But would it fit in the elevator? No 1 Installations

15 Nov

It has been said that you will never have a good art career unless your work fits into the elevator of a New York apartment block. Attributed  by some to Grayson Perry in the Reith Lecture, I read it first in that excellent book by Sarah Thornton Seven Days in the Art World. I was visiting New York last week and had the opportunity to check out for myself the truth of the maxim by going round as many of the commercial galleries as I could manage. With hundreds to choose from, it was quite an undertaking, though the clustering of galleries around certain streets in Chelsea and East Village made it somewhat easier. Lift friendly works may indeed be easier to sell but there were plenty of dealers that seemed unperturbed by theoretical size restrictions or indeed any practical considerations, such as fragility,  overall space requirements or even the more prosaic difficulty of keeping a work clean. So here are some pieces that caught my eye and, as there were too many of them for one blog, this is the first of a series of three – Installations, though I do stray into sculpture at the end.

This piece by the Algerian born artist Kader Attia is showing in the Lehman Maupin Gallery in Chrystie Street. Called Asesinos it comprises 100 doors which are split  and then rejoined so that they can stand upright like people. On the top of some, but not all, are megaphones suggesting  the shouting or posturing of a political demonstration. Viewed from floor level the grouping is slightly intimidating; from above  they appear more vulnerable, less sure of themselves. You are aware that they are confined or trapped by the walls. I had previously seen work by by Attia in the Pompidou where I had been impressed by the power of his 2007 work Ghost which showed a group of Muslim women at prayer, made out of aluminium foil, the interiors were hollow. While Asesinos did not have quite the same impact, there is still the sense of the crowd and of clashing world views.

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A very different work was that by Andres Carranza showing at the Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert Gallery, Called Territorial Marking, the original name appears to have been Territorial Pissing, which perhaps better describes what it it about. Curators Mitra Khorasheh and Elsie Herget presumably decided that was a bit too rude.  Completed over two weeks, the installation is an extraordinary explosion of colour, little sketches and doodles not only fill the walls but also skitter over the floor. So unlike most artworks where you can’t touch, here you are forced to walk upon it the drawings and paintings which are slowly being degraded. I love the idea of the artist as animal, marking out his territory by pissing paint over the gallery. Among the paint markings on the walls are smaller paintings that are almost camouflaged.  It was a fascinating way to display them.

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My favourite installation unfortunately doesn’t  photograph well. It is this piece by Hans Haacke called Together; it is a re- visitation of Circulation which he first  created  in 1969.  It is a very simple concept; water and air are pumped through an intricate network of transparent tubes. Having just walked up the stairs, you don’t forget for a moment that you are in a gallery but the bubbles in the tubes, which move and reform,  give you the unexpected sensation that you are on a beach at low tide looking at runnels of water returning to the sea.

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It really made me want to see the other works Haacke has created  on a sea theme, particularly Wide White Flow which judging from You Tube is even more spectacular. There was however the chance to see the maquette for Gift Horse which will occupy the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.  It is based on an engraving by George Stubbs and around its leg there is some ticker tape which will display the London Stock Market ticker which is supposed to be an oblique reference to the Adam Smith’s 1776 book The Wealth of Nations.  More often than not, I am disappointed by the fourth plinth displays. Katharina Fritsch’s Big Blue Cock was better than most. I didn’t like Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare; I am not convinced that I will like Gift Horse any better. It seems over thought out and contrived. Looking at the fluidity of the tubes and the brilliance of Wide White Flow, I suddenly realised it is the plinth itself that is the problem not the invited artists: the fourth plinth is simply not very suited to contemporary art.  Constraints can spark the imagination but the Trafalgar Square plinth has a personality of its own – and not a good one.  It seems actively to want yet another sculpture of a white dead man; and without one, it sulks and tries to make the sculptures look stupid; like it or not, that is the sort of plinth it is.

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