Oh my giddy shit. You know what I did on Friday? Well, bearing in mind that I have what can only be described as a genetic aversion to pretentiousness I did something so stupid that I deserve to be dragged naked through the streets by a flogged baboon. Yup, I went to the National Museum in Cardiff to see the Artes Mundi shortlist, “Wales’s biggest and most exciting contemporary visual art show”. And, by Christ, did I leave in a state of enraged froth.
My problem? Not the art itself – although portions of that were utter cock – but the little plaques that accompanied each instalment. In fact they took pretentiousness and exclusivity to such a new and unrivalled level that they could have formed an instalment of their own. I actually couldn’t tell if they were serious explanations of the art or parodies by an estranged curator who’d sniffed too much PVA glue.
I saw words like ‘recontextualisation’, ‘phenomenological’ and ‘artistinitiated’ and entire phrases that looked as if they’d been constructed in a game of art-based bullshit bingo. The write ups of the art included sentences like, “re-inventing notions of representation, in terms of the deconstruction of concrete narratives” and “dissecting the political and aesthetic implications of popular visual formats, they indicate that the meaning of a picture – be it still or moving – resides neither in its form or its subject matter, but in the transferences it establishes between the producer, the subject and the viewer”.
For fuck sake, can someone explain to me not just what these vomited sentences actually mean but what they intend to achieve?
You see, the Artes Mundi shortlisters claim to be artists who are on the side of ordinary people. You’ve heard it all before, believe me. One of them focuses on Mexican drug-related organised crime, another claims to “provide a platform for the disregarded and overlooked” while yet another references migrant construction workers in India. So you’d at least think that their works would be accessible to the very people who’d inspired them. Well, like fuck they are. In fact, thanks to the bollocky explanations that accompany each piece of art they’re about as accessible to ordinary people as the finer points of string theory.
Even bloody worse, museums in Wales are free specifically to allow everyone, regardless of wealth or poverty, to enjoy heritage, scientific discoveries and art. Yet its art is explained in such incomprehensible terms that you may as well put bolts across thee museum doors and pour boiling oil on anyone who comes near. Fuck knows what message that sends to an unemployed teen from Merthyr Tydfil, the definition of social deprivation just 20 miles up the road, when they stumble into the museum. It’s about as unwelcoming, snobbish and sneering a message as you’re likely to get without calling it a Tory party conference. ‘Recontextualisation’? ‘Phenomenological’? I barely know what the fuck they mean myself.
Look, this isn’t about dumbing down art. Art should be as challenging as it always has been. But can’t we just articulate the meaning of it without excluding everyone but the art critic from The Times? Or perhaps the art world really does want barriers between us n them. Perhaps ordinary people are great for inspiration but not so much for, you know, actual shoulder rubbing.
So the next time the National Museum in Cardiff and Artes Mundi sick up an exhibition perhaps they could put some thought into it. It is the ‘national’ museum after all, and that includes everyone regardless of whether they’re used to roaming galleries with a canapé in their hand. If the Artes Mundi entrants really do want the world to see their work then they’ll have to start looking beyond the confines of their belly buttons, otherwise what have they created but exclusion and inaccessibility and we’ve seen enough displays of those to last a lifetime, don’t you think?
So what do you think? Do you think art is inclusive enough? Or do you think I am talking bollocks? You know where the comment box is.