Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

The curse of curation

Found a last minute in which to call in on Revealed: Government Art Collection, finishing this weekend at the Gas Hall at Birmingham, but no doubt soon to visit a city near you with a flourish of tinny trumpets.

Core of the show is Cornelia Parker’s “playful” (read: lazy) curation of a big bunch of random pieces plucked from offices and consulates, arranged by her according to their predominant colours – a post-modern dabble which was no less meaningless at its previous outing at the Whitechapel. In his over-lengthy but timely Retromania, Simon Reynolds fastens perceptively on the dangers of “curation” in the modern music scene – music as a vast, futureless museum, with nothing left but tributes and mash-ups. Same here. Visual artists (sorry: creative agents) will soon all be custodians and samplers of heritage, with nothing to say for themselves.

The Parker mash-up has been augmented for this show by other guest curatorships, which at least serve to amplify the dangers of letting Peter Mandelson and Nick Clegg in on the act. Simon Schama’s choices are intelligent but dully historiographical, as you’d expect of a historian.

lowry coronation
I found the gallery full of local taxpayers, curious to see what return their government had got for their dosh down the years. Answer – not a lot, apparently. When officialdom gets its pale hands on purchases and commissions, discernment and quality seem to shrivel. The great big embassy panels by John Piper, for example, must be among his worst work ever. Star of the show – at least for many of the taxpayers – has to be L S Lowry’s risible little painting of the 1953 Coronation procession (above). The wall blurb frankly admits that national treasure Lowry, commissioned at vast expense to crank out a matchstick queen and coach, didn’t get to his seat on time and missed the whole thing, but came back next day to sketch the empty street. He simply invented the rest, and it shows; the result resembles perfectly a piece of mid 20th century school art as cultivated by an art teacher from the Marion Richardson “self-expression” tendency – on-no-account-teach-the-kids-anything-but-let-them-make-it-up. Which, of course, is pretty much where Lowry was coming from and what all his work looks like.

rock drillo'donoghue

A considerable relief to trot round the corner to the main Birmingham Gallery to say hello to the reconstruction of Epstein’s Rock Drill, in the pride of place it deserves. Birmingham now also has Studies for a Crucifixion, a composite carborundum print by Hughie O’Donoghue. Much of his work seems, well, rather watery, but this is big and tough, with blacks as intense as accumulated coal dust. A bit more like it …

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One response to “The curse of curation

  1. Mandrax Bassoon February 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Fabulous write-up. Please keep blogging. Curation? Piffle! A pox on their lazy drivel. It’s bunkum, poppycock, balderdash.

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