To Be Consumed.

January 17, 2010

“Contemporary art exists in a state of continual flux and evolution. For this very reason, personal interpretations of artwork vary considerably from one viewer to another. In bringing together an extremely varied collection of artists, this exhibition reflects the richness and diversity of contemporary art and the multiple emotions and personal interpretations it elicits. There are after all no right and wrong interpretations, only matters of opinion, judgment and aesthetic preference. Ultimately the meanings of these artworks are “to be confirmed” by you, the viewer.”

This statement accompanies the notes for The Bristol Gallery’s newest exhibition, To Be Confirmed. What is most striking about this particular gallery space however is not its presentation of the artworks themselves; rather, it is its all too obvious need to make a sale.

Ranging from £15 (for a small desk calendar) to £6150 (for a large bronze statue) just about everything in the gallery is for sale (including the selection of art reference books on the coffee table). Perhaps the emphasis on selling the artwork is reflected in the quotation abovementioned; perhaps the exhibition is suggesting that the process of commodification that art undergoes gives it (or perhaps the artist) some variant of confirmation (status, wealth, acceptance, and possibly even on some level, meaning).

Of the artworks themselves, as exhibited at The Bristol Gallery, they are made up of eleven individual artists whose works are as varied as their abilities to engage or elicit response.

Alison Black who, “deliberately rejects assigning narrative titles to her work in order to free the viewer to explore their own imagination and individually interpret her vividly coloured abstractions” creates mixed media images on canvas paper and whose use of colour and materials is attractive and something of a highlight in the room.

Alison Black

Alison Black

Mark Boyce’s hand carved ceramics are intricate and undoubtedly the most skilled works in the room. Similarly, Julien Masson’s work is evidently time-consuming for its application of paint onto canvas via syringes and pipettes and its three dimensional use of ordinary materials such as masking tape, though the images themselves fall somewhat tonally flat. Hywel Livingstone is another artist concerned with process rather than product and I daren’t argue with him for I am sure the creative process was far more intriguing than the end result. Bob Gale’s acrylic coastlines are rigid for their jarring geometric shapes and Nick Davis’ bronze sculptures claim to comment upon Americana and Graphic Novels. Luke Mitchell’s photographs are possibly the least interesting visuals in the gallery giving the expensive modernist sofas something of a fighting chance in their wake.

MAF Räderscheidt’s work, A Painting a Day Keeps the Doctor Away, was provocative for the boundaries it blurred bringing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter into the gallery space. The nine-month project itself was intent upon conveying through social networks across the cyber plain “a midget insight in an artist’s reality, a painted diary”. The body of work certainly communicated the urgency and immediacy that is at the heart of Internet social networking sites such as those aforementioned. The only reservation I hold is that the works themselves become inherently problematised through the process of renegotiation that their terms of reception have thus endured. Having now become items for sale, the good-natured sharing that social networking sites promote, and indeed intrinsically encourage, is obliterated.

Jimmy Galvin’s works stood out in the exhibition; bold abstract paintings capturing one’s eye from across the room, though I found the comparison to Rothko reductive on many levels. But it was his series of photographs, Electric Chair, Series of 3, that was most striking; with reference to Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass as it is also known, Galvin highlights and reiterates the suffering that is brought about by the hand of man.

Jimmy Galvin

Jimmy Galvin

The most troubling piece in the exhibition is Chantal Powell’s Wonderland, Age 4. Encased in a beautiful antique wooden chest we find glass, acrylic, paperweights, feathers, fairy lights. Though these items do reflect her personal statement, explicating “romantic obsession…simplicity…often focusing on the small insignificant moments of life”, one wonders at the price point: £850 quid for what is essentially a child’s treasure chest.

The skepticism that I put forward is intrinsically linked to the issue of liminality in terms of the space which this particular gallery, and many more like it, occupy; something between exhibition and retail. The view I attended was private but yesterday the space was opened to the public. Perhaps this view is too cynical, but surely it is valid, for it is both private and confirmed.

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3 Responses to “To Be Consumed.”

  1. I just read your review of the exhibition in the Bristol Gallery and I am a little bit puzzled. In my eyes galleries ARE trading places for art which makes it quite natural that the exhibited things are for sale. Perhaps I missed something, but that’s not true?
    Same with me. Yes, I share my paintings, you may come and look at them, every day a new. But how do you think I pay the paint? The paper? My internet provider? It’s not a leisure, it’s my life, it’s my job. If you have any other good idea, how I pay my bills, I stop selling my paintings and give them away! And you’ll be the 1st to get one! Promised!
    If the only way you accept art is for free, you will soon have no art any more. And no artists. And no Bristol Gallery. Sad, but fact.

    • Tara Judah said

      It is of course natural that as a trading artist you would consider art galleries places of business.
      However, from a point of view of critical reception the perspective is somewhat different.

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