Saturday, 16 July 2016

How to Understand Modern Art (Part 2): 5 cutting-edge artists

Throughout Grayson Perry's book Playing to the Gallery there are numerous examples of groundbreaking, tongue-in-cheek, and downright weird art. In this post I will go through five of the most interesting, shocking, and strange artists and exhibitions mentioned in the book.

5. Zhu Yu - Eating People (2000)

In 2000, the Chinese artist Zhu Yu, known for his shocking art, filled the pages of newspapers over the world after a performance art video of Yu apparently eating a 6-month-old fetus in his kitchen was to be shown as part of the Fuck Off exhibition of avant-garde Chinese artists. The photographs have even been circulated in emails as a part of anti-Chinese propaganda, and the documentary Beijing Swings,which interviewed avant-garde Chinese artists and was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2003, received over 60 complaints both before and after the show aired. Many websites have claimed that the "fetus" was in fact probably a duck's body attached to a doll's head, although it has also been reported that the fetus was stolen from a medical school.

[Video: Zhu Yu: Eating People, extract from a Channel 4 documentary. WARNING FOR GRAPHIC IMAGES]

Yu came to fame for his extreme art; indeed they are 'as much an assault on society's morals as they are an assault on the human senses... Titillating for their shock value, the viewer simultaneously desires to look whilst undergoing a feeling of bodily revulsion.' [x] Previous art included him grafting skin from his abdomen onto a piece of pork. Waldemar Yanuszczak, the presenter of the film, stated that,
"It is worth trying to understand why China is producing the most outrageous, the darkest art, of anywhere in the world... I personally find him deluded in what he has done... But I found him to be really honest about it all, and very keen to present his worldview... His worldview is, in the end, we are all meat." [x]

Further reading:
Zhu Yu Wikipedia
Zhu Yu - China's Baby-Eating Shock Artist Goes Hyperreal
Baby-eating art show sparks upset (BBC)

4. Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz - Hole in Space (1980)

Hole in Space, 1980
Hole in Space was a "public communication sculpture"; an unannounced event of two larger-than-life screens showing a satellite feed between the street outside the Lincoln Center in New York and the Century City shopping centre in Los Angeles. 'No signs, sponsor logos, or credits were posted -- no explanation at all was offered' [x] and Grayson Perry writes that the general public's event was 'ecstatic and spontaneous' - something a bit like 'the grandmother of Skype!'

Hole in Space, 1980
If you have ever had the opportunity to see what the award winning video documentation captured then you would have laughed and cried at the amazing human drama and events that were played out over the evolution of the three evenings. Hole-In-Space suddenly severed the distance between both cities and created an outrageous pedestrian intersection. There was the evening of discovery, followed by the evening of intentional word-of-mouth rendezvous, followed by a mass migration of families and trans-continental loved ones, some of which had not seen each other for over twenty years. [x]
Hole in Space (1980) 30 min. 

Further Reading:

3. Robert Rauschenberg - This is a Portrait of Iris Clert If I Say So (1961)

In 1961 Rauschenberg was asked to paint a portrait of Iris Clert, a gallerist. Instead of painting the portrait, he replied to the request with a telegram, which read: "THIS IS A PORTRAIT OF IRIS CLERT IF I SAY SO"

This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So, 1961
Further Reading:
Iris Clert Wikipedia
Robert Rauschenberg Wikipedia

2. Christian Marclay - The Clock (2010)

The Clock (2010)
A scene from The Clock

Christian Marclay's The Clock is a
'staggering moving-image installation The Clock, a 24-hour montage of thousands of film and television clips with glimpses of clocks, watches, and snatches of people saying what time it is. This incredible installation is set up so that whatever time is shown is, in fact, the correct time as of that instant. So as well as providing food for thought about the nature of time in the cinema, and indeed in life itself, the whole thing itself functions as a gigantic and gloriously impractical clock.' [x]
The project was a three-year labour of love in which Marclay and six assistants watched hundreds and hundreds of films and copied scenes containing clocks or time. He was given a $100,000 budget to create his work after proposing the idea to the White Cube Gallery in London. Using a spreadsheet, Marclay and his assistants inputted the information before editing the scenes together. Around 12,000 clips were used altogether. In total, Marclay produced 6 editions and 2 artists proofs, and each copy sold for over $400,000, five designated to galleries, and one bought privately. The Guardian named the film 'a masterpiece of our times' [x] and Zadie Smith wrote in her review of The Clock that it was 'neither bad nor good, but sublime, maybe the greatest film you have ever seen' [x]. Segments of the film are available on Youtube and the installation is still being shown in galleries around the world. 'It will run and run with out needing to be wound.' [x]

The Clock featured on BBC's 'The Culture Show' in 2010

Further resources:
Wikipedia page
Christian Marclay's The Clock: a masterpiece of our times - Guardian article

1. The Leeds 13 - Going Places (1998)

The Leeds 13's exhibition has to be my favourite example of innovative art in Perry's book. Back in 1998 a group of students at a Leeds university (now known as the Leeds 13) were given £1,000 to put on their end of year show. At the opening, instead of paintings or performance art, the audience were taken to the airport, to watch the group entering the arrivals lounge, and later greeted by photographs of the students bathing on the Costa del Sol, flight tickets, and some souveniers. The newspapers picked up the story, labelling it a complete scandal.

The group makes it into the papers

But what was most incredible was that in fact, the whole thing was a coup. The photos on the beach were in fact taken on a beach in Skegness, the souveniers from charity shops, and the plane tickets faked. Over the period of their "holiday", the students had hired a sunbed and used it in their house to build up a tan, kept lights off in their rooms at night, didn't answer the phone or the door, and wore balaclavas whenever they went out into town to avoid being recognised. They didn't attend any lectures and even sent a postcard to their lecturer to explain they were on holiday. The students, unsurprisingly, received a first.

Some of the photographic "evidence" of the trip

Some of the photographic "evidence" of the trip
Further resources:
Leeds 13 wiki (includes files and images of the exhibition as well as press cuttings)
Leeds 13 on John Crossley's site (a member of Leeds 13)

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