You Talkin’ to Me? Some thoughts on Tino Seghal at Tate Modern

I’ve been thinking a lot about this new ‘artwork’ in the Turbine Hall.

The Associations, by Tino Seghal, Tate Modern

It disturbs me, this idea of strangers in my face, invading my space – what Adrian Searle, in his admiring review, calls “unasked for intimacies”, and Claire Bishop, also in The Guardian and less admiringly, sees as part of the neo-liberal agenda: ‘no choice at all’ masquerading as ‘freedom to choose’.
Forced participation.
I have, by inclination, some sympathy with the latter view.

Then this:
On a very busy Tuesday evening, a middle-aged man committed suicide by throwing himself from the sixth floor of Tate Modern, right in front of the main entrance.
Note the top Twitter comment: ” outrageous performance (my emphasis)”.
Difficult not to view it as ‘performance’; why then, why there, of all places?
For the witnesses to this appalling act, it must indeed have been an ‘unasked for intimacy’, this imposing on others, strangers, of a profound, personal, distress.
Of course, there were images; there always are.

I’m asking myself, how is this act different from what was concurrently passing as ‘art’ in the Turbine Hall, if not only in degree?
Private drama as public spectacle.
I’m reminded of when some ‘artist’ -can’t remember her/his name – caused a shitstorm by declaring the attack on the Twin Towers the ‘greatest artwork of the century’.
It’s not enough any more to be a quiet observer, we have to be/be made active participants, continually involved in everything, even if it’s just by taking the ‘I was there’ photo and posting it on Facebook and Twitter.

Is this a good thing?
It’s all very well, talking about ‘breaking down boundaries’, ‘democratic, participatory art’, and so forth; what I’m increasingly seeing this sort of thing as is pressure, pressure to be ‘in the loop’, to ‘belong’, to ‘get it’; pressure to endorse an unmediated, insidious, ultimately exploitative form of ‘artistic’ confessionalism where all, indiscriminately, is played out in the public domain.

“We’re in the middle of things. It is marvellous”. ~ Adrian Searle

Is it?
I feel like running a mile from this Tate show and everything it appears to stand for and do. (That probably says a great deal about me; something like ‘sociopath’.)
Besides, Mr Sehgal and all your minimum-pay ‘assistants’, the way I’m seeing it, if indeed this is ‘art’, on a bright, sunshine-y evening in London Town, you were comprehensively, and tragically, trumped.


(I apologise if this piece is less cogent than it should be. As I say, I have been thinking about this ‘artwork’, and very much still am. All thoughts, contributions, objections gratefully received.)

29 July: Another (very positive) review by Laura Cumming. It’s starting to look like I’m just a joyless misanthrope…

The old fella just made an interesting point re the Sheffield ‘migrant’ in LC’s review: perhaps southerners are so entranced by the ‘show’ because, as a rule, the folks Down South do not speak to strangers. Address a stranger on the Tube and she/he will think you certifiably insane. So there’s a novelty value.
Here Up North such intercourse is totally acceptable, but within limits: “Looks like rain again…” is fine; anything more personal and you’re a ‘nosy bugger’.
As a northern ex-Londoner, I’m caught between the two…

Dirty Old Men 2

An addendum to my last post.

Take a look at this; (I’ve pixelated the image because WordPress forbids images of genitalia; when it was posted on Facebook last year FB deleted it and there was no end of brouhaha; it’s very easy to find the unadulterated version):
L’Origine du Monde (Origin of the World) was painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866, oil on canvas, 55cm x 46cm, and currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris:

Now, this is ART, right?
A very great painter, a leading exponent of Realism, which rejected, among other things, the idealising of the female form inherent in academic History Painting and the hypocrisy of erotica/porn masquerading as moral edification, creates something ‘honest’.
Technically, it’s brilliant. Look at that foreshortening! The brushwork.
It hangs in full public view in a ‘proper’ gallery.
The frame! Wow, that frame! Only Art deserves a frame like that.
And it’s got a portentous ‘mythic’ title!
Of course it’s ART!

Then ask why it was painted.
It was commissioned by an Ottoman diplomat for his – ahem – ‘private collection’; that is, the wealthy man’s version of a secret stash of jazz mags. It is an aid to masturbation. If you’re really rich, like Mr Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner, hell, you don’t need the images, you can surround yourself with the real thing.

But it’s by Courbet! It’s ART!

So, if a ‘split-beaver shot’ (I believe that’s the technical term) is beautifully rendered by someone famous, it’s no longer ‘pornography’, it no longer denigrates women? Somehow it’s more acceptable and less exploitative than a well-thumbed copy of Razzle?

