British Art Show 7: in the Days of the Comet

My critique of British Art Show 7 out now in the new September issue of ArtReview magazine. Sign in and read it at

If there is an emblematic work in British Art Show 7, it’s the one that critics thought had the most tenuous relationship to the exhibition’s supposedly ‘national’ remit – Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010). While Marclay is neither British enough nor based in Britain enough for some, the inclusion of The Clock is an inspired move on the part of cocurators Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton, for it manages to encapsulate one of the most troublesome and intriguing thematics running through BAS7, one which never quite gets fully exposed or explained, even though the curators continuously point to it in their catalogue essays and notes. Arcing through the show is the nagging sense of a disarticulated, mysterious and enigmatic relationship to time – or to be precise, to the notion of history, and its relation to, and meaning for, the present…

Tracey Emin: Love is what you want

My review of Tracey Emin’s Hayward show out now in the new September issue of ArtReview magazine. Sign in and read it at

Is Tracey Emin’s art worth discussing? Thousands of column inches are expended in commenting on her work and career, yet for all the discussion of what Emin’s work bears witness to – her chaotic existence, her lifeworld of sexual and emotional turmoil, her abortions, her small-town origins, her artistic redemption – there’s remarkably little examination of why her work seems to attract such attention and compel the kind of responses it does. Perhaps there’s never enough stepping back: reactions are always of the heavily invested kind. You either love Trace or you hate Trace; despise her for her narcissism and self-indulgence, or admire her for her quixotic triumph over life’s adversity; you love her for her hedonistic, punkish assertion of ordinariness and genuine sentiment over social prudishness, artworld etiquette and artistic inauthenticity, or you dismiss her as a ‘media phenomenon’ and decry her work as artless, technically empty; and so on…


Criticism v Critique

The problem of what art criticism is, can or should be continues to be an itch everyone wants to scratch, and it’s spreading.

At Tate Britain in December, for the newly established annual lecture of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) UK, US academic James Elkins cheerfully reasserted his argument that there is currently no clear definition or common understanding 01 what art criticism is or does, no canon of art critical writing, and no coherent methodology that might define it as a discipline. A few days earlier, to mark its 20th anniversary, the Berlin-based journal Texte Zur Kunst had put on a conference (published in its March issue) to address ‘the fundamental question of the relationship between art criticism and social critique’, at which publisher Isabelle Graw proposed a ‘rethinking of methodology’ at a time when ‘art critics and art historians tend to opt for an eclectic mix of methods without ever reflecting them explicitly’. In October last year, Irish magazine Circa relaunched itself — albeit briefly — as an online publication, its first issue devoted to examining the magazine’s role as a space for ‘criticism and criticality’. Meanwhile, coming out of Canada, the Vancouver-based magazine Fillip published the results of a 2009 forum, in its collection Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism, with contributors as diverse as Tirdad Zolghadr, Tom Morton, Maria Fusco and Diedrich Diedrichsen, with an afterword by the prolific and now seemingly ubiquitous Elkins. Continue reading “Criticism v Critique”

Rabih Mroué: I, the Undersigned -The People Are Demanding

“Rabih?” A woman’s voice echoes around Iniva’s light-filled main gallery. “Rabih!” she calls again, anxiously.

The woman is Catherine Deneuve, seen walking through bombed-out and derelict urban streets; or it could be Catherine Deneuve acting a role, the role of a Western woman lost somewhere in the Middle East. The short clip, part of an installation titled Je Veux Voir (2010)(from the 2008 film written and directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and featuring, among others, the artist Rabih Mroué, as himself) makes it impossible to tell. In navigating the history of the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath, Mroué’s work operates in the space where fiction breaches reality, and where political realities are driven by conflicting collective narratives, investigating how individual recollection and identity can exist in a context where the violence of the recent past cannot easily be acknowledged in the present. Continue reading “Rabih Mroué: I, the Undersigned -The People Are Demanding”

The Art of Taking Offence

Just as I’m trying to wind down from the year’s art controversies, along comes another art-and-Jesus blowup.

Crucifixes in art have not had a good time of late: in the US , there was the December debacle surrounding the Smithsonian’s panicky decision to pull a clip of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s gay and lesbian show, Hide/Seek, under pressure from Christian campaign groups and rightwing congressmen. Wojnarowicz’s film includes sequences in which ants are seen crawling over a effigy of the crucified Christ. And on the other side of the Atlantic, at the Collection Lambert, in Avignon, Catholic protesters vandalised Andres Serrano’s 1987 photograph Immersion (Piss Christ), depicting another crucified Christ glowing and floating in a vivid orange void, reputedly consisting of Serrano’s own (clearly very rich) pee. Continue reading “The Art of Taking Offence”

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads

While a lot of people in the artworld like to think that art should be political, things get more serious when artists find themselves facing political repression for their outspoken views.

It is now two months since Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was first detained by the Chinese authorities – at the time of writing he has been heard of only once, in which time Ai’s disappearance has become an international cause célèbre. It makes discussing Ai’s art separately from his personal predicament tricky. For, while it’s easy to shower the artist and his work with sympathetic support, this reduces his art to a simple placeholder for his principled opposition to the Chinese authorities, and does little justice to its particular artistic qualities, and the political ambiguities and contradictions it expresses. Continue reading “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”