Wednesday 25 May 2016


     Modern art really began when Diaghilev brought the Russian Ballet to Paris in 1909.  His message
to the musicians, choreographers and dancers who worked for him was "Amaze me !"  They rose to the challenge in ways that astounded, mesmerized, disgusted, fascinated or shocked their audiences at the time, and creative types have been trying to produce the same effects ever since.  The artists in this show, judging by the elaborately impressive way they describe their own works are no exception.

     My brother, the painter Malcolm Bucknall, once told me that when he was reviewing another artist's work, what he tried to do was not so much to express a final objective judgment as to evaluate the work in terms of the artist's intentions.  He said this seemed to work and he advised me to do the same.  So, taking a stab at the idea that these four artists, like so many others since 1909, want to amaze us, I ask myself, "How did they go about it?"

     The work that struck me immediately as most amazing, so that I wondered when I first saw it if it was a work of art at all and not a curtain hung to signal the absence of a work of art which would appear later on, was the first of two works labeled "Ornate Fiction" by Alexandra Muresan.  Looking more closely at it, I perceived that what looked like a drape carried a picture in ink that was quite detailed but not a depiction of reality.  It also afforded glimpses of drawing on a panel underneath.  Both works labeled "Ornate Fiction" reminded me of successful works of speculative fiction in the way they combined the representational with the inventive and imaginary.  The title suggests that this was what was intended. 

     "Play Food" by Katie Mazi was what my eye fell on next.  Digital photographs of breakfast or snack foods which, as the artist explains, might appear in an advertisement, are, she appears to say, intended to disconcert rather than tempt us to consume, unsettling our notions of reality and what we can generally expect.  The fried egg that just sits there, enjoying its state of being, is a striking example of this. 

     The bunches of patterned textiles hanging from hooks and labeled "Untitled" by Jennifer Judson are also disconcerting.  We look at them and wonder if they are intended to be pot holders, cleaning rags, dish towels and so forth but they refuse to be identified as any of these things.  I was tempted to take them off their hooks and see what they could be used for, but because of the respect we have been trained to show for a work of art, I didn't dare.

     We see the influence of people like John Cage and Marcel Duchamp in some of this, but when we come to the three quite pleasant large abstracts by  Matt Caldwell we see them in a different light, largely because we have become quite used to abstracts so that they no longer shock or surprise us.  Judging by the artist's statement, they count as amazing because they turned out to be so different from what he was used to doing.  First of all, he amazed himself.

     I suppose this is true of all four artists, who are quite self reflective and appear to have started with an idea at least as much as with an image.  Maybe this is typical of recent graduates and they will become quite different later on.  That should be interesting to watch.

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