You may argue that the painting marks ‘progress’, in that it shows women as they ‘really are’. Actually, it was merely ‘racy’, more arousing to appetites jaded by anodyne representations of Diana with her tits out; pornography, to continue its appeal, must always go that ‘one step further’. (Wonder what Ruskin would have made of it, with his apocryphal horror of pubes?) You can then think about that ‘progress’ and ask yourself why,150 years on, women are more paranoid than ever about eradicating every stray hair that marks them out as equal, grown-up members of society, if not to conform, still, to a male-engendered ideal of how the female of the species should look.

The ‘male gaze’.
The look that continues to insist:
You, lady, are not Like Me; you exist only in relation to me and my desires; I don’t even need to see your face; I don’t care who you are, only what you are.
And so powerful is this gaze of mine, it’s got you looking at yourself in the exact same way.
Woman as c*nt.
Woman is c*nt.

This painting: Edifying? Transcendent? Art?
Dress it up (in androcentric discourse?), but I don’t think so.
How about you?


22 July: Just discovered this ‘Electric Alarum’ anti-masturbation device for men. Seemed apposite. 😉

And just in case women think they’re blamelessly getting away scot free, an excellent post from M.K. Hajdin:

Dirty Old Men…

This made me smile, albeit wryly.
According to a news report, writes Jonathan Jones in the Guardian,

“…the guards at the National Gallery in London are worried that “dirty old men” are sneaking in to look at Mark Wallinger’s peep show, in which nude models recreate the paintings of Titian…”

Unshaven, gaunt-cheeked men of a certain age (think Albert Steptoe), hands hidden suspiciously deep in the pockets of stained, crusty macs, are prowling the sacred halls of this cathedral to Art in search of titillation?
Surely not!

A Wallinger ‘Diana’ at the National Gallery, London

What nonsense.
Fact: men, ‘straight men’ (hate that phrase, with its implications of orthopraxy), like to look at young, naked, nubile women. Always have.
And Art and the purveyors of Art have been one of the major means of allowing them, “dirty” or eminently respectable, to do so.
As Jones says,

“…there’s loads of erotica on view at the National Gallery…”

You don’t need to wander the shady lanes of Soho, shame-facedly incognito; you, sir, can go to the National on a Sunday afternoon in your Abercrombie and Fitch chinos, get a brazen eyeful, and call it ‘culture’.

Diana and Actaeon, by Titian, 1556-9, 202cm x 185cm, The National Gallery, London

As John Berger pointed out, the History of Art as we in the west know it is essentially the History of the Male Gaze: oil paintings in particular have been made in the main by men, at men’s behest, for men’s pleasure. When the Hierarchy of Painting, the classifying of genres according to their ‘respectability’, was formally stated in the 17th century at the (French) Academy, licence to perv was granted officially and unequivocally; top of the list was History Painting, the most ‘morally uplifting’, taking as it did its themes from the Bible and classical history/mythology.
‘Uplifting’ tales, yes.
Also replete with tits and ass.

Examples are, of course, myriad. One ‘theme’, however, caught my eye, in that variations on it appear to be particularly plentiful: Lot and his daughters.
The kernel of the story is this: warned by two visiting ‘angels’ that God is about to destroy Sodom, Lot flees the city with his wife and daughters; the wife, against orders, looks back, sees the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt; Lot and the girls reach a place of safety; the girls ply their father with alcohol, and rape/seduce him in order to get pregnant and continue his line.


Lots, indeed, to discuss here, not least ‘brewer’s droop’; but what’s important is that, in Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) tradition, Lot is viewed as a ‘righteous man’, the founding father through his daughters of the Moabites (ancestors of Christ) and Ammonites; the story is as ‘moral’ as it gets.

Lot and his Daughters, by Wtewael, c. 1595, 205cm x 163cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Oh, joy!” thinks the (male, monied) patron of art.
“Not only can I demonstrate my piety (and wealth) to the world, I can also have a bloody massive painting of an old geezer who looks pretty much like me having the time of his life with a bevy of fillies absolutely gagging for it!

Lot and his Daughters, by Furini, c.1640, 123cm x 120cm, Museo del Prado

I’m not man-bashing per se, I’m telling it how I see it.
I like men. Honest.
Hell, I’m married to one.
But the truth is, the porn ‘industry’ is predominantly sustained by this ‘male gaze’. Call it ‘art’, call it ‘erotica’, call it what you will, but men looking at women in this way is, as it always was, an oppressive act; and it is all the more pernicious in that it conditions women to look at other women from the same perspective.
Saying that, I don’t know about you, but I prefer the honesty of an unreconstructed, unmediated “PHWOAR!!” to the insidious, mealy-mouthed, shit-eating expressions of solidarity with the Sisterhood that some men now appear constrained to evince at every given opportunity to prove how ‘right on’ they are.
(That’s right, men! You Can’t Win! ! Feels good, doesn’t it?)

