Sunday 3 February 2013

Carl Andre and Rosa Barba at The Turner Contemporary Margate a Review of the New Exhibitions.

Most of Carl Andre’s works are on the floor, or at least fairly low, the exception in this exhibition is the cuboid made up of 28 railway sleeperish lumps of wood, this was too tall to see over the top of.

There is also a V shaped henge of 14 sleeperish lumps of wood and the inevitable bits of text on the wall, I find if I have to add text to visual art, is because the thing is a cartoon and not the Da Vinci sort that doesn’t need a code. 

The problem is with the art works, that are in the form of metal floor tiles, god knows The Turner Contemporary has had enough in the way of problems over the floors, without adding another one, but that is what theyhave done. 

All to do with one of the Andre myths, which is – if I remember rightly – about some art critic who turned up to review one of Andre’s works and claimed that he couldn’t find it, of course the answer was; "you’re standing on it you idiot."

The upshot is we have one artwork that people are allowed to stand on, in fact standing on it is requisite and knowing (if not by education) then, by inference through its positioning; perhaps. Yes. Ones gallery cred depends on knowing which one to stand on. 

Oddly enough the other usual rules for artworks still apply, although you are allowed to walk on it, you are not allowed to touch it with your hands and – even – bare feet are prohibited when walking on it.     

I would say an art purist would walk on it in retro shoes, I was just careful no to tread on the cracks between the tiles for fear of offending up the goddess Aesthete.

As I guess most will know Carl Andre is famous for flogging bricks to the Tate and having a wife who failed to follow the advice in Hotel New Hampshire; “keep passing the open windows.” Artists, clowns, bears and girls with beards should be particularly careful about this, as they come into the likely to jump category, not because they are mad, so much, as they are “more” than most.

 Back to Carl Andre’s metal floor tiles and the difficulty of explaining to children, that while it is perfectly ok to walk on one art exhibit made of floor tiles that is on the gallery floor, walking on the other exhibits made of floor tiles, also on the gallery floor, is strongly forbidden.

I had a similar problem with Rodin’s Kiss which was displayed in the Turner Contemporary foyer with photography forbidden, reducing most of the staff time on the front desk of the gallery; to telling people not to. In that case I managed to get the Tate who own it to rescind their rule and let people photograph it. Perhaps I can find the owners of the other two and get consent, sounds like a tall order. 

 I was more difficult about the kiss and spent some time sketching it in order to do a sort of inverse Duchamp and get the other hand where the sun don’t shine. What with one thing and the other Duchamp obviously would go for the frontal orifice.

It was Duchamp, apart from his risqué cartoon of the Kiss and displaying the urinal, who coined the phrase; “I am an artist therefore it’s art” however the ultimately this leads down the road of “this is a pipe” or even “I am not an artist therefore is isn’t art.

Photography is banned in the upper galleries, so I stood around doing a few sketches to try and get to grips with exhibitions there.

Anyway the question arises in the back of the mind, like what is the square root of minus one?  Are these latest exhibitions any good – well they passed the first test, which is for me, do the make me want to draw?

 I went of the Turner Contemporary gallery café and sketched the above.

The photo is to give you some idea of the way the sketch went.

On to Rosa Barba, does anyone remember the Eight Track cassette player that was the first practical way of playing recorded music in motor cars? Well the nub of this thing was that it was one continuous quarter inch tape with eight tracks of music recorded on it.

I will expand on this a bit, you know the ball of sting where you are supposed to use the string from the middle? If you imagine winding as much string on the outside of the ball as you were taking from the middle, well the thing would last forever and if it is the string being taken from the middle of the ball that is wound on the outside….. I guess you either get the idea or you don’t.

Well Rosa Barba’s exhibition is to do with film and several of the film projectors use continuous film in this way, there is a big reel of film with the film coming out of the middle of the reel, going through a projector and then being wound on the outside of the film.

Quite a lot of ones mind is absorbed by the very visual way in which this is happening, there is also the evident tension of will the film break or tangle, definitely a sense of something about to happen, only latin has the tense, to be about to be. In English forfilmement will have to do.

We now come to the gallery’s biggest error with hanging these exhibitions, the Rosa Barba is hung in two gallery rooms, one which has doors on all the entrances and one that doesn’t.

One of the continuous film exhibits is very noisy, possibly to the degree that the gallery staff may get tinnitus after a few months of it. Also there is the problem with the noise from the film exhibit being very much audible, and in my opinion inappropriate, in the gallery where the Carl Andres are displayed.

