Monday, 19 March 2012

Joy in Art (and people)

If the art world had art world-equivalent baseball cards I'd have collected Jeremy Deller this week, adding him to my haul of Mark Wallinger, Grayson Perry, Yayoi Kusama, Elmgreen & Dragset, Hew Locke, Ryan Gander and Tracey Emin.*

Signage for Deller's show at the Hayward
I spoke only briefly to Jeremy, in a quasi-dorky, carried a watermelon/really loved your exhibition kind of a way but before that I'd had the privilege to sit in on an hour-long Q&A he did with 30 young people at the Hayward Gallery as part of a cross-site visit organised by the young arts project.

We had the chance to take a look around his show beforehand and I really, really enjoyed it. I'd never known a great deal about Deller's work - my first major encounter with his practice was the work March 5, 2007, the wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb in Iraq that killed 38 people on the date of its namesake. In 2010 the rusted, mangled heap was put on display in the grand hall of the Imperial War Museum in London amid a staggering arsenal of impressive military weapons - planes, grenades and rockets. It was the first and only artefact in the atrium to bear witness to the human impact of war and it's now in their permanent collection.

March 5, 2007 in the atrium at the Imperial War Museum.
Image: Anthony Devlin/PA. Courtesy the Guardian
In 2009 Deller took the car on a road trip across America in the company of an Iraqi citizen and a US soldier, hitching it to the back of a campervan, and the documentary about the experience, It Is What It Is (2009), which I hadn't seen before, is part of the Hayward exhibition, along with the car wreckage.

Jeremy Deller, It Is What It Is, 2009 (detail)
I want to call Deller a conceptual artist but there's a realist bent to his work with its explorations of cultural and social phenomena, communities, history and participation and the show brings together work from the past two decades, including a re-staging of the exhibition he held in his bedroom at his parents house in 1993 while they were away. There's a lot of humour to Deller's work and a subtle but compelling mix of compassion and pathos too. The exhibition includes a display of failed proposals including his controversial suggestion for the Fourth Plinth - a mannequin of Dr David Kelly, the biological warfare expert who committed suicide in 2003 after intense media scrutiny over his comments about government documents purporting to explain the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Jeremy Deller - Fourth Plinth proposal. Copright: Jeremy Deller
And then there's his performance piece, I Heart Melancholy, where a lone performer reclines on a sofa set against an overwhelming wall reading, pondering, wallowing in melancholy.

These are just a handful of works on display - there's also a 3D film about bats and a relocated snack bar serving tea and coffee under a roof full of political banners - but the over-riding impression is of Deller's sincere curiosity about the dynamics of social encounter and collaboration and the nature of people. What's amusing is that despite this apparent 'Joy In People', Deller considers himself a pessimist and actually wanted to call the show 'Animal, Vegetable, Minerable, Pop Music'.

Jeremy Deller, I Heart Melancholy, 2011
His Q&A was lively and revealing and I was impressed actually with the questions put to him by the group. We filmed the whole event, which is good, because I spent a lot of the hour being distracted by the perils of live tweeting. I remain in two minds about the phenomena that is social media. Twitter to me feels like a rolling tsunami of information dressed up as white noise. It's exhausting. And apparently facebook now encourages socially aggressive narcissism so it just gets better and better.

Art has had quite a bit of attention the last couple of days actually (notwithstanding the fact that yes, I work in an art gallery so technically it has my attention every day...) but yesterday Lovely Boy and I went to the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park to buy ourselves a work of art. One of our wedding presents was money towards such a purchase and affordable being a key part of the remit, the fair seemed the ideal place to look for our modest masterpiece. LB was only mildly facetious, dragging out the best bits of his art vocabulary to declare a fancy for buying a piece of conceptual performance art - or else something in his most favourite medium, video.....

Jeremy Deller, Valerie's Snack Bar, 2009 
Strangely all out of video art, conceptual art and bad performance art, we were left instead with swathes of mediocre painting, the likes of which is typically found in bourgeois doctors surgeries and some interesting sculptures, including one of a bulldog wearing pearls.

Thankfully though we did come across several prints that we liked and in the end purchased two quirky screen prints by a British artist called Martin Grover that re-imagine London's public transport signage as sites for distracted, philosophical, humorous wonderings.

A sculptural version of the screenprint by Martin
Grover that we bought - out by the car park at the fair.
We have one at home on the wall already, the other is being framed and we'll have it in two weeks time. We're gathering quite the art collection now, with the delightful Daniel Lehan painting that the gallery gave us for a wedding present and the breath-taking Andre Derain lithograph from Lovely Boy's parents, another beautiful, brilliant gift.

Original watercolour by Daniel Lehan
From the Art Fair to the food fair, we grabbed lunch at Duke of York Square in Chelsea at the food market, proving unable to say no to blocks of cheese and jars of passionfruit curd along the way. And then a detour down a small side street in search of a pub so LB could indulge in a Guinness for St Patrick's Day before home and a late afternoon sleep.

Queens Head pub, Chelsea
Today I've cleaned the house, powered through three loads of washing and enjoyed the quiet delights of the house while Lovely Boy is out on a man-venture for the day.

This week I'm going to Gillian Wearing's private view at the Whitechapel Gallery and on Saturday it's Kusama madness at Tate.

If I wasn't a trained professional, I'd almost be artied out.

* In the interests of full disclosure I technically haven't exactly met all these artists but if I've emailed them, if I've written questions for them for an interview, if I've seen them at close range in some kind of non-accidental, non-everyday setting then I count them. My art world cards, my prerogative.

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