Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lismore Castle Arts - a challenging encounter with installation art

Last Saturday I paid a visit to Lismore Castle Arts, to see the collection of installation art United Technologies which is the Summer 2009 exhibition and has been in place since late April, shortly after the Sotheby's Irish Sale show which I wrote about earlier this year. This exhibition showcases different artistic installations from renowned contemporary artists, though I confess ignorance in that I hadn't heard of most of them. It has a guest curator from Berlin's Kunsthalle, Philippe Pirotte.

I took some photos and will share them with you in a sidebar slide show, and some here on the blogpost. I know some of the followers of this blog are artists already (you know who you are!) and may enjoy seeing this art. I am an already self-confessed art virgin when it comes to knowledge of contemporary artists outside the well-known (read notorious) artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, and probably Graham Knuttel and Banksy. So my take on this exhibition must be seen in that context, and not that of a knowledgeable art critic!

I always feel a bit of a fraud at these exhibitions, as I think all the other punters look so earnest and informed and they look at the artworks as if they are really appraising them, whereas I just look and wonder what exactly is the artist trying to convey. I guess a lot of contemporary art goes right over my head and I just don't "get" it, and even reading the guide in the gallery doesn't enlighten as it is often couched in language so flowery and convoluted that it seems to speak to other artists and not to the common man - or woman.

So that's probably why I have a somewhat cynical view of a lot of installation art in particular. Tracey Emin's Bed for example - I can well understand why one lady so felt the urge to tidy it up and throw away the detritus in which it is embedded that she took cleaning materials along to the Tate. Nor do I quite get what's so wonderful about Francis Bacon's horrendously messy studio that warranted replication in Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery. Oh well, maybe one of the artistic readers will be able to educate me accordingly!

Well, I had some idea that this exhibition would be "different" having heard from hubby who was at the launch back when he was still Mayor, (I missed it as I was at something dull and worthy like a union meeting that night) and sons who work there butlering part-time. So I knew there were ceramic oil spill blobs randomly around the gallery, and a ton of tea in a cube, and some dandelion wine in its early stages that would be there right to the bottling (and maybe drinking!) stage.

I knew there was some scaffolding and a room full of quasi-erotic neon lighting, and a photo of a stone wall, and a collage wall made up of photos of a real garden shot from above and arranged like a cartographer would make a map. There were some gold-leaf sticks, which were very pretty if not very functional, and the staff were hard-pressed to keep the visitors from touching the exhibits, particularly the tea cube, which was crying out to be touched as it looked so tea-like you wondered how did it stay stuck together and not get all mouldy like tea-leaves you forget to rinse out of the pot, or teabags in the compost bin!

The whole gallery was wallpapered in this amazing silvery wallpaper with the words Conceptual Decoration in black printed all over, and it will all be removed (presumably scraped unceremoniously off like you would any old wallpaper!) when the exhibition is over at the end of September.

The artists were people I had never heard of, although one of the gallery guides informed me the Ton of Tea and Oil Spills guy was Ai Weiwei also designed the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, which he boycotted. I hadn't heard of him but his stadium is certainly beautiful. I wonder why he did it if he had such difficulty with the regime, it would seem to be contradictory in my eyes, and diminish whatever boycott he might decide on after the job was done (and paid for.) I must read up more on the whole issue, seems like there's a lot of articles about it and the answers are probably in there somewhere.

Jason Rhoades died of a heart failure from accidental drug intoxication at age 41, and his controversial art is included here, with his erotic neon signs with international slang words for vagina certainly raising eyebrows among any visitors with a penchant for Irish Catholic Guilt after a convent sex education (which is a pretty oxymoronic concept!). He also did the scaffolding and the wall garden collage, an aerial scaled down view of his dad's garden which he seemingly reproduced in life-size at another exhibition. It's made up of a lot of 4"x6" photos which don't all align so it doesn't quite make a jigsaw picture but close up you see all the elements - courgette plants and fencing and grass. He stuck tiny rugs on it to represent magic carpets flying over the garden. It would take ages to see it all in detail but the overall effect is pleasing - I can't imagine the patience required but then he seems to have been very much an alternative kind of guy.

