Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Art not without ambition

When I was ten years old I appeared on the back page of one of our local newspapers. I was at a small art exhibition and was pictured admiring a particularly unpleasant-looking sculpture of a head. The caption below the photo read: Andrew may not know a lot about art, but he knows what he likes.

Forty years later, and clearly, nothing has changed. I still know nothing about art and I still know what I like. But these days what I like seems to be very little, especially when it comes to contemporary art. That's not to say I hate it all - far from it. The house is filled with paintings by contemporary artists and I love every one of them. That's why I give them wall space. But once art moves off the wall, I suddenly turn into an old fuddy-duddy with extremely conservative tastes, and words like 'installation' or 'performance art' send a shiver down my spine.

So last weekend, when we accepted an invitation to visit the Trigésima Bienal de São Paulo, the city's largest contemporary art exhibition and one which, as its name implies, only comes around every other year, I really didn't hold out much hope of it being one of my more memorable days in Brazil - especially as we were going as a family. Honestly, there are few things worse than dragging yourself around a huge contemporary art exhibition filled with items of dubious merit, but doing it with two impatient, hungry and bored children is one of them.

"This sucks."
"How long do we have to stay here?"
"I'm bored."
"I'm hungry."
"Why did we have to come here?"
"When can I have my computer time?"

and all of this interspersed with,

"Don't run!"
"Don't touch that!"
"Get off there!"
"Why didn't you go before we left the house?"

But I'm happy to report that our trip to the Bienal was nothing like this. Or not much, anyway. It helped that it was free, so I'd already got my money's-worth as soon as I'd stepped through the door. It helped that it was situated in the wonderful Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion, designed by Brazil's one-man construction company, Oscar Niemeyer. And it also helped that we were accompanied by our friends Freddy and Gisela, who know way more about contemporary art than I do and were able to guide us around and make sure we got to see all the best bits - and understand them.

Niemeyer's Pavillion. The black carpet is actually a piece of art, by the way, and is now adorned with several six-year-old's footprints!
 We saw some interesting stuff. We also saw a lot of stuff I would have to try really hard to call interesting. But that's the great thing about going somewhere free - I don't feel I have to spend a lot of time appreciating every single little thing I pass simply because I had to pay to see it. If I think something's not worth bothering with, I just don't bother with it.

Scary, ugly thing by Tiago Carneiro da Cunha. The artist is a relative of a friend and was the only exhibiting artist I've met, so he gets a free plug here.
Part of the large and strangely compelling Arthur Bispo do Rosario collection.
Perhaps not surprisingly, James was less than enthralled by the whole trip. Art is not his strong point - or even his middle point for that matter - and he found the outside much more interesting than the inside.

David is the budding artist of the family however, and he had a much better time, finding plenty to entertain him. There were even a few exhibits he was allowed to interact with, although there were also one or two that he really should have kept his hands (and feet) off.

That's more like it - art you can really get inside. One of Absalom's  miniature buildings.

video
This was another of David's favourites - forgot to see who it was by.

David also wins the award for the quote of the day. In reply to my suggestion that if he'd been a bit older perhaps he could have had some of his own work displayed, he sighed and told me I should have invented him a lot earlier. That's telling me. Clearly the trip inspired him though, and as soon as we got back home he went straight to work creating his own new collection. But sadly he's surrounded by philistines. While I could appreciate his neat series of paintings on the iPad, his extended installation comprising a hundred and fifty colouring pens and crayons laid out in mysterious patterns all around the lounge was simply dismissed as "a mess" and "in the way".

So, to be fair to him, I promised to post the iPad work as well.

Tiny Cube

Garden



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