Teen Thriller

After the last couple of blogs, where I’ve been reporting back from some of the public galleries sited outside the main metropolistic hub of the artworld’s cultural capital, I feel that my wonderlustical urges have been suitably sated…at least for the time being. And so, with the sunny summer interludes starting to subside under the rising tide of autumn’s crepuscular inevitability, once again, this week, I’m back patroling the posh dark green, and even posher darker bluer, parts of London’s Monopolistic board of delights, exiting the underground station at Oxford Circus and heading down Bond Street to stroll around the pleasantly plush purlieus of Mayfair and St James’s.

First stop today is at Marlborough Fine Art, although the space has been given such an utterly absolute pimped-up makeover refurbishment that, at first, I’m not even sure I’ve entered the right building. So, instead of exchanging a discreet nod of acknowledgement with the receptionist invigilators who usually busy themselves behind a bright open plan desk arrangement at the entrance to the gallery, this time the reasonably welcoming custodians have been turned into more nervous guardians, enclosed within the cramped confines of a specially tackily constructed booth that reminded me of the protected public interfaces that separated clients from officials in the dodgy dole offices, seedy pawn shops or darker betting shops that once existed in the gloomier parts of town just after passing Go and collecting the attendant benefits. And the discombobulating transformation then continues throughout the galley, such that while I would normally be expecting to slowly amble around a long wide display arena with an ample airy wall space bedecked by a comfortingly familiar selection of canvases from some established upper division maestro of Modernism, all that’s gone right out the window. The replacement infrastructure being a sequential series of small interlinked room-sized installations that swing between various semi-dystopian sci-fi scenarios. Well, that’s what they made me think of – as if I was wandering through the stage sets from a production of some kind of teen thriller movie about an alternate future world of dismal disharmonious chaos.

Scanning through the accompanying gallery leaflet I sort of think I’m vaguely on the right track here as it spins out a sort of futuristic parabolic narrative background tale of a parallel world where technological interventions bump up against countercultural habitats and, and, and…well, ok, I have to admit that having re-read the crib sheet a couple of times I’m not really very sure exactly what message the artists who created this complicated simulacral substitute are attempting to transmit. Then again, maybe the text I’m struggling to decipher is just another facet of the same overall gesamtkunstwerk, and that its fuzzy stylistic incomprehensibility is an integral part of the same attempt to envelop the viewer into some kind of dislocatory sense of, of, of…hang on a minute, I seem to be heading right back down another Alice In Wonderland white rabbit black hole of spuriosity.

Let’s just say that the dual fabricators, Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, have clearly spent a great deal of time and effort imagining their fictional dreamland and then had a whole lot of fun crystalising it into a sort of fabulous fake reality film set filled with the kind of detailed stage props that are meant to add a sense of warped authenticity. I suppose the general d├ęcor styling might be described as Bladerunner lite since the main characteristic feature seems to be based on echoing that film’s clever contrast between the promise of a shiny slick future of techno-wizzardry wonderment hopefulness and the grimy gritty imperfect reality that experience has taught us all would almost certainly be the behind scene down-at-earth actuality. Nevertheless, anyone who has spent tedious time looking for helpful tips on how to redecorate their household environment by flicking through life style mags or walking around the mock-up room furnishings of Heals or Habitat might find it worth checking out this show if they want to come up with some fresh inspirational ideas for radically updating that small spare bedroom.

Being relatively content with my own modestly decorated home environ, I don’t think I’ll be drawing upon any of Freeman & Lowe‘s design looks in the near future. What I suppose I’d really like to have is more wall space to in oreder to be able to display more of the great Berman art collection that is currently kept in storage under the beds or stuffed into cupboards, but I’m just not sure it’s very practical to go around inserting a bunch of extra internal walls into the rooms of a relatively small semi-detached house. I think it’s fair to say, however, that if I did suddenly discover a new great big empty white wall space in the middle of the lounge or dining room then I definitely wouldn’t want to fill it with one of Damien Hirst‘s works from his current show at the White Cube gallery in St James.

