13th December 2015
Art you will remember is a puppet – like a multi-footed iambic clumsy thing with no validation until its Pygmalion like body is turned into the verisimilitude of life. The sculptor falls in love with the beautiful image he has made.
We are, in our turn, asked to fall in love with Art.
This Art is not some glowing beauty or radiant creation, but it is Art alright. We recognise it by its coat and trousers. It becomes us by its strangeness.
This uncanny thing somehow going beyond the human.
But as we know when there is talk of Art there is always someone who does not listen. More precisely someone who hears, listens, looks and then does not know what it was all about.
The question I am asked is ‘who is the audience’ not ‘where is the audience’ or ‘why is there an audience’. Who then?
All artists are clear that they themselves are their own audience.
I make my art for me and not for you. My conversations are with myself but I know that I am like you. Strangely my conversations with myself are really conversations with you.
Duchamps view of the artist as a “mediumistic being who from the labyrinth beyond time and space seeks his way out to a clearing”, Duchamp makes clear the artists role as a seer who finds mystic truth.
Duchamp however also goes on to say that the creative act is not performed by the artist alone, the spectator, he says, brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
In the 21st century I feel it is right to say that Duchamps audience is controlled however subtly by politics, social pressure and ‘Art world’ gimmickry. All of which mean that the innocent eye which Duchamp assumes cannot be taken for granted any longer.
Our audience is not freethinking; Art has been ‘interpreted’ for me. It is only through previous interpretations that the audience are able to see.
Terry Eagleton and Stanley Fish propose that there is no such thing as an uninterpreted work of art. We may complete or make whole the picture, but we do so in a context that is not free of sociopolitical pressure. Increasingly this context is economic. Money is a further lens though which we must view Art.
The innocence of Duchamps viewer feels like it is lost, but we must not let her go. We cannot let her go.
So I ask you, at this juncture, to consider whether beauty and politics are linked. Political rights have always been pitched to us as a goal which will be achieved at some fictional date in the future.
We are told to wait; one day we will have rights; one day we will find justice one day; one day we will have freedom. One day.
Will you permit me to draw a comparison with my practice in the studio? Can I say to myself as I work I will have beauty one day, some time in the future? Is it not that beauty is here now? Is it not that all I must do is to see her? Beauty now depends only on what I do next.
Arrival is possible out of what I do now.
You can see where I am going with this.
Just as beauty is now, freedom is now. And depends only on what I do next.
I would like to site two occasions from my experience of an audience. In Chicago, in the year 2000, I made the work Cloud Gate from stainless steel. It has now been on display at Millenium Park for 15 years. During that time 20 million people have seen it and the sculpture seems to have become a point of focus for an audience. I ask myself why?
Is it because it is easy?
Is it because it is Approachable?
Is a big audience a blessing or a curse?
Is it that the public object has to capture some symbolic truth to be successful or is it all just entertainment?
I sat there once with ‘The Bean’ as it is known, to ponder this question. I worried that it was too easy. I discovered however after a long sit that it is not so easy. The secret seems to be its scale. What do I mean? This object has no joints; it is one seamless whole, which therefore gives it an indeterminate size. It is a big thing when you are in it and becomes a small thing very quickly as you move just a few metres away. In other words its scale is shifting and remains enigmatic. Scale as we know is deeply poetic and this shifting scale is truly mystifying.
In an age when it is no longer possible to erect a triumphant arch or an obelisk to victory, I ask you what a symbolic public object can be?
My second example is my recent work in Versailles in Paris, where I showed a sculpture called Dirty Corner. Very quickly Dirty Corner was reviled as the ‘Queen’s Vagina’ or the ‘Vagina on the Lawn’. All I had done was to place an abstract object with a dark interior on the Tapis Vert, at the heart of the Sun Kings’ Palace. Once declared vaginal and feminine it became possible to pour out hate. Dirty Corner became the site of a vicious public demonstration of hate. How could Art be so provocative?
Even if this act was perpetrated by only a few I felt that it named a public mood. A mood of intolerance and bitterness at a time when we have hundreds and thousands of refugees wandering Europe in search of a home unwelcomed and despised. At a time when it is possible to destroy the great sites of historical art the buddhas at Bamyan in Afghanistan and the sites at Nimurid in Iraq.
As a response to the hate filled graffiti I decided not to allow a restoration and to leave the graffiti there on the work as a part of the work.
Very quickly the right wing politicos took out a court case and accused us of displaying, even promoting, anti-Semitic material. The court forced us to remove the graffiti.
I refused this ridiculous ruling, choosing instead to cover the vile slogans in gold leaf as a partial mask. The hate would remain covered with a thin veneer of gold.
I must ask, what now is the public object? Who now is the audience?
Our museums house the products of mediumistic beings, esoteric in intention and destination. A good work of art like a good poem can be reached out for but cannot be held, yet we ask that the shoppers walk out from the shopping malls and into our museums to have what we know they cannot reach.