Live Laugh Love
To be honest, lately I have stopped going to PVs so much because all I usually get served is a cryptic press release and small abstract sculptures placed carefully on the floor or jpegs printed on fleece/silk or something to that effect etc etc. you get my point - looks good on Instagram but sometimes it seems like nobody actually knows (or cares) what the work means and everyone just stands around talking about other shows they have been to. Maybe I’m not doing it right, but so often I feel the art objects themselves become almost redundant. They get engulfed and subsumed by the discourse, or by the community, or by both. People go to those PVs to be with their community, to reinforce and reiterate it. Of course some work is rlly gd, some shows really get you feeling some kind of way, and some people are genuinely there for the art, but on the whole, it is a reaffirmation that we are a part of this thing… the ~artworld~. We get it, and the others don’t.
Gab and Zarina’s PV was different, because it actively served to make me very aware of this protective, exclusive and snobby attitude that we use to generate and perpetuate the artworld. The show featured art from B&Q’s home department, a generic oil painting bought off eBay depicting lovers strolling in an autumnal park, a light-up printed canvas of the London Eye, a motivational “never give up on yourself” poster, some of those beige, faceless statuettes that your best mate’s Mum (if not your Mum) deffo has on the mantelpiece, and even a crystal pineapple sculpture from Gab’s Nan’s house. The show followed their podcast about whether this kind of mass-produced lower-case-a art, is really art at all, and why is it that this work is relegated so naturally? We laugh at this kind of art, so what’s the joke? People spend money on these artworks to have them in their homes – we are laughing at those people, we are laughing at their taste.
Danto defined the artworld as having an “atmosphere of art theory” and his m8 Dickie said that ye holy protectors of the artworld just decide something is art by conferring “the status of candidate for appreciation.” This theory seems arbitrary and thin af (and it is)… yet here we are laughing at this B&Q art, as self-defined members of the artworld, because we decided it isn’t allowed in? Sounds pretty arbitrary and thin to me. And that’s what Gab and Zarina’s show exposed – the arbitrariness and thinness of the system whereby some objects are imbued with art status, and others aren’t, and the problematic ways that this intersects with classism, elitism and downright snobbery.
These objects are produced and sold as ‘art,’ but their replicability, their transparent commodification and their lack of intellectual and conceptual significance all make them the laughing stock of the artworld. However, the notion that true Art should be one of a kind, that it should mask its commodity-status, and that it should be rich with deep, intellectual and conceptual meaning are all criteria which are discretely and dangerously underpinned by quiet classism and intellectual snobbery. Arbitrary systems of value and appeals to complex discourse underlie the divide between upper and lower case-a ‘art’. This distinction has historically been used to exclude marginalised groups from the artworld, and to insulate and reserve it for the privileged, educated few.
We still partake in this activity today, whether you like to admit it or not! And yet we all sit around, scratch our heads and wonder why there is still a lack of diversity in the artworld, or why nobody actually came to the latest PV at your project space. Gab and Zarina might not agree with me on this, but pseudo-intellectual art speak and a fear of triteness is limiting the potential of the artworld. And I hate that.
I’m not saying that the show made me want to walk over to the wizard statuette presented on a gorgeous white plinth and stroke my chin while I conjured up some conceited conceptual importance. I’m not saying that we should treat these objects as one and the same. And I’m not saying that the cognitive value of art isn’t important – no doubt it is. But just be aware that it’s okay if people don’t ‘get it,’ and it doesn’t make you better than anyone if you do. It’s like the Olympics – just because an athlete is competing for their country, doesn’t make them the best in the whole world at their sport. It’s an arbitrary combination of luck and privilege as well as skill and merit that lands your work on that plinth. I was still happy to laugh at the objects in the show, but what it made me realise is that we need to look at those objects that we feel DO belong in the gallery with the same humorous, critical and sceptical eye, and loosen our protective grip of our precious artworld.
Me and my gf walked into the exhibition and laughed. It was so funny to see these objects given the treatment that those special little hand sculptures get. Everyone gathered around in full-on PV mode just began to look really silly and awkward. This time the joke was on us, and I enjoyed that. People didn’t want to consider the work as serious, concept-laden works of art, but they also didn’t want to laugh at them and look stuck-up either… so all that was left was to ask ourselves - if we don’t feel these objects legitimately deserve to be in the gallery space, what does and why? Gab and Zarina had removed our conceptual Art safety blanket. They presented us with objects that didn’t mean anything, with no discourse to hide behind, forcing us to look at the way we have built this community around intellectual snobbery and bullshit. I wanted to slate the show coz I knew they would have loved it, but honestly this is the show I have needed for a while now.