VL2 : From Archive to Interview

Angela’s second video lecture looks at online resources and the commentary provided on the work of a small handful of artists, and how they can differ whilst also perhaps agreeing…

The first thing to be said was a word of caution when looking online, highlighting the lack of context and basic information (scale, material, etc.) that can be seen on doing a simple Google search and the possible confusions and misinformation that can result from taking your information from a website with little or no provenance. The Internet is a wonderful tool but, as with many things, has to be used thoughtfully and appropriately. Take Wikipedia for example – this can be a good source of basic information and a springboard to further reading, but it is indeed error strewn and has nothing in the way of reliability of information or authority. It was also highlighted that Googling for something or someone might bring up unexpected results, featuring the art of a contemporary instead of the desired artist for example. All fairly basic stuff I suppose, but worth mentioning for the less savvy out there.

The lecture really got underway looking at the work of
Thomas Schütte, the German artist who studied under Gerhard Richter. Principally, it was one work that was the focus of the lecture, his Model for a Hotel (2007) that was on display on the 4th plinth of Trafalgar Square in 2007 and later in the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn as part of his solo show, Big Buildings – Models and Views in 2010.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 06.31.25
(screen grab from Schütte’s website)

The lecture featured three different reviews for Model for a Hotel, one from the Guardian’s Adrian Searle, one from Time Out’s Ossian Ward and a third from Richard Dorment from the Telegraph. Searle’s review is an audio piece (that can be found on the Guardian’s website
here), he speaks in hushed but excited tones, he’s clearly a fan but does not seem to fall into obscure prosaic ramblings about the work, his is a descriptive style, interspersed with exclamations of what I can only think of as being delight: “groovy!” he says. He goes further than simply Model for a Hotel though, also describing the other pieces in the Bonn show – the plywood and scrim Ferienhaus für Terroristen for example, and some silver angels that look like “brand new kitchen instruments”. He’s full of little pieces of back story, and it wasn’t really a huge surprise to see he has co-authored a book on Schütte’s work.

The other two reviewers only spoke of Model for a Hotel within the context of the 4th plinth installation, so there is no relationship to be had with Schütte’s other works, only with the surroundings. Ward was clearly unimpressed in his review (
here) – “a similar shrug went round those assembled at the unveiling of Thomas Schütte’s new sculpture for Trafalgar Square’s empty fourth plinth.” and that it mocked monumental art. It’s merely a model and not the finished article. Dorment is, as the Telegraph review states, “blown away by Thomas Schütte’s delicate sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square”. He’s clearly impressed by the juxtaposition of the lightness brought by the colourful glass structure and the heavy and inert monumental monochromatic surroundings. Searle also referred to the piece in its Trafalgar Square location, but found the installation within a building to be “glorious”. What would the others have thought of it in Bonn I wonder?

(Thomas Schütte: Model for a Hotel, 2007, glass, aluminium, steel, installation view, Bundeskunsthalle 2010, Photo: David Ertl)

Moving on from Schütte, the next artist to be discussed was
Kiki Smith, another artist I’d never heard of (this is becoming quite shameful!). Again, three different reviewers of her oeuvre and three different views, this time it’s Elizabeth Brown, the Mary Ryan Gallery and Christine Kuan. Elizabeth Brown’s review dated from 1994 and spoke about sculpture and the body, the unusual effects that she achieved such as “evoking solid bodies in fragile silk tissue” or “transitory visual effects in bronze”. Brown is another who has gone on to write a book about the artist in question, so clearly has a level of interest in her. The Mary Ryan Gallery commentary was from a biography on their website circa 2001 where the work was described as feminist and that it was “BODY ART imbued with political significance” and “undermined traditional erotic representation”; an agenda has been identified that was not apparent 7 or so years earlier (the website currently states that “Her work addresses feminist, philosophical, social, sexual, and political aspects of human nature, employing non-traditional materials. Her early work, transgressive in nature, dealt with mortality and decay, while her more recent work explores the natural world, portraiture, fairy tales, and myths.” so may well have changed again). Kuan’s piece on Oxford Art Online provides a much more balanced view, talking about the craft, the processes, her influences. It’s an interview rather than a direct critique.

