the continuation of...
Abridged 0 – 4: An(other) Irishman in New York
Curator Greg McCartney, selecting for a 2007 Context project, continues his reports from an Arts Council of Northern Ireland Residency in New York.
I’ve been to a few exhibition openings over here. Mark Kostabi’s for example whose work I actually like. There’s nothing wrong with rampant commercialism so long as it’s bloody obvious. The space was basically a shop, which is fair enough. You don’t go into McDonald’s and then complain it’s too commercial. I’ve also seen a few good shows at the non-for-profit galleries. There were a few openings however that are of interest in the context of what is happening in the art world back home at the moment. Interesting in the nature of the exhibition and the crowd that went to the exhibition. Now these shows were in the main filled with competent but rather dull (think Eric Clapton or Van Morrison records) abstraction, which certain Belfast journalists would no doubt wet themselves over. All the painterly qualities were there but God were they boring. But there were a lot of overdressed people looking at paintings and then a lot of red dots appeared beside the paintings. There wasn’t an elitist coterie to be seen anywhere. It appears that this is what we’re going to get in Belfast to replace the Ormeau Baths Gallery. This is what critics and journalists mean when they talk about widening access in galleries. They’re not praising galleries like the Context who’ve given shows to a million emerging artists in a million formats. They don’t want the snotty artist just out of college who wants to blow a hole in the gallery wall to have access to the gallery. Nor do they want the person who thinks blowing a hole in the gallery might be interesting to have access. They want the visual art version of pub bands interminably covering the classics. Safe, but hell it sells. Essentially we are talking commerce here, no bad thing in itself as everyone has to earn a living after all. But the worst of the worst is to disguise commerce with accessibility and education. So we’ll all get to see Jack B and Louis Le etc etc again and again and whatever happens to be touring at the time and no doubt from time to time the ‘rising’ young stars who’ve won the Dublin art awards. Coincidentally those blatantly commercial galleries who have works by the ‘famous’ or ‘emerging’ Irish artists will see an increase in their use of red dots. Now I’m not going to say that I liked every exhibition in the Ormeau Baths (there isn’t a single gallery in existence that has had great shows every time) but the attempt was always made at least to have a programme that brought interesting contemporary art from home and abroad to the public attention. And for one I’d take the mixing of the decks and the screaming guitar by some scrawny kid or strange European conceptualism over Van bloody Morrison any day. Now this may seem like another one of my rants but I think it’s important for people to realise what they’re getting. They’re giving certain journalists and their circle (who buy art apparently) a nice night out with friends and maybe something to put in their new conservatory. They’re giving tourists a half hour shelter from the rain. Conceptually they’re getting a museum. This approach works in New York where’s there’s millions of galleries (that have to sell to survive) and really a lot of potential customers. But we only have a few contemporary spaces. Remember people that the worst exhibitions aren’t the ones you hate but the ones that you can’t remember. And I haven’t even mentioned anything of people losing their jobs.
But I’ve seen a lot of shows that I will remember over here. Robert Boyd at Participant Inc. was excellent. I only caught the end of Camille Rose Garcia at Jonathan Levine but what I saw was great. I saw a great group show Push Me-Pull Me at the ISE Cultural Foundation which had some interesting pieces in it and was very well curated. I’ve also visited a lot of artist studios and have seen very interesting work. Everyone I’ve visited has treated me very kindly so I thank them all for that.
It’s an interesting time to be in America, but then again it’s probably always an interesting time to be in America. Immigration and Spying are the big topics over here. Illegal immigrants have taken to the streets in opposition to a bill which will result in a lot of them being sent back and others allowed to stay on in ‘guest worker’ schemes. I read a piece in the paper who interviewed some Irish guys (in a pub of course) that were complaining of these (Latin Americans) taking their jobs. Somehow this doesn’t surprise me.
Well it turns out the National Security Agency have been listening (technically ‘collecting patterns’ but who’re they kidding as they say around here) to inland telephone calls. It should come as no surprise. That what an NSA does. They’re doing it under the banner of national security (and the war on terriers) which in the past every government has found useful to cover a multitude of sins.
It has to be said I’m enjoying myself immensely here. In case anyone reading these blogs thinks otherwise. I like being in America, there’s a sense of the epic here. I like the people, or peoples more accurately perhaps. Of course I do the colonialist thing and I watch the BBC news and programmes on Public Service Television because American mainstream television for the most part is appalling, though you do get some new episodes of the Simpsons. And I drink tea because unlike Derry you can get decent tea here. But America has produced great art, music, literature and television. And it has the subway which I might have mentioned before. Taking of which - nothing cheers you up like the sudden appearance in a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition manner of a Samba band on the subway train. Brilliant! I did though on the train from Jamaica Centre endure a half hour sermon (and I’m using the word in its correct sense) intended to save presumably my soul. Now leaving aside my potential damnation it was interesting to listen to the woman preaching. I’ve never heard the name Jesus produced with, well I’m not sure if it was vehemence or passion, probably both. Also and this is the difference from Derry, nobody laughed! (Ok being the typical Derry guy, I had a half smile (warning for my readership don’t smile at anyone wanting to save your soul; it doesn’t go down well) – not too bad!) Had she been on a Derry bus there would have been one or two thirteen year old smart alecs shouting obscenities. Most people stared at the floor. One or two even chorused Amen. Did I mention how much I like the subways?
There is one disturbing trait in America and I’ll term this Recreationism. This is where American males (mostly) manage to convince themselves that Rounders is a vital part of their evolution. IT ISN’T! The rest of the world isn’t fooled. It’s only played by primary school girls. It’s the least macho game possible! And to see overweight men waddling at speed in a circle is just disturbing. Also IT’S BORING. It makes cricket interesting. I know I’m savaging a national institution here but it deserves it. And I’m going to continue to call it Rounders.
Well that’s about it for now I guess. I haven’t mentioned the idiot doorperson at the Mercury Lounge. You can only do cool and arrogant if you are a) cool b) have something to be arrogant about. And I know I still haven’t mentioned Donald Trump and I still don’t care. Also nothing of politics and the middle income. Hmmmm maybe next time. Next time will also feature my exciting adventures in and possible takeover of the United Nations. Now does anyone have a white cat I can borrow?