One superb quality of the London art world, not to mention one of the city’s best kept secrets, is the hospitality offered by galleries during show openings. It isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a great night out, but going to shows and looking at pictures while in the company of free alcohol and eccentric characters is often a recipe for entertainment. Openings usually take place on Thursday nights and because galleries usually come in groups, one can efficiently see a wide range of art in a night without walking off their buzz. If you don’t have friends that enjoy art, or simply want to meet new people, websites such as www.londonartclub.com bring together persons interested in going to shows en masse, regardless of one’s art knowledge.
If you’re anything like me, you will only enjoy the work at a minority of galleries you experience. Not meant dissuasively, I think this is a good thing as the fun is in the search. However, when I can draw distinct parallels between artist and telemarketer I know I have stumbled into a sub-par show. I strongly feel that the audience should not need to be convinced of an image and that one should be able to enjoy a work on a superficial and intimate level. I say this still being shocked by a show I went to a couple weeks ago where the artist, dressed in a black turtle-neck and thick-framed glasses, pointed to his brown and black abstractions and actually recited how his images had ‘existential undertones.’ As this artist made a parody of himself, I was shocked at the lack of audience criticality as people were being force-fed what seemed to be ersatz meaning. This reminded me of a Degas quote from a poster in my high school art room, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” At the end of the day, art world professionals will always tell you to find solace in what you find aesthetically pleasing and to make this a prerequisite for purchasing art. On a conclusive note, viewers who are new to the art scene often feel their opinions are unworthy and that finding a piece incomprehensible is due to a lack of formal art education. Especially in the commercial art world, there is a good chance that if the work looks like garbage, it is.
On a more positive note, tonight Andreas Gursky’s first solo exhibition at the WhiteCube gallery opened and it was one of the most impressive displays of photography I have ever seen. With the atmospheric detail of Ed Burtynsky’s photos, the epic proportions of Barnett Newman’s paintings, and the merging of fantasy and fiction that Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller incorporate into their work, Gursky manages to take some of the best elements from other artists and merge them into single images. His large-format colour photographs depict the globalization of everyday society. In his Pyongyang (2007) series he was given permission to take photos at North Korea’s annual Arirang Festival which is celebrated in honour of the late Communist leader, Kim II Sung. With more than 50,000 participants performing choreographed acrobatics and in excess of 30,000 school children watching, the artist creates a sort of mosaic of people. The obvious incongruity of smiling faces and dancing within the controlled, totalitarian nature of the event adds a tension that glares right back at the viewer.
Each photo in this show has been skillfully altered using the latest digital technology which adds an interesting dimension to the work. For instance, in his three photos named James Bond Island I, II, III (2007), Gursky altars the Thai landscape in a way that a local would immediately recognize the geographical location and then question him/herself as to whether or not this was in fact the place s/he originally had in mind. Depicting the island peaks of Khao Phing Kan in Thailand (which were made popular by a recent James Bond film), even strangers to Thailand, such as myself, could detect an inexplicable intrusion or alteration of some kind. Like Jeff Wall, Gursky plays with the idea of photographic truth as he inserts fiction into the otherwise realistic-looking photos.
The layers of Gursky’s work can engage anyone from a child to an art connoisseur. I would highly recommend this show which runs from March 23rd to May 5th at White Cube Mason’s Yard. Also, remember to go to openings as you can often get a chance to meet the artists themselves (Gursky was there tonight), plus people that look like they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. Nicknamed ‘the Young Saatchi’, Nicolai Frahm (a name worth Googling) was in attendance smiling, shaking hands and reeking of wealth. The combination of this demographic along with the free alcohol makes exhibition openings a promising choice for London singles.