The Dreary Legacy of Marcel Duchamp

old ideas

old ideas

I just caught bits of The Culture Show on BBC 2. One bloke was interviewing another bloke as they sat on a large luxury motor yacht. It seems that one of them was working for the program and the other was an “artist”. The artist had a concept for an art work which was this luxury motor yacht with his name stamped on it and no other changes. The artist was a German named Christian Jankowski at this year’s Frieze Art Fair.

In fact the art work had not yet been created. First he intended to sell the concept to a punter and then the work would be created. The interviewer asked if he got any flack along the lines of anyone could do this and it’s not art. Yawn!

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp created a work of art entitled Fountain consisting of a urinal which had been signed by M. Duchamp. This, apparently, kicked off the discussion: Is it art? Who says what is art? If I am an artist then anything I created is art. The circular logic of such an argument etc etc.

M. Duchamp opened the door for nearly a century of boring and uninspired people to duck out of real creativity and spend their time climbing up their own arses.

It is true that the vast majority of the world’s population will not have heard of M. Duchamp and his exploits and it’s true that many popular newspapers will rant against such art. But for artist of today, to fall back on ideas that are nearly a century old as justification for their work woud be laughable if the media did not insist on treating the argument so seriously.

The type of artist who get off on this sort of piffle is the same sort of person who, were he a computer geek, would spend his time condescendingly boring all and sundry with details of the technical implantation of his latest box of chips.

Of course a luxury motor yacht is a work of art but it’s artistry is no more imbued by a supposed artist plonking his name on it than a Range Rover is by attaching the word Vogue or a Panasonic camera is by rebadging it as a Leica and marking it up £150.

These activities are not art they are mere marketing.

For a contemporary artist to make Duchamp’s ideas the centre piece for his work shows a pitiful lack of imagination and it is not surprising that many artists in this tradition appear so passionless and vague. In this evening’s Culture Show it became evident that many artists will never challenge an interpretation of their work. Apparently they want to leave the interpretation open. Here we run into yet another stock cliché of the contemporary art world: the idea that each person will have their own impression of an art work. Many artists have misinterpreted this as meaning that an artist should have no ideas or incites of his or her own. These seems to me to be the antithesis of an artist.

I listened to the first part of Mike Oldfield‘s Ommadawn this morning and it struck me that, without wanting to detract from Mr. Oldfield’s skill and achievements, his work was a product of it’s time. Technology had progressed to the point where musicians could afford recording studios in their own houses and this allowed Mr. Oldfield to create a work where he played all the instruments. When Tubular Bells was released in 1973 this was amazing yet today kids have more powerful studios in their bedrooms.

Technology enables art.

In the 80s the Western world became rich. Many of the newly rich had no knowledge of, and therefore no preconceptions and prejudices about, art.  Further, many were not really interested in art yet wanted the qudos that art provides. This left the way open for self appointed gate keepers such as Charles Saatchi to milk the rich while pursuing his passion for modern art.

Artists embraced this culture and began creating all sorts of stuff but I can’t help thinking that Damien Hirst‘s sharks were, really, no more that the product of new money looking for sensation. The money was there to pay for Hirst to turn his childhood hobby of fish taxidermy into a business. So he did.

None of this is to denigrate contemporary art. 90% of it may be shit but in the words of the late, and great, Theordore Sturgeon90% of everything is shit” and Mr. Saatchi has done the nation a huge service by presenting more than 10% of it at the fantastic Saatchi Gallery.

What I object to is lame and passionless artists, unable to think of new ideas and so falling back on the ideas of an artist who’s been dead for over forty years.

To be more explicit: Forget whether it’s art, is it any good?

Long Notes & Grayson Perry

Up in London on Friday night to see The Long Notes at The Underworld. The Underworld is an old venue below The World’s End pub in Camden. I hadn’t been to the World’s End in year but it felt much the same. After a couple of support acts The Long Notes came on and played a selection of celtic tunes from their new album The Shadow Of Stromboli. Good stuff!

