State of the art
. With much ofwhat galleries are offering apparently candidates for
Pseud’s Corner, Tom Lappin sees Muriel Gray‘s new series Art Is Dead. . . Long Live TV offeringa challenge to our over-reverential attitude to Art.
Kenneth Ilutcheson's ‘art‘ is shit. Literally. He smears the stuff liberally over tree bark and displays the results in galleries alongside other examples of his work such as large hunks of decaying meat. and vomit collages assembled by
l scraping the pavements outside pubs at closing time. Hutcheson‘s works go down a storm in
Germany and Japan . where filthy-rich collectors assemble to marvel at the wealth of ‘olfactory experience' on offer. The Sistine Chapel it certainly ain't. but is it Art‘.’
I don’t doubt Peter Greenaway’s integrity, put itthat way, but I’d ratherdrink cold sick than sit through ten hours of a Greenaway special
This is the question posed by Muriel Gray in her new Channel 4 series Art Is Dead. . . Long Live TV. which sets out to challenge the cosy reverence TV has hitherto adopted towards anything with a
remote claim to be ‘art‘. In an original and § typically abrasive fashion she questions some of
. the glib assumptions we make. notably that if it's in E
a gallery. it must be worthwhile. In a sense she‘s
playing the little boy pointing out that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. ‘I am setting myself up for people to go “What a
wanker she is" .' says Gray. ‘but television rarely
addresses these views. There's been a horrible rash of little arts programmes that only cover one aspect. the “Oh. God doesn‘t it cost a lot of money“ angle. That to me isn‘t interesting. What is interesting is “how important is it?" I think art has become a middle-class diversion. but it is still
treated with enormous reverence on television.
TV has become a sort of electronic gallery. and if they say something is art then we are supposed to
i believe that. I don‘t think they should get way with
74 The List 14 -- 27 .lune I991
that. or that just because Sarah Dunant introduces
it as such. we should nod sagely and feel stupid if
we don‘t think it is right. Because of the voracious
appetite of television. having all these hours to fill.
we end up with mediocrity presented as high art.‘ Gray‘s programmes talk to people working in
\ arious spheres including film and literature. and
challenges them to come down from the rarefied and elitist plane they inhabit and explain how their work has any meaning beyond the narrow confines oftheir own particular world. It‘s a frustrating business. ‘There is this fantastically comfortable place they can retreat to if you corner them.‘ says Gray. ‘where they can say “I don’t have to justify my work".’ As I say in the programme. I don‘t think that's good enough.‘
The temptation is often to laugh out loud at some ofthe pretensions on display. It is one Gray doesn‘t always resist. going for the glib comment when something more substantial is required. In the first programme. for instance. little is made of the cosy symbiotic relationship between artist and collector. ‘Why are collectors such awful people‘." she asks art critic Pierre Luigi 'l‘azzi. "That is a problem.‘ he replies ruefully. It‘s amusing. but the question is left hanging.
lam setting myself up for people to go ‘Whata wankershe is’
She does. however. avoid the easy option of out-and-out Philistinism. ‘I have an enormously high respect for art.‘ she says. ‘If I seem to be a Philistine it‘s because I want to be proved wrong. I would very much like to think that the arts are important. It‘s just that nothing on television suggests that to be the case. I‘m playing devil‘s advocate. because I desperately want there to be great art. I want artists to be the epitome of achievement. and I‘m disappointed to find they‘re not.‘
Muriel Gray raises an eyebrow at the art world
Later programmes in the series explore the idea that truly popular art forms like TV and film are in some way inferior. and fall short of high art. It's a view that fails to convince Gray. ‘We spoke to this film director Richard Bradley-Hudd who was well known for directing commercials and gave it all up
to concentrate on directing these obscure art films.
He has this incredibly snobby attitude that you can't be an “artist” in advertising. so he became an art film director. Our conclusion was that he’d made a backward step.‘ In such a potentially influential medium as film. being wilfully obscure seems particularly wasteful. ‘I don't doubt Peter Greenmvay"s integrity. put it that way.‘ she says. ‘but I‘d rather drink cold sick than sit through ten hours of a Greenaway special.‘
The debate comes to a head in the final programme. when the question of the media‘s influence in setting trends. plucking artists from obscurity or rejecting their efforts is discussed. As the title ofthe series suggests. Gray has a few ideas of her own. ‘I have a sort ofsubtext ofa theory that all the great artists and visionaries are working in technology right now.‘ she says. ‘Certainly. commercial art forms like TV and film have some fine artists working within them.‘
In the meantime Kenneth IIutcheson's prestigious show in Dusseldorfclosed after only three days. Nothing to do with an aesthetic backlash — apparently the Environmental Health Officer thought it was a health risk. Some criticisms can really hurt.
Art Is Dead. . . Long Live TV starts on Channel 4
i on Tuesday 18 June.
0N FOLLOWING PAGES: POSY SIMMONDS O PUPPY LOVE 0 GBH REVIEWED