Exhibit Review: For What It’s Worth

by Beauchamp Art

NUA Gallery

Perceptions of Value in Contemporary Art

The NUA Gallery is currently playing host to a number of works by esteemed international artists, including:

Art and Language, Martin Creed, Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller, Barry Flanagan, Alan Green, Damien Hirst, Andrew Logan, Sara MacKillop, Lisa Milroy, Grayson Perry, Ingrid Pollard, Kathy Prendergast, Andreas Ruthi, Mark Wallinger and Rachel Whiteread.

Being curated by the MA Curation students from the university.

Given the rather well known artists on show (some unknown), with the theme of the exhibit being the perceptions of value in contemporary, one may be surprised that there was a lack of the extra security one may have grown accustomed to at big-name exhibits

Indeed, the role of value in the exhibit is apparent before entry – even before seeing the list of works, and the implicit money associations therein (it is hard to read ‘Hirst’ without thinking of money especially after ‘For the Love of God’; his notorious diamond encrusted platinum skull). It can be gauged that the exhibit meant money given the number of sponsors; from the Arts Council, to national traders like Jarrold, to the local establishments such as Frank’s Bar and the Birdcage – student fancies – alongside the University logo (what I refer to as ‘the Golden Z’), and the title of the exhibition. The large window/glass wall of the gallery that displays the contents of the space like a shop front was almost so cluttered with advertisements and names to the point of almost distracting from the contents, not unlike; a shop front.

Before stepping into the gallery, one has already begun to experience the exhibition; the art-space as a hub for business (accompanied by flashbacks to ‘Frieze’), the modern C/conservative dogma: that all aspects of creativity and art must be design; designed to make money. Given that the university now only has one actual art course – Fine Art – since the discontinuation of Visual Studies, and the gradual shift fro every other course away from art to design – whether Illustration, Photography, or Fashion – all of the courses are becoming more and more business orientated – trades to make money: for the university, the government, and the students. Therefore it is fitting that NUA shout host and exhibit on Value; since more and more frequently, only money is being valued: how to use tools and programs taught to the designers, and concepts rather than techniques to Fine Art students.

Nevertheless, it is still positive to see well-known artists on display in Norwich; for one thing, it is good publicity for the university. This exhibit, much like all of the students, are seen as an investment – spend money to make money – use money to may more money, to warrant Government funding and other sponsorships and investors – and possibly, somewhere along the line, making improvements to the course and facilities, paying for more staff and technicians (or paying the exciting ones better, increasing contact time – though one would also have to motivate students to want more contact time, rather than just perpetuating independent working as the be-all-and-end-all, as that would seem to render university redundant – rather than, say, building a new entrance foyer to one of the buildings next to the gallery, which will in no way benefit the students, and would simply make the university look good to get more investments, neglecting the educational aspect of an arts university, in order to polish its façade.

Furthermore, it is beneficial to me as a student being able to see some of these works on display in the City I am currently studying, when I may have to have otherwise had to trace some distance to see [most likely to London; though Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts does have the largest collection of Francis Bacon in Britain, along with a number of Giacometti and others – that I have exhibited along side, for the ‘Museums at Night’ event]. Such as Grayson Perry’s ‘Spirit Jar’; Perry, who won the Turner Prize a few years ago who accepted the award by saying “It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize.” The tongue-in-cheek, (self-) satirising attitude extends into his works, such as in this piece, which may at first resemble a benign piece of ornamental pottery, but on second inspection, the uncanny valley opens up as one realises that depicted on this finely created, hand-made vase ia a grotesque figure breast-feeding a sinister man-baby with sharpened nails, surrounded by ornate abstracts pattern work that makes references to primitive designs – such as the running mounted horse silhouettes that bares a direct resemblance to cave paintings of hunted animals from the Palaeolithic period.

