Monday, September 28, 2009

Art & Commerce

There's not much in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition at the Cornerhouse that you'd feel comfortable with on your dining room wall, and, equally, there's little at the Urbis Buy Art Fair that I really want to see in a gallery. An observation, that's all, that when we talk about "art" we mean different things in different places, just as when we talk about "books" or "novels" we may not always be using the same measuring device. I admire any artist, from Vettriano down who manages to make money from their art, but the work that most surprised me at New Contemporaries - which showcases the best of the degree shows - is not aiming to be above anyone's mantlepiece any time soon.

I've always tried to go along to the New Contemporaries show, but realise it might have been a couple of years. What does it say of the state of the art? (Or the state of art?) I think there are threads of narrative, rather than a grand design. The conceptual appears to have played itself out, and in many ways I would say the binding thread for this years exhibition was one of "representation", which is one of the oldest of artistic aims. A representative art speaks of a generation that is perhaps re-learning how to look, which in itself offers a new intellectual challenge. Not all of this is successful, and some of the painters, illustrators (yes, drawing, that lowest-tech) and sculptors seem to have an affinity with the less flashy side of seventies art; a low key expressionism, a slightly affected minimalism. My three favourite pieces were all video works. Richard Healy's two video pieces were astonishing; playful, warm, confident, and easy with their postmodernist self-awareness. Brasher was Rachel Mclean's reinvention of Scottish mythos in her day-glo video montage, "Tae Think Again". So easily done badly, the sheer bravado of the piece was a clear highlight of the exhibition. And though I'm not sure whether it's much more than a very good joke, Susanne Ludwig's video installation left my smiling long after I'd left the gallery.

The gallery wasn't very busy, early on a Sunday afternoon, but I'd recommend a visit to what is a diverse, considered show.

"Buy Art Fair", in comparison is a commercial bazaar, with hundreds pushing through the space. You know the kind of thing, by now, commercial galleries, touting living room accessories. Artists must pay the bills, and a friend met us later, very happy that a couple of his paintings of the crane-scape of Media City's evolution had been sold.

In the distance between the exhibitions at Cornerhouse and Urbis you can find something of the gap between art and commerce. (It's worth adding, that the Manchester Contemporary, a side exhibition at Buy Art Fair, was a laudable attempt to narrow the gap, with providing space for some of Manchester's more contemporary galleries.)

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