So, Mr Security Guard (you are male for my purposes; yes, it’s ‘unfair’), cut the hypocrisy and give the ‘dirty old men’ a break; who are they, after all? The ones in the too-big raincoats? Or the ones in the Savile Row suits?
And when you go home after a long, tedious shift round the Raphaels and switch on the computer, what do you search for?
Lets face it, ‘dirty old men’ operate within a very ‘grand’ and ancient tradition indeed. And they’re everywhere.
Poor buggers.

(By the way: ‘dirty old women‘? They rock.)

Creativity and Survival

As ever, a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece from Michael. And clearly written. Important, that.

Creative Ideas for Starving Artists

Every now and then, you read something that challenges your assumptions and makes you rethink your beliefs.  This article was one case in point: .

What struck me about this article, which dates back to 1991, was that it lays bare some myths about education, which we have come to believe as fact.  I know I accepted these myths without question at face value, too, but there are some good refutations in the article against them.

It got me thinking about the relationship between art education, creativity and what it might mean for our ultimate survival.

What are these myths about education?

1.  Ignorance is a solvable problemThat this was a myth was a startling assertion, to me.  I had always thought that ignorance was a temporary problem, easily solved by a little more willingness to learn and a bit more teaching.  In fact, that view implies…

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“Performance Obscura”: Athi-Patra Ruga, artist

I often bemoan the fatuousness of ‘western’ contemporary art: the money-grabbing, witless monster that is the Hirst/Gagosian axis of evil; the whining solipsism of would-be abstractionists and expressionists; the inane banality of so much ‘concept’.
You hear it all the time on social media: ‘Art changes the world’.
Does it?
Does yours?
We live in ‘interesting times’, yet so few artists seem to me willing to engage with them, take them on.

So coming across Athi-Patra Ruga via Twitter on was refreshing and re-affirming: radical; democratic; challenging; affective; he’s all these things.
But above all, he’s brave.

The following is a review of his performance, The Future White Women of Azania (The Prequel), at The National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa; beautifully written by Charl Blignaut, appearing in City Press, Johannesburg, July 6.
(I would have just reblogged Skattie, but if there’s a way to do it I ain’t yet figured it out. I’m thick like that.)

“Testing the limits of liberty

At 10 o’clock this morning an extraordinary creature emerges on the street in Grahamstown. She wears pink tights and red shoes with impossibly high heels. She has on a dramatic frock of balloons covering her head and body.

With shaky steps and an ominous squeaking sound of rubber-on-rubber, she feels her way down the road. Onlookers frown, puzzled. “This is art?” asks a man with disdain. Then, spontaneously, a balloon bursts, bleeding red paint into the road – and the man jumps backwards, alarmed. Hearts are racing.

The monster woman is South African performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga, well-known for his radically fashioned, highly conceptual characters that materialise in public as society’s worst nightmares.

The creature’s route was to be tracked by the camera obscura in the Observatory Museum by fellow-artist Mikhael Subotzky.
Eight privileged spectators would watch the performance from there. I decided, however, to stick with Ruga. A gasp goes up as he stumbles from a kerb and is almost taken out by a taxi. He soldiers on.

In the tradition of Steven Cohen, danger, endurance and the threat of arrest are what define the pedigree of this kind of guerilla public intervention.

Into the informal trading spaces the creature struts, finally taking time to stop and wave at the museum’s camera.Young members of the public start to engage.
Children gleefully gather dropped balloons and play with them. Young men cockily film her with their phone cameras. She pulls out binoculars and returns their scrutiny. They back off, laughing.

Theorists like to discuss Ruga’s role as a radical gay monster in terms of “the gaze of the other” and that sort of thing. “Are they talking to me with this art-world-convoluted-blah-blah? It is an exclusionist, elitist language!” he has told me. Similarly, the gallery with its white walls is, to him, a Western capitalist structure.

African art happens in the street. It is Ruga’s gallery.

He has been known to wear a black bodysuit covered in charcoal and then run inside and throw himself at gallery walls, leaving a stain behind as art.

Into the township the mythic scapegoat labours with staggering elegance, street music versioning a score. As bursting balloons infect the dusty street next to an infected river, tears start to roll down his cheeks.

Raised in an Eastern Cape township and severely bullied for being gay, I am guessing that the tears are of emotion as he reclaims his dignity and his public space – as much as they are about his physical pain.
Back in town, he approaches the angel statue on High Street – “a memorial to the brave men of Albany who died for the empire during the Anglo Boer War”.

Rubbing himself against it, he bursts his final balloons, revealing his peroxide blonde hair and bodysuit and spraying the statue with colour.
People stare. Cars stop. Is this person allowed to do these things?
Patra’s answer would be that he is questioning the democracy of public space.
If he may not be here, then what about lesbians and drag queens, street children, migrant labourers and African immigrants?

