wylie, Gillian Ayres, Gary Hume – disappointing and inaccessible..
     First, we inspected the rehung permanent collection. Some nice and interesting things,  in complete contrast with the exhibition to follow.
     I tell you, if the ‘guest curator’ had set out to scour the country for anyone with a tenuous local connection who could produce totally incomprehensible stuff to bemuse – and alienate – us knuckle-dragging provincial butt-brains, he had succeeded.  There were some huge paintings of the sea by Mario Rossi which were technically interesting and quite pleasant to look at  – but the rest – forget it.
     Now, Battleaxe is not stupid, and Philosopher even less so. I have an open mind and as I get older, my artistic tastes are actually widening. I recognise that others might have different tastes to me. I want to like more things in ‘our’ Jerwood, and am sorry to see it caught up in this web of spin and hype.
     I could have stared at the stuff on the walls until my eyeballs fell out and bounced around the floor among the heaps of metal ingots, which, apparently, were the deconstructed remains of other sculptures. It would still all have remained meaningless, banal and empty. (We were told that the metal ingots were two melted down planes, by Fiona Banner, first exhibited in Tate Britain. For people who had never seen the planes in the first place, the grey heaps could surely have no intrinsic interest?)
    When we left the gallery, the nice young man on the desk said ‘Some challenging pieces, eh?’ I was polite, but, sorry, young man, you are wrong. I sincerely wish I could find it challenging.
     An extract from the catalogue (which, by the way, says nothing whatsover about Hastings or the painters’ links to the area):
     ‘What is common to the works is a curious absurdity and a delightful awkwardness, where the  artists manipulate both the language and concepts they employ. These individual positions are challenging and persuasive, each artist presents a strategy for engagement along with an agenda that is convincing. The viewer is invited to go beyond their expectations and address the complexity of these works, which are both disconcerting and haunting.’
     Oh pur-lees. What kind of pretentious overblown piffle is that? Who do they think will be impressed?  Their self-regarding inner circle of art luvvies I presume. The rest of us just feel patronised – and insulted.
     Well, maybe the tide is turning, and people are starting to stand up and say the Emperor is wearing no clothes.  See this article in the Guardian on International Art English, about the special gibberish language used to describe contemporary art.  I have also read in the last few months about Dave Hickey, a famous American art critic who has retired, fed-up with the American contemporary art scene, and British critic Jonathan Jones, who is equally outspoken about the shortcomings of modern ‘icons’ such as Tracey Emin, Anthony Gormley and Grayson Perry.

     So, to finish, here is an example from the Jerwood exhibition. It is called ‘Over the Border’ by Stephen Buckley. I have absolutely nothing to say about it – it looks vaguely like a squashed waste-paper bin. But our friendly catalogue says this:
     ‘For more than 40 years, Stephen Buckley has concerned himself with addressing the major themes of the 20th century through a personal style oscillating between the matiere of Karl Schwitters, the dandyism of Francis Picabia and the intellectual rigour of Marcel Duchamp by deconstruction and reconstruction…..’ and so on.
      I find this beyond pretentious – it seems sad, like a child boasting in an empty playground.
     ‘Knock Knock?’
     ‘Who’s there?’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Comments from Google+