British Art Show 7: It’s Time
The five-yearly beast that is the British Art Show has come to Glasgow for the summer, and for the first time it has a subtitle: In the Days of the Comet. By using this motif, curators Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton hoped to free themselves from the constraints of producing a comprehensive survey show.
Describing the comet as “utterly indifferent to human affairs,” they’ve claimed that they’re not interested in crowd-pleasing or in providing explanations for the art they’ve selected. Nevertheless, there are some works that are distinctly pleasing to just about anyone.
Christian Marclay’s epic work The Clock is a 24-hour film composed of thousands of film and TV clips that each refer to time. Assembled so that the film itself is a fully-functioning clock, it’s a masterpiece of editing and the result of mammoth effort. Continually racing against the clock like an action movie, its strong narrative sensibility sucks you in – and yet, paradoxically, it fails to reach any resolution. It’s hugely entertaining, and a relief to anyone who fears that the British public at large see contemporary art as obscure and dry as a biscuit.
Nathaniel Mellors’ film Ourhouse is another that bridges the gap between art and mainstream film. Likened to Eastenders, it features a family of wealthy bohemians who grow suspicious of their son’s reading habits and keep watch through binoculars for their nemesis, the Council. Unfortunately, the absence of any seating and the odour from Mellors’ vomiting animatronic sculpture makes watching the whole thing a challenge.
This aside, the curating at CCA is pretty spot-on. Not so at Tramway, where the set-up seems about as sophisticated as that of a degree show. You might think if ever there’s a time to have your curatorial cake and eat it, the British Art Show is it. Well, Tramway proves that you can have too much of a good thing, as the massive space of Tramway 2 is overcrowded.
Centre-stage, Spartacus Chetwynd’s Folding House is overbearing and vacant, while many smaller sculptures have got lost around the edges. Karla Black’s delicate pastel installations could more than hold their own in the centre but instead, they are off to one side – an afterthought. One is a heap of stratified soil bordered by paper-thin steamers dusted with pink powder paint. It appears composed solely of surfaces or relishes, as though having dispensed with a bulky framework.
Hogging the space with eleven works, artist duo Cullinan Richards could be seen as a provocative choice by the curators. Their low-fi paintings and assemblages make a feature of tape and plastic sheeting, while the ostensible “content” of the works appears irrelevant – a self-conscious embodiment of the worst stereotypes of contemporary art. But beyond guessing wherein lies the irony, there’s not much to them.
Meanwhile at GOMA the deserved centrepiece is Charles Avery’s vitrine, part of his extensive project The Islanders. Encased in the vitrine, a female mannequin – “Miss Miss” – is watched by a one-armed snake in a scenario that relates to a whole mythology of the artist’s creation. The project already a decade long, Avery’s work joins Marclay’s in beating everything in BAS7 for sheer time and effort that’s gone into it.
Being well-crafted or arduous isn’t currently seen as important criteria for art, at least in the art world. But these things continue to impress those who are less picky and often know a good work when they see one – namely, the public. The curators might claim indifference to audience expectations, but the best of BAS7 is work that the public still values.