Tuesday, 22 December 2009

New! 'Scrooged' at Art21

Tate Britain has just unveiled its 22nd annual Christmas Tree, designed, as usual, by a contemporary British artist. The Christmas Tree tradition at the Tate started in 1988 with Bill Woodrow’s cardboard box decorations, and has retained its position of locus for skepticism ever since. Michael Landy’s infamous tree – dumped in a bright-red bin amongst crushed beer cans and discarded packaging – looked, in 1997 (the year of Sensation at the Royal Academy), like a final, sarcastic postscript to an annus horribilis for the bastions of traditional art. The current tree, by Tacita Dean, uses a pine tree hung with beeswax candles, lit at 4pm as the sun sets, which burn out by 6, when the gallery closes. It looks like a normal Christmas tree, in other words—a “delightful, almost magical sight,” according to Martin Gayford at Bloomberg. There’s no mistaking the undertone of relief in his words.

Monday, 7 December 2009

New! 'Who Gets To Call It Art?'

What does contemporary art look like? What a ridiculous question! It doesn’t look like anything, does it? No one in their right minds would want to begin to map out a common style across the thousands of different approaches littering the white floors and gray walls of contemporary art galleries all over the world. There have been attempts to bracket artists together, notably by Jerry Saltz in a lovely unprintable phrase that’s apparently still in style (judging by this year’s Venice Biennale), but they only ever glance at comprehensiveness. Talent contests like the Turner Prize begin to look like meaningless conflations of the Oscars, the Pulitzer, and the Nobel. Future students of art history on a tight deadline may opt to avoid the obstreperous unwillingness of 21st-century art to slip into easy categories. Yet we still call it contemporary art, and we know it when we see it. Or rather: we think we know it when we don’t.