With Perry’s work displayed in conjunction with Hirst’s Untitled [London Portfolio] collage piece, it is interesting to see two so different artists along side one another – though one could see similarities in the use of multiple images in one piece; montage; – the contrast is most prominent in how they value craftsmanship in their own work. Hirst, who frequently I known to work in the Warholian ‘Factory’ style setting, with numerous technicians and labourers physically making his pieces with his direction, whereas Perry realises concepts through his own craft – though for his tapestry works such as ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, a mechanical weaving machine was used in its production, in conjunction with a design drawn by the artist. Though the realisation of ideas through machines is nothing new, look at the camera, how that has been absorbed into the mainstream of Art so readily [in under a hundred years since its invention]. For example, in this exhibit, Jeremy Deller’s ‘Karl Marx’ series integrate photography into a faux-archive of Marx’s study, displayed fittingly with other relevant texts laid out in a museum display style.

Another appropriate piece, one I have been aware of previously, positivly, Mark Wallinger’s ‘A Real Work of Art’. The version on display being a (likely ready-made) toy of a horse and jockey; style after, or before, the actual horse Wallinger had purchased some years previous and re-named/entitling the animal ‘A Real Work of Art’, and then continued to race it until its death. This piece carries not only the weight of the value of the animal (in its own life, and as an allegory for art itself) as a money-making medium, as well as the use of the ready made in art, and related craftsmanship versus/in conjunction with conceptualism in art, as is exemplified in the contrast between Hirst, Perry, and Deller’s works: as a continuation of the Post-Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ debate on the value of art as a physical thing and as a embodiment of concept, thought and idea.

Money has no value unless it is spent. Ideas have no value unless realised. Or as Dimmu Borgir observed, “Talent is worthless unless exercised.” Duchamp’s green folder is the ultimate example of unrealised and incomplete ideas, what value is assigned to this is very after-the-fact, and not based on the works themselves but their potential.

This exhibition has been well selected in order to realise the curatorial potential of displaying art in order to raise issues around the perception of value in contemporary art [it could be argued that the display is a (collective) piece in itself] both in terms of financial value of the pieces, but also in how this relates to the importance and significance an audience puts on the different aspect of the pieces: its thought, its embodiment, its name – and to what extent the artists themselves value their own practice.

Art and Language is always welcome when debating value, as they are very self aware that the physical objects that they produce may not exemplify craftsmanship like art past, but are brilliant at crafting their ideas through words; they are masterful at being literary, whilst avoiding being overly literal, subtle ambiguity giving the audience room to think, to breath.

Sublime vaulted skies fill with shapes one may strain to identify, but never can be seen in full, nor should ever be whole observed, save their loose their mystery, and (like surfing the web for hours on end) showing everything without saying anything. What value is there in omnipotence, that one would have nothing to learn, nothing to discuss, nothing to say? Art, like life, needs uncertainty to make it interesting – much as knowing one’s own fate would be of no benefit, but coat life in dread. When discussing value, it is always important to be aware of the nihilistic principal/paradigm that nothing has an innate value, only the value assigned to it.

‘Big’ names like Barry Flanagan (whose retrospective in Tate Britain in 2011 was a deeply un-stimulating affair, especially when juxtaposed to John Martin’s bombastically cinematic display at the same time) or Tacita Dean (whose name I recognise but could not readily identify her work – after further research, I re-familiarised myself with her practice, her large-scale mountain drawings on chalk boards were a point of interest to me a not un-recently, especially in conjunction with other Epic and sublime, such as the aforementioned Martin) has no meaning, no value, unless society gives it attention. has no meaning, no value, unless society gives it attention. A grand entrance to an empty building is worth less than a plain door to a resplendent sanctum.

All in all, ‘For What It’s Worth’ is a stimulating exhibition that is well curated.

The role of the artist is not, necessarily, to make, but rather to know what to make. The composer need not play an instrument in order to write music for it, it does not make them any less of a musician. Sometimes it may be useful to be both the composer of ideas and the performer; other times it may not – one’s practical skills may be limited, but this should not be restrictive to thought. Indeed, the body may be encased in lead, but the mind still is free: to direct another’s hands’, or initiate a spontaneous event.

When one invests money, say, in a bank, and that investment is profitable; part of that profit is still rightfully belonging to the investor, as they enable the profit to be made. The interest grown from a savings account is no less valid than the original money pt into the account, only someone else has, through whatever capitalist venture, managed to increases one’s currency.

The raindrops falling on a seed do not own it; if you planted the tree then its fruits are yours to pick.