Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An economy of means

by Alison Kubler

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Labirinto e grande pozzo

As my recent blog will attest, I have not long returned from Hong Kong where I enjoyed something of a hedonistic week, as well as some decidedly hedonistic art viewing, of course. I imbibed, degustation-ed and shopped with an abandon bordering on ferocity, thus I returned home feeling a little sheepish. It is a GFC after all, and aren’t we all supposed to be doing our bit? On some level I was stimulating the economy, just not my own. Apparently those spending big in Hong Kong at the art fair were observing their own abstemious standards that must come with a caveat about ‘artworks purchased over $100,000 US are exempt from buyer’s remorse’. Anyway, in response to the excesses of Hong Kong, I have enacted tough personal austerity measures, a la Greece and Portugal. Budgets have been slashed and heads rolled – hang on that bit was Julia Gillard. Nevertheless, the new frugality is sort of fun, in a cruel way. I like to think I am mirroring a mood in contemporary art.

At the recent Basel Art Fair, which is Birkin bag territory to the power of 1000, and European royals at ten paces, the Zeitgeist moment was the number of dealers using iPads to spruik the work of their artists. Such was their ubiquity it may have been rebranded iBasel. While dealers and art collectors weren’t looking at art on small handheld screens instead of on the demountable walls behind them (oh the postmodern irony), they were talking up the success of Art Unlimited, Basel’s curated quotient. The Art Newspaper called the prevalence of larger scale, serious installations by artists such as the late Dan Flavin “big but not brash” (http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Art-Unlimited-opening-It-s-big-but-it-s-not-brash/21064).

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Labirinto e grande pozzo

The willingness of dealers to forgo sales in favour of showing serious, less saleable art was seen as a good sign that the art market is back on track. The installations may have been big but they were characterized by a pared down aesthetic and the use of cheap disposable materials as opposed to spectacle. This is the essence of arte povera, the 1960s Italian art movement associated with artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Merz and Greek artist Jannis Kounellis. This poverty of means, doing less with more, would arguably be well placed to make a return in contemporary art practice in a post GFC climate. Pistoletto’s Labirinto e grande pozzo, 1969 / 2010 (a cardboard roll maze, a big labyrinth of a lot - pozzo ) was priced at 650,000 Euro so it is not exactly a bargain - dealers need not panic just yet then - but it is a work that has stood the test of time, philosophically at least. 

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God

Arte povera’s spirit of the cheap and the free is a direct challenge for example to Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a diamond skull worth 50 million pounds. Hirst’s work is of course a witty retort – the ultimate vanitas, a double folly – life and death and diamonds all rolled into one. Pistoletto’s work describes a critical mass of nothing of value, it is a labyrinth that leads nowhere with no reward. Pistoletto’s maze is at once ephemeral and enduring. Hirst’s skull is death in all its weighty inevitability. It is solid, ancient and bling. The two works would seem to be in moral opposition and yet they describe the same truth – the fragility of life, and the assuredness of death. I like them both equally. They represent my own moral dilemma, more or less.


Nicola Moss said...

Great post Alison. I think we live in a time of great contradiction.

Ingrid Richards said...

After a bit of on line research..
The three artists Alison has referenced all seem to have mastered the creation of implied space
Perhaps the most economical kind?
There are many architectural cues in this
Perhaps most significantly its application in the prevalent and often curious world that is Brisbane's public art regime - art 'built-in'
Public art has perhaps become the 'fix all' for the public realm and the results have been varied in their type and level of success
i.e. Permanent installations, temporary built works, temporary ephemeral works (projection etc) and event based creations.
To my mind the spectacle of the event (I found out recently this is known as 'soft infrastructure') has had the most positive outcome, coupled with the impact of the ephemeral (think William Jolley Bridge Creative lighting Project -Ian de Gruchy, 2009).
There are of course many positive 'built in' examples (there is little question that the flood sign at the New Farm Powerhouse is a great success (Watermark - Richard Tipping) however the ability for new technology and strategic interventions to transform a space and surprise the public is incredible.
It is in the best interests of the public to be challenged by their environment and take notice.
Perhaps then our infrastructure budget may redirect to the delightful (a room, a journey) as opposed to service (a seat, a road) so that there is something to do when we get there.
And as Pistoletto has shown us, with skill, the final experience can far exceed the material outlay.

Alison Kubler said...

And further to that, public art may move more successfully to a semi-permanent temporary model which is perhaps more in keeping with contemporary attention spans. This idea of the experiential is I think, core to so much art and yet often the least spoken about element - that is the act of looking or the journey as you describe. Thanks for the comment!