Following the suggestion of friends, who’d been told it was good but hadn’t themselves gone to it, I visited Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo). It had one exhibit of modest interest, gathered from the collection of UniCredit, one of their sponsors. It was a grab-bag of things suggesting art is magic, and included clips of Lumiere and Melies, surrealists, photographic things and a hodge-podge of paintings and sculpture, all tucked under the title, La Grande Magia. There were some interesting things among the mélange, though it seemed obvious it was a contrived way to haul UniCredit’s stuff out and show it, perhaps with the thought to pump up its alleged “value” for future sale. Two cheers for capitalism….
That done, I went to the permanent collection, which was mostly Italian work of relatively recent vintage. This comprised a lot of piss-poor copies of NYC of the 50’s, with fotos of the artists in trench-coats, hats, and smoking cigarettes as if posing as Camus in an “existentialist” play. The paintings and their names were instantly forgettable, just as all too many American abstract expressionists and pop artists are.
Tucked into this were some other things, apparently commissioned by the museum. One was an alleged “installation” piece by current hot London “artist” Tacita Dean. In a walled off space, an old 16mm projector showed on a little screen hung from the ceiling in back projection some very pedestrian shots of the studio of Giorgio Morandi, beloved artist of modern Bologna. Another video projector showed static shots of some “drawings” by Morandi. In both projections there was zero creative anything going on with video, 16mm, or anything else. This sizable display was accorded two (empty) seats, time and space, and was utterly utterly worthless. What fame will do…. I print later on Ms. Dean’s words on Morandi, none of the seeming intelligence of which was evident in the installation.
As my brain ossified from this display of the art world’s total corruption – from the pale Italian modern art of the 50’s-70’s (including “art povera” and all the rest), to the pathetic display of “young London’s” current sway in the arts world, I wandered on, ever more resentful, to a gallery of hot new Bologna very young artists, who like their predecessors of the 50’s and 60’s aped the current international styles, and filled their space with a litter of collected things put on the floor, scrawls on the walls, and absolutely nothing showing a milligram of originality, creative passion, technical talent, or anything else I would stick the word “art” on. As in other exhibits I have seen it was all academic by-the-book current art world s-h-i-t accorded space in a museum, lathered with utterly inane explicatory texts, and as empty as outer-space is, though lacking in outer-space’s philosophical promptings. Yes, another museum full of complete crap masquerading as “art.”
I could make a long list of famed so-called “artists” responsible for this: Beuys, Warhol, Twombly, and numerous others. Certainly an academic scholar could make a case for the continuity from critical practice noting the differing “styles” of various artists of any period, flowering in our current era wherein one’s particular neuro-muscular twitching, attached to some graphic signature device (a pencil), begets “art.” Tacita Dean could be an example, but there are literally hundreds of them who seem to imagine that if they call themselves “artists” and make a scrawl, it becomes “art.” So much for the lessons of the present academy.
And of our corrupted society which now accepts this, and lavishes money and space for its display. I guess well-off kids who can’t hack university and get packed off to learn “art” instead need to have something to do and must be rewarded. As in the case I just read of wherein the mysterious anonymous group Quality Bruce sold a Warholian silk-screen for about $500,000 not long ago. The question perhaps is whether in process “art” is debased or money? Or both.
On a practical level the museum was virtually empty except for the high number of guards, who admonished “no fotos” when I attempted to take one. They appeared, justifiably, bored out of their minds as there were more of them, on a Saturday afternoon, than of museum visitors, and the “art” offered little in the way of reward for them to contemplate. What they were guarding, at whatever the cost is for the people of the city of Bologna, was worthy of a hasty trip to the garbage dumpsters out on the streets. Little wonder Italy, and other places, are undergoing the tortures of “austerity.” The art in this place was, plain and simple, part and parcel of the vast fraud which 98% of contemporary (and recent “modern”) art represents. Junk, cranked out by a corrupted system of schools which teach this crap, and a parasitic cluster of alleged “intellectuals” who parse the meaning of this now utterly decadent, empty, total s-h-i-t. The kind of stuff which fills pavilions in Venice and Basel, where the utterly conformist art crowd disports itself in “hip” costumes and posturing, and fill the chic “art” hotels made by designer starchitects, (who to my direct observation are equally conformist, decked out in elegant silk black on black outfits). Their tastes are measured in money, in hot names, and they flit from gallery to gallery like promiscuous bees, ever in search of the next hot vacuous thing with lots of $$$$-signs tacked to it: Koons, Hirst, or other hyper-hot commodities, whose work is notable primarily for the price tags attached, which are proportionate to the “fame” attached to the “name.”
