Monday, 15 June 2009

hegemony, hegemony, they've all got it hegemony

I think there's some art over here

The Arnolfini gallery (or 'Anal phoney' for short) has been doing its stuff in Bristol since 1975. It had my favouritest ever exhibition back in the 80s, with the Ruralists; lots of Peter Blake and David Inshaw. My kind of art. I usually call in when I'm passing; and I once sort-of-participated in an event called New Barbarians. It closed for a couple of years not long ago, and transformed into a much posher place than it used to be. Gone was the cheery cafe with the informal refectory seating, to be replaced by little tables, uniformed staff, and gloomy and oppressive 'designer' decor by Bruce Oldfield. Oh, and lots more gallery space.

At the moment, that gallery space is host to something called 'Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie'. I wandered around it the other day; it was easy to see, because I was the only visitor on that particular afternoon, and it was just me and the invigilators. So I didn't take pictures of the installations, as they get sniffy about that sort of thing. But I took a picture of the mission statement, because I thought it was the most interesting piece there.

If you don't like squinting at my photo, here it is

To what extent does class play a role in the production and dissemination of contemporary art? Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie investigates the latent issue of class underlying the field of contemporary visual art. The project is an open question, an invitation to a discussion long overdue, and does not offer foregone conclusions or rigid hypotheses other than the relevance of the conversation itself.

Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie will present a collaborative project with a number of practitioners that scrutinise their own positions, bias and gaze within the hierarchy of cultural production. It will seek to identify the impact class has in the field - from artists, through to curators, institutions, audiences and decision makers in mainstream art. The exhibition will contain work in various media, including photography, texts, performance, video and sculpture.

See how the people whose stuff is hanging on the wall here describe themselves as practitioners, and I am apparently an audience. So visual art is performative, apparently. I find this notion a little alien, though, thinking about it, I suppose that it's what Richard Long does. Though I 'get' Richard Long, while I found the stuff in the Arnie incomprehensible. As a general rule, I realised long ago that you're on a hiding to nothing if you find yourself in company with someone who uses words like 'hegemony'. I recall first encountering it in my early student days, when I shared a flat with Jon Charnley, leading light of the new wave band that changed its name for every gig before settling on Beam Me Up Scottie and having a single (Coffee Table Cheese Plant Anglepoise Lamp, a sort-of-love-song for Julia Platt, our other flatmate), that John Peel played for a while. In Jon's room, late at night, people (well, some people) would say things like 'hegemony' and 'Gramsci'. It was heady stuff for a post-teenager in the 80s.

The description of themselves as lapdogs of the bourgeoisie seems to indicate a dissatisfaction with the status accorded them. And describing the targeted consumer of their product as 'bourgeois' seems a little ungrateful, even if it is true. People, perhaps especially bourgeois people, do like something a bit 'edgy' to hang over their mantelpiece, as long as there is a consensus about its edginess and artiness... There is, though, a species of hegemony going on (just had to look that word up again to remind me of what it actually means. This is a sure way of knowing whether or not I should really be using a word...). And that is the hegemony of the Real Artist.

I had a neighbour (she's moved now) who is a Real Artist. I have illustrated books, though I describe myself, if pushed, as an illustrator, or as someone who draws pictures. Slobodana would purse her lips in a dismissively Balkan way when she looked at my pictures. She was too polite to say outright that they were not art. But I knew that's what she meant. I can live with that.

Bristol is very excited at the moment because it woke up on Friday to find that the City Museum, which had been closed for two days, had been transformed into a Banksy exhibition.
A couple of art critics on BBC Radio 4 talk about it here . My favourite bit is Rachel Johnson, art critic for the Times, saying "there's absolutely nothing wrong with this show". It's that Slobodana sneer again...

I haven't visited the exhibition yet, not least because it's too bloody crowded. Look, here was the queue yesterday.

The city council is quite pleased at this evidence of their hipness.

Just down the hill in Stokes Croft there is a boarded-up shop. Until three weeks ago it had a rather good bit of painting by local graf artists Cheo and 3dom. But I can't show you a picture of it now because, although the painting was done with the permission of the owners, the council painted over it. Just over the road is one of Banksy's earlier pieces, Mild Mild West, which was recently restored after someone splashed red paint over it. Authority? Establishment? Iconoclast? Artist? Who?


  1. When we were students back in the 70s we used to call the Arnolfini the Analphoney and I think the title still applies. Big-up the Bristol Museum massive for giving our boy Banksy the space. Street artists have to get some scaffolding and paint out of reach of the council workers who would need a health and safety mandate to let them climb up to vandelise the work. As Banksy says on his web site, why should graffiti be obliterated by the state yet the people have their vision blighted by uninvited corporate advertising on hoardings all over the city?

  2. Ha! -yes, we called it something similar too. Come to think of it, we don't tend to call it anything much these days, maybe because there's nothing particularly exciting happening. Well, exciting to me anyway.

    Good point made by Banksy there.

  3. We have official graffiti in La Rochelle, unfortunately it gets covered in ... graffiti.

    Dom has spent hours trying to teach me how the say "Les Bourges" with a Bourge accent.

  4. Do you know the graffiti pic on the side of the Highbury Vault? A picture splashed with paint, as if by a second-order graffiti artist - but then, maybe it was done in a postmodern way by the original artist. How can one ever know?

    I too turned from the Banksy queues. It'll be there till the end of August, after all...

  5. There are all sorts of hierarchies in graffiti too, Anji; at least in Bristol; someone a while back took to neatly stencilling over tags, YOUR TAG SUCKS... I approved...

    Splashing of paint seems a poor response to a more laboured piece, Charlie. The perceived relative value of it reminds me of the case of Whistler and Ruskin, who said of his Nocturne- "I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face"

  6. From Grant Wood country (hedge-gemini and bumpkin here), thanks for the (suggested) links to the Ruralists there, Dru.
    I'll pass this on to my son, a former art student, who told me about Banksy.

  7. more cross-fertilisation, Larry. I've seen American Gothic, but it was a revelation seeing Grant Wood's other work. It's interesting to compare with David Inshaw.
    Away on a train slightly, my favourite art crit sentence, in an Inshaw exhibition catalogue. The writer is describing 'The Rucksack (Anticipation)' : "The rucksack itself stands guard, a sort of scrotum of possibilities."

    Well, quite.

  8. Hey Dru, I know I'm a bit late on this post but as I am reading it now I figured I'd thank you for linking to my triptych.

  9. My pleasure, D; I'm glad you managed to capture it before it was wiped out. It was a really nice picture.