Whilst some of this might be contradictory, it is more likely representing a shift in ideas and ideals, it probably also has something to do with how we bring something of ourselves to the work, so we interpret things as we see fit. A feminist will draw more upon the feminist elements of the work, bringing them to the fore, making them the dominant aspect of the review or biography, whereas someone without such feminist ideals would probably play them down a little. There’s also a certain amount of writing for the audience, and the nature of the intent of the writing (interview, promotional biography, critical review for an exhibition, etc.).

The next artist, I did know. Louise Bourgeois’ spider sculpture (Maman) was present in the Louvre gardens a number of years ago (in 2008) – the photograph below isn’t a particularly successful one, but it’s the only one I’ve been able to locate from the day.

Paris_03_08 298
Bourgeois’ work has been described as biographical, as the journal of her life although I’ll be honest and admit that I’m not sure what the giant spider has to do with that; I don’t know anything about her life, certainly not enough to make an informed reading of it and certainly not without reading someone else’s thoughts on the matter*. In looking at the three sources of writing on her, the first was an obituary (she died in 2010) and Angela described it as “nice”, as you might expect in that type of writing but without any thoughtful critique or commentary. In it, the one thing that seemed significant enough to be written down was “culture is the body, my body is my sculpture”. What has this to do with a giant spider?

Dorment has also
written about Bourgeois, and he has said that once you know the symbolism of the work it makes sense, and is nothing without it (tapestries represent the family business, cages to imprisonment, houses to security of her childhood and guillotines to the end of that security). With this knowledge, it all become subject to obvious indexical symbolism and that this has fed the academic “feeding frenzy” that came relatively late to her work. As such, the work is more famous for this academic interest rather than for any particular aesthetic qualities and may not stand the test of time…

Siri Hustvedt has a slightly counter argument in her piece for the Guardian (
here), she argues that “The story of Louise Bourgeois’s early life has become so enmeshed with her work that many critics have been seduced into biographical or psychoanalytic readings of the art, punctuated with pithy pronouncements from the artist”. From this is can be deduced that there are other ways to read the work, but we’ve been conditioned to read the biographical and psychoanalytical signifiers that repeatedly appear. Does this then mean that Dorment’s view is not his own? That it’s lazy? Well, of course there’s the fact that he might not like the work and therefore feels less inclined to come to his own interpretation and is indeed swept up with what has been already said about it, particularly by Bourgeois herself (he virtually says this in his article anyway – “Bourgeois’s work often fails because she gives us too much information”). I’m not implying this is the truth of the matter, Dorment is clearly more switched on that I am. I guess I’m just asking the question because I know it’s what would happen to me…

* Bourgeois has said, “The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother. “ (from

The final artist was the performance artist
Bobby Baker who deals with subjects motherhood and cooking,routines, daily lives and such. She uses comedy and food, drawings and stuff and is influenced by world affairs… Rather than a particular critique on the work, this was used as a way of introducing online collections as a resource, with Baker’s Diary Drawings featured on the Wellcome Collection site.

There was also the Turner Prize and the Stuckists, perhaps here as a means to illustrate that we should look at different views as there might be something of interest hidden within the rants or the negativity.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 21.16.10
(from From Archive to Interview, video lecture 2)

The Stuckists (and others) will be against “an empty gallery with a three-part recording”, they were also against Tomma Abts receiving the prize – a German winning a prize for a British visual artist under the age of 50? How does that work? But they seemed to be a bit more concerned with the abstract nature of the work, which is counter to their figurative painting manifesto, as is the giving of prizes in for art… or galleries in general for that matter.

The final part of the video is about online reference sources, such as the UCA website, or major galleries such as MoMA and Tate. I’ll not bother repeating these resources here, but below there are the ones used in this entry. All references used are also repeated in the Resources section of the site (although only the parent URL in the case of web pages). And from this we are then presented with three questions:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 21.28.59
(from From Archive to Interview, video lecture 2)

I’ll answer this in a later post.

Web references – all accessed 29/10/2014














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