Well, I rather pride myself on the sophistication of my own highly developed aesthetic tastes and have no desire to lower the tone of my own personal collection by adding any of Hirsts current kitchy creations. Whereas I kind of think, albeit it in an admittedly sort of appallingly snooty manner, that the queues of very well heeled people who are apparently desperate to get their hands on one of the items from the ageing enfant terrible‘s latest series of new works, are dreadful nouveau riche dummkopfe who wouldn’t recognise style or elegance or value in art if it detached itself from a wall and then walked over and sunk its teeth into the fleshy gluteus maximus area of their perfectly polished posteriors. In other words, I can’t help thinking that Hirst‘s so-called Mandelas – large glossy roundels composed of radiating circles of butterflies and detached butterfly wings – are the most tacky of tatty trivia and could only possibly appeal to those people whose tastes had been jaded to extinction by a diet of far too much bling excessiveness.

In happy earlier times, the concept of pulling the wings off a butterfly was used as a metaphorical slur to indict some buffoon for an oafish display of cruel cackhanded vandalism, so I suppose it would be just about possible to imagine that Hirst performed this egregious act in an attempt to make some broad artistic statement about beauty and power or some such other valid commentary. But the works here are several and serial and the suggestion of any kind of image of a tortured artist struggling with concepts about the transience of life and death in the natural world, or the part that colour and decoration might play in its ritualistic promulgation, would be comical if it were not so repellent. No, the picture that slips so very easily into my mind is of a tired and cynical artist run out of ideas and replaying old ones – of issuing orders to the production manager of his dreary commercial empire to instruct the outsourced minimum wage paid interns working on the production line to pluck apart the pretty insects and glue their bits down as quickly as possible.

On reflection, it’s a hellish scenario that, however unintentional, does perhaps capture very well the true spirit of our times and in particular the growing inequality gap between the few very wealthy individuals who can afford to throw money at ultra expensive empty artistic gestures and the many very poor people who have to satisfy and service the ludicrous empty needs of these ludicrous empty people. O tempora o mores.

At which point of grumpy harrumphishness, I depart from the sad golden calves corralled in St James and return to the Mayfair side of Piccadilly in order to revive memories of happier swinginger days, courtesy of an exhibition of works by James Rosenquist now showing at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Along with Warhol, Lichtenstein and Oldenburg, the artist was one of the original New York quartet behind the Pop Art explosion that so invigorated the artworld in the 1960s. He’s also probably the least well known and least commercially successful of the gang and, consequently, this current relatively rare display provides a useful opportunity to get to see examples of his work up close and in the flesh, as it were. Not that this show has many big works – just one room-size installation, a selection of comparatively small canvases and a lot of sketchbook roughs and drafts. Which is a bit of a pity as Rosenquist‘s key stylistic innovation was to produce work on the massive muralistic scale that mirrored the billboard facades that were such a large part of the American consumerist-centered world that Pop Art liked to mimic and critique.

Of course, looking back at Rosenquist‘s inspirational doodles now, with the benefit of fifty-odd year’s worth of post-Pop design history, the fading magazine clippings and yellowing newspaper cuttings that provided all the source material has aged from what would originally have been thrillingly exciting new to its current status of almost comical nostalgic out-datedness. And it’s hard now not to smile affectionately at the corny ads for skin cream and sharp suits, or smirk at the beaming face of Joan Crawford as she endorses some hair styling device or brand of super cool cigarette. Having said that, however, the actual finalised artworks that the Galerie has managed to accumulate have perhaps fared somewhat better and while the collaged still lifes with spaghetti hoops, shag pile carpet, tenon saw, grapefruit segments and other mundanities of the period, have yet to acquire the status of Cezanne‘s fruit bowls or Fantin-Latour‘s flowers, I think it’s probably only a matter of time.

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