Yes you guessed it they put the noisy one in the gallery without closable doors on all of the entrances, so the noise can never be shut out.    

I am not really sure I know what to make of this exhibition, there is a sense that with the digital age there must be an awful lot of expensive movie projectors that have suddenly become pretty much worthless. From the point of view of an engineer there was some interest in looking at this equipment in operation, industrial archaeology on the go if you like.

The very flickery movie images, certainly make a demanding watch, I didn’t make it around the whole loop.   

There is also a display of stuff by Joseph Mallord William Turner chosen by Rosa Barba, I seem to developing something of cringe when contemporary artists choose Turners works. Last time it was when our Tracey Emin selected from Turner’s erotica and left out the most controversial one. The one in which it looks like Turner may be doing something like the gallery may be doing to The Droit House.  
I have to admit to being a bit surprised the Stephen Fry didn’t mention this omission when he interviewed our Tracey in the gallery.

This stuff chosen by Rosa Barba, has rather an unusual relationship with Turner’s pussy, if you ever have occasion to view it out of the frame, you will notice it has cat footprints on the back.

Turner didn’t intend this to be art work, they were part of his lecture notes, he liked cats, but there is no evidence that he let his cat walk over his artwork intended for public display.

What Turner seems to have done here is copied illustrations from the textbook he was using to teach perspective onto sheets of paper large enough for the whole class to see. I think this may be a case of “I am an artist and if I let the cat walk all over it then it isn’t art.” Certainly inserting a cat into some of Rosa Barba’s exhibits would be fun and didn’t it say in Hotel New Hampshire “life is dull but art is fun.”

Finally I suppose the question is, what do I think of the exhibitions? Fraid the answer is you will have to wait. If I get a chance I will go again several times, sketch bits of them, but with art I am a slow thinker. What I am missing is some top end, paint on canvas or sculpture, I miss The Kiss and the James Webb picture of Margate downstairs, but most of all there is no major painting in the whole of the gallery at the moment, I guess nothing I lack the ability to do myself.

I don’t think I could say this of any of the previous exhibitions there, the Carl Andre was fun, but I guess I don’t feel lifted out of myself.   

Incidentally the cartoon, top picture in the post, is india ink and blackboard chalk on cheap rough paper, I guess spraying it with fixative is the most expensive part of the whole thing. 

Oh and I hope the head turning trick (gallery attendant in the cartoon) works for some people, an optical illusion based on the brains propensity to construct the human face, something like Emanuel Kant said – most of what you see is already there in your head – or to be honest something much more complicated but that is the gist of the thing, I call it an optical delusion.    

Update the Turner Contemporary have just (04/02/2013) published the video below about this exhibition.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Previous post corrected for spelling:

    Much of Modern Art is recondite. Possibly some works exist to make money being a case of art for arts sake and money for f.... sake. There is no particular harm in this, after all everyone has the right to make an honest living.

    1. Ah John, recondite – always tricky to start with a word not many people understand that means something not many people understand – I guess, sticking with the Irving theme and using something predisastered could have meant fewer spelling mistakes.

  3. Michael,

    I've been longing for ages to use 'recondite'. It is often as you say a recondite word.

    I had a friend at work whose name when put through the spellchecker came out as 'termite'.

  4. Thanks for giving me a reason to inform my husband that I still see no need to visit the Turner!
    The video reminds me of 'team building' seminars endured while working at a now defunct large company where all those involved felt the need to make some comment that sounded intelligent.
    As far as this exhibition is concerned, the term 'Emperors new clothes' comes to mind.

    1. In the past I have enjoyed this type of gathering. I used to say the most outrageous things in order to liven it up and tease. As a work of art it is nonsense.

    2. Thanks for giving me a reason to inform my husband that I still see no need to visit the Turner!
      The video reminds me of 'team building' seminars endured while working at a now defunct large company where all those involved felt the need to make some comment that sounded intelligent.
      As far as this exhibition is concerned, the term 'Emperors new clothes' comes to mind

  5. This would be a very funny joke - if we weren't paying a fortune for it.
    Do you think the people asking the questions realised they were being set up?
    And why didn't Jeremy Beadle or Dom Joly turn up at the end?

    1. I think the people taking part were bewildererd; but polite.

    2. Jeremy Beadle - now that would have been impressive. Lazarus springs to mind....

    3. ... but no more remarkable than the fact that this tosh is being foisted on a public who are also having to pay for it.

  6. we should embrace these works and open our minds to them. our masters have decided we need to work with these things in our minds. be affeared the MATRIX knows all.


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