Claire de Rouen Books

Claire de Rouen Books

The next day I headed for The British Museum to see the Grayson Perry exhibition The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman. As I meandered my way toward my destination I stopped to look in a little gallery named The Outsiders  on Greek Street. It held some interesting work based mainly around sharks and butterflies. The viscous and the delicate. Further along on Charing Cross Road I browsed in the windows at the various book displays. Amidst the noise of the buses and the random strangers passing by I mused that, as technology and commercialism advance, these simple delights of the metropolis will be lost. As we all move to electronic books, the bookshops will close down and be replaced by a Charing Cross Road book shop exhibition. It has started already as the variety of human existence is gradually being erased from British town centres. The area around Tottenham Court Road tube station is still under development. No doubt it wil be necessary to build a lot of identikit shops on top of it and I wondered what future lay in store for Denmark Street with it’s historic shops selling musical instruments. Further along a hint lay in store for me in the form of a map along with some blurb promoting it as Tin Pan Alley. Ordinary people naturally create fascinating and culturally significant monuments in our cities. Riddley Road Market perhaps or Denmark Street. As commercialism swirls around them, these monuments become caricatures of themselves. I fully expect that in years to come, when Dalston is inhabited by 99% white bankers, Riddley Road Market will be covered over by a dome, sponsored by Sainsbury’s and awful watered down Caribbean music will be played over a sound system. It’s already being called Riddley Road “shopping village”. I expect Denmark street will go the same way. It’s sad but everything has it’s season. The kids will create something new.

Head Of A Fallen Gian

Head Of A Fallen Giant

And on the subject of something new this exactly what Mr. Perry has on display at The British Museum. He has very cleverly picked out various items from the museum’s extensive collection of ancient artefacts and displayed them alongside new works of his own. The effect is to place contemporary art in context. Yes, Mr. Perry’s art may be in vogue and may be worth millions and all the rest of it but at it’s basic level these are artefacts. They are creations of mankind in the 21st century and they reflect the society of which they are a part.

I particularly liked Head Of A Fallen Giant, an, apparently, metal skull studded with symbols of Britishness and likened by Mr. Perry to an old sea mine left washing around in the sea for years. The large tapestry entitled Map Of Truths And Beliefs was a wonder and it struck me that Mr. Perry appears to be using symbolism in the same way as classicist painters. Mr. Perry is amazingly prolific and has produces numerous works in all kinds of mediums from tapestry to cast metal to engineering as in his Kenilworth AM1 motorbike.  The exhibition is a definitive must see.

Another one of Grayson's

Another one of Grayson's

Brooklyn Space Program

Recently I have started to think that innovative technology is really starting to pick up the pace.  An article in The Economist this week talked about the fact that consumer goods used to be derived from military technology and sited The Internet as an example. Now, it says that consumer goods are leading the way. And some of this technology is giving individuals powers that only large companies or governments would have had in the past.

In September 2011 American Jonathan Trapp tied helium filled balloons to an arm chair and crossed the alps. The E also mentioned that a guy from Brooklyn as sent a video camera into space using helium balloons and tracked it after landing using an iPhone.


Tories given easy ride at conference

No make that "help" the unemployed

No make that "help" the unemployed

I dislike the way that the news media have been reporting the future as it represents collusion between the politicians and the media. The politicians want their message on morning news programs and the news programs want to report it so a draft of the speech is handed over. Some may think that the difference of a few hours makes no odds but it can have odd repercussions.

The Tories had their conference  up in Manchester this week and this morning BBC Radio 4 reported that Prime Minister David Cameron “will say” that we should all pay off our credit card debt. I remember thinking that this did not sound like a good idea as it would reduce demand even further.

This evening Channel 4 main news was that David Cameron had not said that we should all pay off our credit card debt – he’d changed his speech. Big news? Well, I guess the original statement was poor judgement on Mr. Cameron’s part but you can hardly blame him for changing it when it received a negative reaction. What do we expect if we are going to use the medai as a proof reading service for politicians speeches? It should be obvious that reporting drafts merely gives politicians the ability to correct poor judgement.

Also this week we had the supposed “clash” between Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke and the Home Secretary Theresa May. Theresa pointed out that a court ruling relating to immigration referenced the defendants ownership of a cat and Clarke expressed scepticism that this was a decisive factor. Was this really the biggest news so far at the Conservative conference? If it was then the big news should really have been that there was nothing happening at the conference.

