Back in July my daughter and I made a pilgrimage to Bermondsey to see the White Cube which we’d heard so much about for so long. We had high expectations as our gps guided us from the tube through the back streets of east London. The cube, however, was closed. So we decided to visit its sister space in the West End. On display was the work of Brazilian-born conceptual artist, Jac Leirner. Now my daughter, the artist, feels strongly that art should be able to speak for itself - that we should be able to ascertain whether it is either good or bad based soley on what we see before us. I used to think that, but have found that when I know the artist’s back story, it often increases the contemplative possibilities of viewing for me.
In the one of the galleries were some pieces which looked to us like a sets of different coloured post-it notes, arranged in a large rectangles with military precision. We looked at one another in despair, feeling as though we were being humiliated by the artist. I later learned that these weren’t post-it notes at all but rather gummed Rizla papers and that Ms. Leiner, one of Latin America’s leading conceptual artists, has an obsession with accumulating ordinary found objects as materials for her art. Her works, or 'interventions' adopt ‘formal rigour and aesthetic to the way she collects, arranges and assembles.' Her cigarette paper grid titled Skin “references both the habitual, repetitive activity of rolling papers and the physical, tangible nature of this material: a delicate and translucent syphon used to smoke tobacco and pot.”
Leirner follows in a long tradition of ‘found object’ artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Gabriel Orozco and Picasso. Last year I was able to hear David Nash speak about his work at a lecture he gave at Kew Gardens. Like Leiner, Nash mostly uses found materials, only his have been from nature – predominantly fallen trees. Unlike Leiner, however, his works are monumental and designed to last, particularly in the elements.
On another cultural excursion off the Piccadilly line, we saw the brilliant BP exhibition of young artists at the National Portrait Gallery. The works were truly impressive and mesmerising; we even went around twice it was so good.
And then we ventured down into the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It’s now like Victoria Station down there now, with a huge cafe, gift shop, throngs of diners and tourists and an art gallery off to the west side. When we entered the space we noticed that several walls were covered with yellow post-it note and we responded, quite appropriately and spontaneously, in gales of laughter. A young man explained to us that for £10 we could purchase the chance to remove one of the post-it notes and have one of several of his colleagues sketch and sign a doodle on the note for us to take home. Eventually, when all the notes were removed, there would be a grand work for all to see. Now I’m sure that these were all fantastically talented artists and that they were undertaking a novel approach to participative art; it just seemed like a pretty high price for which to take part.
I told the pop-up artist about the exhibit at the White Cube and encouraged him to go see it; after all, it seemed like there was some symmetry there.