The single most heart-stoppingly meaningful and dangerous piece of work at the festival this year, Performance Obscura succeeded on many levels. The most powerful, for me, was its testing of the limits of our hard-won liberty.”

Wonderful stuff.
More, please.


All photographs courtesy of skattiewhatareyouwearing and Athi-Patra Ruga.
Thanks to Belinda Blignaut for sharing.

More on Athi-Patra here: 

The Art of Getting it Wrong: Caravaggio

Obviously, being me, I couldn’t let pass the discovery of 100 ‘new Caravaggios’ without comment. (See an excellent summary of the story so far on Elliott in Gotham.)
The Higgs boson, and now this.
Truly, tempus mirabilis.

There are a host of reasons to admire Caravaggio; no need to list them: we all know what they are.
But what I love, really love, about him, is that, in some ways, he sucked.
Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, one of the Milan researchers:

“…the work of the adolescent Merisi… is powerful, realistic, but still messy… Some errors were so deep-seated they reappear years later in more celebrated paintings..”

Criticisms of Caravaggio’s style and technique were rife from the off. From Bellori’s Lives of the Artists (1672):

“…They [the old painters] spread it about that,… poor in invention and design, lacking in decorum and art, he painted all his figures in one light and on one plane without gradations.”

Bellori, while recognising his ‘innovations’ and ‘influence’, agreed.
More recently, Hockney has cited (in Martin Gayford’s excellent A Bigger Message) Caravaggio’s ‘mistakes in drawing‘ (sic) as evidence for the artist’s use of the camera obscura, that being the reason for:

“…anatomical and spatial oddities: arms too far, too short or too long; crammed into a visual space that is simply too small to contain them…”

All of which is neither here nor there.
I challenge anyone to stand in front of a great Caravaggio and not be moved beyond measure. The last thing you’ll remark upon is the disegna, the draughtsmanship. The sum is always greater than the parts.

Great art, for me, does not exist in ‘perfection’; it exists on the cusp, in that fine no-man’s-land between hanging together and falling apart. It’s human, and thus infinitely humane.
Michelangelo will always trump Bernini, in my book.

So again, Caravaggio: not the greatest ‘painter’, but arguably the greatest artist.

“He repudiated every other precept and considered it the highest achievement in art not to be bound to the rules of art.”

That, my friends, is why.


7 July: See the latest from Elliott here. The sceptics weigh in.

9 July: Is it all Utter Bollocks?

“…the intellect that courses under the bombast of execution.” Koons in a nutshell. Great post.

Truffle Hunting

Dear TruffleHunters!

I’m pleased to be reporting from Germany this week where I will be bringing you a couple of TruffleHunting’s first international reports. Our first stop is Frankfurt, Germany where a couple of weeks ago saw the opening of two ambitious exhibitions by America’s premiere artistic raconteur Jeff Koons. The double show, held at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and Liebieghaus Musuem is split between Koons’ polemic between Painting and Sculpture. Both exhibitions reinforce Koons as an ambitious creative force for the new century. They also highlight the intellect that courses under the bombast of execution.

Jeff Koons, The Painter

The exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle is joyous and exuberant. On display are selections of every major body of work from the early advertisement appropriations to the lusty Made in Heaven series to the gargantuan collaged compositions of the Easy Fun, Hulk Elvis and Antiquity series .

The show’s most…

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Art Work of the Day, by CERN

Short post to mark what I hope will prove a truly historic day (and to offer my sympathies to my American friends: ‘#Higgs’ is trending higher than ‘Happy 4th of July’; couldn’t CERN have made the announcement yesterday? Or tomorrow? PARTY-POOPERS!!)

Beyond the Standard Model: Simulated Large Hadron Collider CMS particle detector data depicting a Higgs boson. Beautiful.

Just to re-iterate: There is NO DICHOTOMY between ‘Art’ and ‘Science’. It is not one vs. the other, and never was.
Both are simply aspects of human creativity.
‘Science’ demands imagination, intuition. Otherwise, it goes nowhere.
‘Art’ demands method and rigour. Otherwise, it’s a mess.

Both help us see the ‘world’ in revelatory, thrilling ways.
Einstein and Euripides; Picasso and Pythagoras; Caravaggio and Copernicus: Dirac and Dickens; Beckett and Bohr; van Gogh, Goethe, Shakespeare…
All extraordinary, all blessed with the capacity to imagine the, for the rest of us, unimaginable.

(And if you think that the ‘aesthetics’ of science, how it’s presented, don’t matter, witness the Twitter brouhaha over CERN’s use of Comic Sans:


“Without fantasy there is no science. Without fact there is no art.” – Vladimir Nabokov

‘Art’ and ‘science’, cut from the same cloth: us.

Happy Higgs Boson Day!!

(To all my American friends, lest you’re not feeling the love:



The first poem published in a scientific journal:

You can now LISTEN to the Higgs boson!!