Review (Sort Of)

Posted by Diana Henebury

When you go to a gallery does the visit become more about you being on show and posing? Does the gallery space become more important than the work? Do all the other people (poseurs) become the point? The real exhibition?

This keeps happening to me even as I try to avoid it I get swallowed up, absorbed into the ethos of the self-congratulatory art pack. It didnt happen when I was really young. All art was wonderful then and I imagined that when I became a proper artist things would change but it hasnt. Art galleries are now fashion scenes. I like fashion like I like good icecream. Its confusing.

So I went to see the Julian Opie’s show at the Lisson in Bell Street. I went twice. After the first visit I wasnt actually sure Id been, like the visit was a dream. At the time I knew there was something on the walls, floor, window, screens, but Opies disconcerting ideographs failed to register. It was like eating an imaginary meal or the fabled Chinese meal where as soon as you leave the restaurant youre hungry again.

Maybe my own posing as an interested spectator had gotten in the way so next time I dressed up in uber-frump housewife costume, carried plastic carrier bags from the cheapest supermarkets, shuffled in and concentrated. Really looking I began to enjoy the work. Its clean and well made, simple (deceptively) and very consumable with a fashionable (just) edge of misanthropic irony. It should be fun like comic books but it isnt and that paradox, creating an anxiety and which attempts (and largely fails) to critique (I think), the blank anonymity and the reduction of human figure and situation to stylised signifying sign, gives it an edge. And yet under the cool shrewd look is a sense of the histrionic, the hysterical artist shouting look at me and arent I clever and it is true. He is. Its pretend understatement, both sides of the cake art but hey, I can live with that. If you bought me one Id stick it up and itd look great in big corporate spaces, restaurants and luxury hotel lobbies.

I went upstairs to see the video screens (simple but effective rather static images) and I was musing on Opies portraits of Blur (thank you Andy) Celebrity portraits are all the rage and words like arse-licking vacuity, processed cheese, pretend frisson and poisoned cheese came into mind. The video background music was great, easy listening avant-garde. I was posing against the wall in this minimalistic chic space (it was the architecture itself that forced me to pose I swear), and I was so cool, a half-smile playing around my lips. A few black garbed, thin people came and went and I posed in response to their poses. I was in a movie about being in an art gallery, I was the art, fuck the art.

A man in a grey flannel swagger coat, a dramatic black scarf and black-framed glasses gesticulated wildly into a phone in a French accent, said something meaningless and I began to laugh but stuck my fingers in my mouth. Things were getting out of hand.

So I looked again out at the big window onto Bell Street and the schoolyard opposite which is framed by the window and resembles a live Lowry when it is playtime and then I left. Walking up Bell Street towards Lisson Grove and I heard the odd flattened sound of the childrens playground, kids cries stretched thin by the wind. Timeless. I felt my heart empty out and was desolate. Art is very strange.

Tell me if you have such experiences in trendy galleries. Describe opening nights where no-one looks at the art and practically clap themselves in congratulation. Go on.

April 2001, Diana Henebury

April 17th, 2001 | Residents, Reviews, Reading Room, Diana Henebury

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