Category Archives: Art

06 Dec

They’re pulling our leg again, aren’t they?

All sing along with me: ‘Tis the season to be hyperbolic…

Last night at a fastidiously pretentious “ceremony” in the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, the African artist Lubaina Himid was awarded the Turner Prize. What more can be said when the whole damn thing is beyond satire? Compared with Ms Himid’s stuff, the act of throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face represents high cultural achievement. What’s it like then? There’s a fair chance that anything I might write would be a bit on the biased side. so let one of her supporters describe it:   

“Himid’s work has long been concerned with black creativity, history and identity and this animated throng represents the Africans who were brought to Europe as slave servants. There are drummers, dog trainers, dancers, potters, cobblers, gardeners and players of the viola da gamba, all decked out in vivid versions of 17th century costume. Labels on their backs identify each individual, giving both their original African names and occupations as well those imposed by their new European owners, and these poignant texts also form part of an evocative soundtrack, interspersed with snatches of Cuban, Irish, Jewish and African music.”

Much of her output looks like a gaudy collage produced by a mildly psychotic six-year-old with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen instead to the singer Goldie who appeared at last night’s shindig to praise Ms Himid’s work for “Digging deep and challenging people’s perceptions.” Gliding over the surface and massaging familiar prejudices, more like. Another enthusiastic commentator said that Ms Himid’s agenda is “Black identity and the slave industry” And he reminded us that Ms Himid was awarded the MBE for services to “black women’s art.” All of which sounds rather racist to me and it doesn’t say anything about her art.

She produces some of her work on old copies of The Guardian and includes photographs of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher clipped out from that newspaper. In other words Ms Himid is not about art but about trendy-lefty racial “activism” and, instead of throwing pots of paint in our faces, she is, by her own admission, busy “reclaiming identities.”

Well, it’s trash isn’t it? if works awarded the Turner Prize were not trash, we would all come away disappointed.

Fair enough that it’s trash. But it’s not fair enough that it’s lying trash. Ms Himid claims to be about “correcting false impressions.” Yes, we are all going to have the scales removed from our eyes and see the world as it really is – that is the world portrayed by “the black women’s art movement.”

So why does she peddle palpable untruths? Here’s one: “In the 1980s black people were totally invisible.”

I suppose she means as invisible as Courtney Pine, Sir Bill Morris, Sir Trevor McDonald, Chris Eubank, Cleo Laine, Shirley Bassey, Martin Offiah, Frank Bruno, Ben Okri, Floella Benjamin, Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Lenny Henry, Benjamin Zephaniah, Lennox Lewis, Linford Christie, Paul Ince and Ian Wright?

At the time I was living in Bolton – not far from Professor Himid’s hideout at the University of Central Lancashire. I numbered many black people among my friends and acquaintance there  and, so far as I can recall, none of them was invisible.

I must not protest too much and we should be grateful for the crap because it makes us return and repose again in things of quality.

All may be forgiven. Except that the name of the great J.M.W Turner is contaminated with this slime.

 

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03 Dec

Perfectibility: are we there yet?

On every visit to the National Gallery, I’m always drawn to the early Italian paintings. They are in room 51 in the Sainsbury Wing. I was in there for an hour and a half yesterday.

As the 14th century ends and we come into the 15th, it is hard not to notice a change in the style of these paintings. Whereas Giotto and his contemporaries express theology in their creations, the later masters begin to be interested in something like personality. In one of the earlier paintings, we see the crucifix growing out of Mary’s womb. This is neither surrealism nor pornography, but the doctrines of the Incarnation and the means of our redemption in one vision. This is typical of these earlier paintings. They express dogmas by means of pictorial analogies in much the same way as the contemporary Dante expressed dogmas by means of poetic analogies in The Divine Comedy.

Of course, there is theology in the later paintings too but, over a period of about a hundred years, there is much less symbolism and much more naturalism and the beginnings of humanism. And so the dogma of Original Sin comes to be replaced by something approaching the idea of man’s perfectibility: not the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but the human form divine. T.E. Hulme put the matter exactly:

“You get the first hint of it in the beginnings of the Renaissance itself, in a person like Pico Della Mirandola. You get there the hint of an idea of something which finally culminates in a doctrine which is the opposite of the doctrine of Original Sin: the belief that man as a part of nature was after all something satisfactory. You get a change from a certain profundity and intensity to that flat and insipid optimism which, passing through its first stage of decay in Rousseau, has finally culminated in the state of slush in which we now have the misfortune to live.”

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