Art as Space Junk

Pioneer F spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter. Artist: Rick Guidice

Space is a strange place to want to send contemporary art, though it doesn’t stop artists (and art collectors) wanting to do just that. Yet maybe what art in space does best is show up the tensions of the artworld’s attitude towards it being a visible, influential culture, with access to the most elite levels of economic, social and cultural power

My comment on the fashion for sending art into space, for ArtReview read here

Hiding in plain sight

Thinking of Francis Bacon’s paintings as constantly touching on and circling around what can and cannot be shown, what can and can’t be revealed, opens a different perspective on the artist’s shifting, fugitive representation of the human body. Rather than be explicit in works only shown in private, Bacon was hinting and suggesting in public – a different kind of risk at a time when gay men faced social stigma and criminal punishment.

My review of Couplings, the show of Francis Bacon paintings at Gagosian London, for ArtReview. Read here

Keep politics out of art

If you want to lose friends and alienate people in the art world, try telling them you support Britain leaving the EU. As someone on the left, I’ve always argued a left-wing case for leaving. It is, to say the least, an unfashionable position, usually met with anxious looks, sullen silence or overt hostility from one or other artist, curator or art bureaucrat.

That the art world should be against Brexit should come as little surprise. It’s striking, however, how far art has become involved in the burning political questions and controversies of the moment, to the extent that making art is often seen as nothing more than an extension of political activism

… my opinion piece for the Spectator read here

Turner Prize 2018

Luke Willis Thompson, autoportrait, 2017, 35 mm film, 4 min. Photo: Matt Greenwood. Courtesy Tate Photography, London

In recent years the Turner Prize has struggled against the nagging criticism that it has lost its relevance and that its selections have been too ‘insiderish’. But following last year’s shortlist, when the prize abolished its fifty-year age limit while emphasising a greater ethnic diversity (including Hurvin Anderson and prizewinner Lubaina Himid), this year’s selectors have made an unabashed turn to artists who, as the Tate’s blurb puts it, are ‘tackling pressing issues in society today’.

My review of the 2018 Turner Prize, in the January-February issue of ArtReview. Read it here

Art Market, meet Blockchain

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? And can cutting edge technology do the teaching? Christie’s seems to think so. Their Art + Tech Summit: Exploring Blockchain, which took place on Tuesday in London, was representative of the old auction house’s enthusiasm for the promise of blockchain technology, which the summit’s organisers were keen to present as a potentially revolutionary solution to the global art industry’s traditional aversion to making its markets transparent, trustworthy and accountable…

My report on ‘Exploring Blockchain’ at Christie’s, for read here

Forensic Architecture at the ICA

Institutionally, the group’s activity is indicative of how both academic and curatorial cultures have become entwined in this wider shift in the locus of political activism, with the art gallery becoming just another channel of dissemination for this broader political culture of independent and quasi-institutional activism.

My review of Forensic Architecture at the ICA, for ArtReview, here

Violence and representation

In the wake of the controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket, my comment on an artist’s right to make images of other peoples’ suffering, for

“What effect can paintings have on politics? It’s a recurring, never-really-resolved question, since as an artform, the history of painting is one in which the question of its power as an agent of social or political comment, comes up against its awkward cultural status – its ambiguous history of exclusivity, luxury and leisure. And while painters continue, more or less self-consciously, to want to assert the medium’s capacity for addressing the political realities of the world, when it comes to picturing human suffering, particularly suffering produced by political violence, their attempts to acknowledge political solidarity often appear to be tokenistic gestures.

That, at least, was the predicament of Dana Schutz’s oil painting Open Casket (2016), on show as part of the recently opened 2017 Whitney Biennial. Schutz is well known for her fragmented, psychedelically weird, often deeply neurotic take on figurative painting. Overt references to the world of history and politics don’t get much of a look-in. So by contrast Schutz’s Open Casket takes its reference from photographs of the disfigured body of Emmett Till, the black fourteen-year-old who, in 1955, was murdered for the alleged slight of flirting with a white woman in a shop in Mississippi. Till was abducted by the woman’s husband and an accomplice, beaten, shot and dumped in a river. Images of his horrifically mutilated and bloated face, on view in the open casket his mother had insisted on for his funeral, would become an icon of the nascent American civil rights movement. Schutz’s painting flattens and schematises the key elements from the various documentary images of Till’s in his casket – his black jacket, the white shirt buttoned up to the neck, and next to it a head made up of a gnarled and bruised contortion of facetted browns, blacks and streaked…”

Read the full article here

David Hockney: Sixty Years of Work

Tate Britain, 9 February – 29 May


If there’s one overarching sensibility running through this retrospective of David Hockney’s work spanning six decades, it’s not necessarily the artist’s much-touted commitment to the ways of best representing the visible world, or indeed the emphasis the Tate want to put – in the fiftieth anniversary year of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain – on the artist’s celebration of gay life and love. These two themes are there, but they contribute to something broader and more expansive – Hockney’s capacity for making paintings and drawings that exude a kind of casual, effortless charm, a charismatic poise that renders everything the painter does winning, welcoming, hospitable, convivial. Continue reading “David Hockney: Sixty Years of Work”

Feeling safe? Defending hate speech for artists

My Friday 26 January comment for

Only a few days after they had been published to support the women’s march day, artist Paul Chan’s publishing house Badlands Unlimited found that their anti-Trump protest posters had been pulled from Facebook and Instagram. The four posters aren’t exactly polite: ‘GOD HATES TRUMP’ reads one, along with ‘FAGS HATE TRUMP’, ‘TRUMP HATES GOD’, and, not forgetting everyone’s most-loathed art collector, ‘GOD HATES IVANKA’. Continue reading “Feeling safe? Defending hate speech for artists”