fri 06/12/2019

David Shrigley: Brain Activity, Hayward Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

David Shrigley: Brain Activity, Hayward Gallery

David Shrigley: Brain Activity, Hayward Gallery

An exhibition contradicting the Shrigley default mode, which is entertainment rather than thought

A slightly unfunnier Eddie Izzard: David Shrigley's 'Lost'Image © the artist and courtesy of the artist

It has been nearly a century since modernism decreed that “art” is whatever is produced by an artist, and “an artist” is whoever claims to be one. Mostly I agree with this, and my eyeballs tend to roll back in my head when the conversation moves on to the “my three-year-old could do this” refrain. But I’ve got to say, with David Shrigley, a lot of me spent a lot of time in the Hayward thinking, “Um, is this art?”

I suppose the very fact that the work I was looking at made me think this way is a mark in its favour: it made me think, it made me consider what art is, or isn’t. But what I ended up deciding was that while “funny” can be art (see Duchamp), or whimsy (Klee), or charm (Matisse), “cute” is not art. “Cute” doesn’t go anywhere, and it doesn’t say much. It just sits there, rather like a pet tortoise. Cute is, well, just cute.

Shrigley’s subject is not small: it is social interaction, and communication, or lack of communication, as well as the sort of wry observations on the world that a slightly unfunnier Eddie Izzard would make, as with Lost (main picture, above). But what these pieces do is take the strange and the beautiful and make them cosy. It’s a sort of anti-art. A photograph of an alley is rather beautiful, and technically very accomplished, with good strong composition, lovely renderings of texture and light. Then it is titled An Alley. And the only response seems to be, “Um, yeah. And?” There is a difference between showing us the world anew (what art does) and showing us the world we know (what entertainment does).

There is a lot of anthropomorphism in Shrigley’s work: animals talk to us, or to each other, as in I'm Dead (pictured above right, image courtesy of Glasgow International Festival, photo, Ruth Clark). Or there is a drawing of vegetables with little feet, or a bunch of plastic blobs entitled The Contents of the Gap Between the Refrigerator and the Cooker with faces, or matchstick images with faces, or teeth with faces, a nail with a little face, even skull rings with cutesie-pie faces. What is the point? There doesn’t seem to be one, except that these things are all vaguely head-shaped. Back to “Um, yeah. And?”

More images are journalism, notifications about the world we live in, rather than a way to consider the world more deeply: a photo of a river with a sign in it: “River for Sale”. Um, yeah. Even more of the drawings are really postcards. I'd be delighted to receive the drawing (pictured left, Untitled, courtesy David Shrigley and Yvon Lambert) through my letter-box one morning, and I bet the Hayward's shop does a roaring trade in them. The show's title, Brain Activity, in reality contradicts the Shrigley default mode: if you don't want to have to think, but simply be painlessly amused for an hour, then this show is for you.

Yet some of the pieces do have a resonance, that built-in pause when you stop and think more about the world around you. A tombstone reading, “Bread  Milk  Cornflakes  Baked Beans  Tomatoes  Aspirin  Biscuits”, is only superficially amusing; its grim take on consumption – ours, life’s – is a useful corrective to the emotion-lite sketches elsewhere. In the same room, The Dead and the Dying, small ceramic figures in a vitrine, are equally interesting, and it is their non-faces, their very lack of anthropomorphism that makes them resonate.

A series of acrylics also puzzle: Shrigley’s colours and brushstrokes are strong and fierce, while the subjects are whimbly-whambly tame (cute animals once again predominate). If only Shrigley didn’t feel he had to be likeable, I think that the work he is very clearly capable of producing would, in fact, be art.

Watch New Friends, an animated film by David Shrigley

If only Shrigley didn’t feel he had to be likeable

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Comments

someone should take your pens away. if art can be defined im sure it isnt for the likes of you to do it.

What a brilliant response to this review

And here, ladies and gentlemen, we see the inherent flaw in the modernist decree that 'art' is whatever is produced by an artist, and 'an artist' is whoever claims to be one. Namely that for this definition to hold true all critics who consider the work unworthy of the title 'art' must be censored or ignored. Only those critics who consider anything and everything proclaimed to be art to be art can be allowed to have a say. Therefore anyone claiming to be an 'artist' and claiming there work is 'art' is right....... but not all those claiming to be a 'critic' or claiming to have an 'interpretation' or 'opinion' can be right. What specifically is it then that distinguishes artist from critic, which gives artist more authority than critic?? The answer can only be "an abstract right .... an arbitrary authority" According to modernism, no authority can contradict an artist's claims that his work is art. This view is reflected in the comment: "...someone should take your pens away....if art can be defined im sure it isnt for the likes of you to do it...." This implies an authority can (and should) interfere with any critic who contradicts another's claims that a work is art (but presumably not if the critic agrees with the claim that something is art). Anyone can of course claim to be an 'artist' who makes 'art' but here we are talking about turning those claims into 'rights', enforced by an authority, which must automatically supercede any counter claims. This renders all claims valid regardless of any criteria whatsoever, which in turn renders them all equally invalid at the same time. If anything claimed to be porridge is considered to be porridge - and no one is allowed to disagree - then any claim that something is porridge becomes meaningless and invalid. One can always claim to be an artist but it must always be up to others to claim whether you are one... or not. (FWIW in this case I also happen to think "not") :)

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