Corey McCorkle was the dandelion wine guy, although this was at the fermentation-stopping stage and not on display; we could see the glass bottles it will eventually be decanted to out in the Paxton greenhouse, and they were cut-and-paste bottles which I hope won't leak. He also made the gold-leaf walking sticks, more style than substance for any hill-walkers with a fancy for a bit of bling!

Rita McBride must have Irish roots, though she is American based in Dusseldorf. She did these intriguingly titled Mae West Templates - steel stencils, curvy cutout shapes which reminded me of African drums. She did the relief rock wall, which is a bit optical illusiony as it is partly mirror-imaged, and sits nicely in the gallery, leaning against one wall.

Stefan Bruggemann
is the decorator guy - he designed the wallpaper that covers all the gallery walls and he must have no difficulty with the transience of his art given that it all goes in a few weeks when the gallery is returned to its pristine white walled state. Looking at his website he has plenty of rolls of this design as it featured frequently elsewhere!

I went to this with an open mind, and prepared to be surprised. Maybe I have learnt something new, certainly about the artists, and despite my skepticism on installations, I admire the tenacity of people who go to such lengths for their art, and to me much of it seems to have more merit than a lot of the better known Britart, which aims to shock rather than please the general public.

I also enjoyed seeing the gardens in their summer glory on a rare sunny September day, as I spent last year squelching around in wet shoes on a filthy day when I visited the gardens and the gallery with a friend.

You should be able to match the photos with the artists from the descriptions - and there are plenty of links to various sites to satisfy the connoisseur in you!
I will also post a sidebar slide show for all the photos of that day.


Rudee said...

There is something very industrial about all of these displays. Contemporary art is not always to my taste, but I do appreciate the effort that went into most of them.

Irene said...

I don't usually care for the pretentiousness of a lot of contemporary art and often feel like I'm being made a fool of by the "artist." Can we even call him or her that? It's no longer art as I understand it, but then again, I am like you and no connoisseur and not educated in it, nor do I wish to be. I would feel it was all a huge trick. I'll stick to what I can understand and find the loveliness in it. I'm an old fashioned fool.

Catherine said...

RUDEE - I agree about the industrial nature of these installations, I guess it's in the technologies of the title and it certainly makes you think about what passes for art in many people's eyes - at least it takes a lot of effort and tenacity, and probably more than some performance art which I really don't get at all! I still feel the same about pickled sharks and sheep though, not to mention unmade beds, regardless of the statement they make on the artist's state of mind at the time, they don't impress me.

Catherine said...

IRENE - you're probably right about the pretentious nature of a lot of the art today, it certainly requires a massive ego and sense of importance (often amounting to hubris) to set up some installations as art, but these were more industrial and at least they look quite lovely in the space, aesthetically they fit well in the gallery but then I think anything would as it is such a beautiful space. I love the minimal look of the tea cube, and the sheet metal templates took some effort. The dandelion wine...I reserve judgement on that being art! I guess I'm old fashioned too, I still preferred the classical stuff at the earlier Sotheby's sale exhibition this year, and the van Eyck and Gainsborough I saw there a few years ago from the permanenet collection of the Devonshire family (castle owners) thrilled me to bits!

Niamh Griffin said...

Thanks for this post! Sounds like a great exhibition. I love the idea of the wallpaper - just making something for now. Ignore the snobby people - they're just jealous they can't make anything of their own ;)

Catherine said...

Hi NIAMH - glad you liked the post - there is a Facebook group or two dedicated to Lismore Castle Arts if you are interested in following it further - pity they close this exhibition end September and there won't be another one till next year's major exhibition. It is certainly worth going to see as they are pretty renowned and we are lucky to have them on our doorstep.
I guess the wallpaper is very subtle as you don't see the writing till you are up close.

Marilyn Miller said...

Fascinating tea cube. Thanks for sharing it.

Eileen L said...

What a fantastic review!From a mind keeping itself open to 'the new' but not blindly accepting it because it's the thing to do.Am totally ashamed that from a casual showing of a photo of the Bird's Nest to Catherine recently,she referred me to this exhibition at my doorstep in Lismore,containing a work by the same sculptor/artist of which I was totally unaware.Hard to keep up with you Catherine,but thanks for continuing to stimulate us with your musings and reviews.E

Eileen L said...

perhaps 'architect' rather than sculptor.....!!(ref:my post above)