Review: SOCIETY GETS THE ART IT DESERVES

SOCIETY GETS THE ART IT DESERVES
Drawing Folio
Curated by John Nixon and Justin Andrews
April 2-25 2009
Block Projects

This was the phrase employed by Stephen Asquith of Block Projects in regard to a society which only produces an elite few who can afford art and who have created a market for a slickly presented final product, which will blend into their well designed homes. Perhaps ironically the reason that the socialist ideal of art for all is not realised, is because of the artisanship taken to produce the final product – the very thing which is generally disguised in such art.

Asquith noted that in the past 5 years there had been a trend to remove the authorial mark – the painterly brush stroke – in order to produce the perfect luxury object. If that is all that such art aims for, the question might be asked, “so what?”

This exhibition can be seen as shifting the focus from product to process. Each artist was asked to submit both a preparatory working drawing and a finished drawing. As the artists all work in an abstract/conceptual manner, many of the preparatory drawings are more like flow charts of ideas, or technical specifications for a work.

The exhibition is like a collection of modern sketch books to provide a link back to the processes of past masters, whose studies are used to train artists and are now hung in museums in their own right. That being said, some of the “process” revealed here is more conceptual in nature and even then doesn’t suggest a whole lot of thought. This may be unfair due to the large number of artists represented and the restriction to one preparatory work and one finished work. If a greater number of works were shown, they may have revealed themes and an overarching “process”.

A case in point is Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley’s work “Drawing for hate, kill and falsity dolls after Sturtevant’s HATE KILL FALSITY”. Being aware of their other work and the references in the title suggest there is more to their process than what is represented by this drawing. The drawing itself looks like a fairly obvious attempt to be controversial which didn’t take much in the way of execution.

Similarly, Rose Nolan’s “detail, My Scrap/Note Collection” and “It’s Okay To Be Alright” look like a quick attempt to come up with a spoof of a Barbara Kruger work, but Nolan’s reputation and the execution of her final works, outside of this show, are obviously not the result of a few minutes thought and work.

There is also a lot to admire and a lot to fascinate in terms of finished works and process in this exhibition – too much to describe here and possibly too much to take in. Craig Easton’s “UNTITLED BLACK” and “RUN RUN RUN” show him developing a theme and the latter work has a very textural finish, which humanises what could otherwise look like a computer generated chart which has gone slightly wrong.

Marco Fusinato’s “Mass Black Implosion (Symphonie Monoton-Silence, Yves Klein)”, is a witty reference to Klein’s symphony consisting of a single, sustained note, which can be appreciated on a purely visual level and for its suggestions of a composer undertaking a reductio ad absurdum.

Nathan Gray’s works also give an insight into both conceptual and technical process and allow a greater appreciation of the final product. (Particularly so for a non-artist.) His “keybar to calder” gives a type of mind map to what is being expressed, adding another level to the aesthetic appeal of the finished work. In the same way, the works of Raafat Ishak, (an almost manga Duchamp), George Johnson, (which put me in mind of stepped rice paddies) and Bryan Spier all presented insights into artists who aren’t content with conceptual investigations. Their work is, rather, layered with meaning both because of, and in addition to, their superb execution – whether in a painterly style or one which effaces the authorial touch completely.


Conceptually, this exhibition works, but the conclusions the viewer might draw, (such as that conceptual art may be quite easy to produce), might not be to the artist's liking. Depending on what style of art is of interest to the viewer, some processes will be of more interest than others, but, to use one of Baz Luhrmann’s favourite phrases there is surely “something for everyone”.

By Brenton Lochert

Brenton Lochert

Brenton is a freelance writer, art collector and lawyer. Once upon a time he completed an Arts degree where he became fluent in art theory speak.