I guess it was bigger than yesterdays story which was that David Cameron appeared to be accompanied by a different female escort each time he was seen at the conference and I was amused to hear on the radio that Boris Johnston is always escorted around at conference to try to keep him out of trouble.

Seems that the Tories have got an easy ride due to a poor performance by the media.

OP Hotel & Trattorias

OP Hotel

OP Hotel

First impressions of the OP Hotel on Viale Oceano Pacifico in Rome were good. Clean open entrance. Polite efficient reception staff. The bathroom was clean and modern with a bidet, a stylish square wash basin, fantastically large shower head and tiny soap bars in tiny plastic wrappers which are all but impossible to remove without a bit of stabbing from the nearest metal object which, in this case, was my front door key.

The floor in the main room impressed me too as it was made from some kind of matting material which was both solid underfoot without the feet slapping, suction capabilities of polished tiles.

In German and British hotels I have noted that the windows never open more than an inch and I expect that this is because at some date in the remote past someone either jumped or fell. Since that day the health and safety medleocrats have insisted that we live behind glass, protected from ourselves like butterflies nailed to a display case. One may as well outlaw balconies and, for all I know, they have.

By contrast the Italians couldn’t give a stuff if you want to jump out a window and so I swung the window wide and let in the warm September air.

There was, of course, the usual palaver with finding a light switch. Unlike all other buildings, hotels the world over have wall lights activated by switches placed at random throughout the room. The OP Hotel is no exceptions; on either side of the bed were a row of six switches which I slid and pushed in vain because most of them were mere blanks where the rocker switch should be. When I did discover a switch which moved it appeared to do nothing or perhaps a light illuminated on the other side of the room. Annoying as this was, one can’t mark them down for this as it is common to every hotel in the world.

Switching on the TV I played around with the remote control for a while. In the UK we are given the impression that the BBC is something special, renown throughout the world yet more and more I see TV channels from far and wide in foreign hotels. CNN of course but now Russian English language TV with their blatant and repetitive propaganda. Indeed their only program seemed to be about the ill treatment of Russians who’s families had emigrated to Estonia in the days of the Soviet Union.

Unable to find any switch to extinguish the remaining light I pulled the plug out of the wall and went to bed.



The next day I had lunch at a Trattoria named Girasole on Via dei Minatori. My colleagues informed me that a Trattoria is an inexpensive causal restaurant. An excellent idea. The Girasole provides a limited menu of good Italian food at a fair price. It reminded me of The Trevi on Highbury Corner where I used to eat when contracting up in London and if I recall rightly that is run by Italians.

In the evening  I discovered the hotel restaurant. Small and functional but more to feed the occasional business traveller than to entertain. The area around the hotel offers very little and the area is obviously still under development. However, a short walk brings one to a large shopping mall. The décor of Euroma 2 may be somewhat gaudy to the Anglo Saxon eye but it has numerous shops and restaurants and free wifi at Re Basilico restaurant. Euroma 2 is listed as being on Via Cristoforo Colombo but there is no need to walk all the way around as a new road cuts directly through to the main entrance.

In twenty minutes to half an hour it is possible to walk to the EUR Palasport metro station which is only a few stops and one Euro from the Coliseum. I took a taxi to EUR Palasport and had dinner in town then got the metro back and walked from the station. It was extremely warm and as I wondered through a small unlit park I noticed people lounging around. Being English I expected these were reprobates but as I approached one greeted me with “Buonasera” and further on I realised that these were mainly couples enjoying the evening. Not just youngsters; a more seasoned gentlemen approaching my own age sat with his legs up chatting with his senorita.

Approaching the OP Hotel I was interested to see various young ladies standing by the roadside on their own or in couples. Enjoying the night air I expect.

OP Hotel
Viale Oceano Pacifico, 165
00144 – Rome

Ristorante Pizzeria Girasole
Via dei Minatori, 23 (EUR)
00143 Roma

Trevi Restaurant
16-18 Highbury Corner,
N5 1RD