[An aside: in my film Chameleon, about a “dealer” – drugs, art, scams – in LA in the late 70’s there’s a line said by a sleazoid dealer, that it’s “names that sell; I couldn’t get a dime for one of your things,” said as he twists an artist’s arm to come up with a fake of a “name” artist. My very jaded and contemptuous view of the art-world is rather old.]
GIORGIO MORANDI: STILL LIFE AND DAY FOR NIGHT -
by Tacita Dean
At a certain point, standing in the tiny studio of Giorgio Morandi, re-installed recently in the old apartment in Bologna where he lived with his sisters for fifty years, I knew I had to make a decision. His objects were everywhere, grouped on the tables and under the chairs and gathered together on the floor. They were as recognizable to me as if they had belonged in the outhouses of my own family, and aged with us into comfortable familiarity: face powder boxes, conical flasks, vases of cotton flowers, gas lamps and oil cans, pots, jars and bottles, and containers whose function we no longer recognize. Were they of his time or had he scoured the flea markets himself looking for them? We have only ever known them with dust. Giorgio Morandi was the painter who could paint dust.
And then there were his interventions, like the cartons rewrapped in brown paper and the reflections whitewashed out on the bottles and the Erlenmeyer flasks, the artificial flower arrangements and the odd flourish to remake a dull vessel. It seems Morandi liked to paint what he saw. He did not choose, as I had always imagined, simply not to paint anything about an object that he did not deem necessary, but instead transformed them beforehand, making them the objects he wanted to see. It was not about denying detail because the detail he liked, he kept. The miraculous opacity of his painted objects is already there in the objects themselves. His was a double artifice. There, amongst the copper pans and the enameled jugs, I understood clearly what the Fluxus artist, Robert Filiou meant when he said, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”
Giorgio Morandi’s compositions were far from arbitrary. The space between his objects was rigorously and mathematically worked out. Set squares, rulers and a knotted string hang on the studio wall. The table surface and the lining paper are covered with intricate markings and measurements, often initialed or marked with a letter when, you assume, a decision was finalised. They are like found drawings, unintentional but remarkable.
Only when the light was identical to how it had been the day he set up a composition, did Morandi allow himself to continue painting. On other days, he would sit on the corner of his monastic bed, where there is a pronounced dip, and etch. He would draw at night by electric light. His brushes, that lie tied up in bundles, have been worked down to tufts, and in one instance, to a single hair. Was it parsimony or did he require them bald? Was it because his stroke was a non-frontal gesture, which approached from the side? His room was set-up for a left-handed man but no one particularly remarked this about the painter.
Amidst his objects, which still held the aura of their depiction, I came at last to a decision as to how I could treat them. I filmed them singly, one by one, centred in my frame, and did as Morandi would never have done: made their composition random.
Temporarily housed in the MAMbo, there was a large collection of Morandi works. I have been familiar with him for some decades, and never quite fathomed what the big deal was about him. Several rooms and more of his work merely underlined for me my view that he is very much a very minor painter, though perhaps he highlights a certain phenomenon in the arts world which seems to be almost more prized than its results: doggedness, doing the same thing again and again and again, until your mark is firmly etched and, in a sense, you are a safe bet. Like a trademark. McDonald’s, Gucci – you are in for no surprises, you will get what you know you will get. In Morandi’s case what you will get is modest – images of jars, bottles, in very muted non-color mostly, arrayed on a table. The brushwork will be desultory, near “primitive.” The result, like much of modern art, is “nice” graphics, something comfortable and safe for a magazine illustration. However, in the alchemic world of modernist art, if you do this long enough your work will turn into (marketable) art. As with America’s beloved Norman Rockwell, and many others.
I left the museum to walk through the arcaded streets of central Bologna, decked in Christmas finery and markets, and wandered back to my friend Pina’s cozy apartment. Along the way some graffiti by someone named “Blu” marked my way.
There seems a developing fashion, certainly along the lines of PC-speak, that if you don’t have something “nice” to say about something – art, a movie, whatever – then it is better to stay silent. I guess I’ll remain firmly out of fashion.