A Letter from a Friend

From an art-lover who is not an art professional and is puzzled by the "art scene." It articulates an opinion we hear often.

I thought of you Thursday evening, when I went to a slide lecture at the Wesley Center by Matthew Higgs. He's a youngish (40 or so) Brit billed as an artist/curator/writer/publisher/teacher, now associate director of the Wattis Institute at California College of Arts in San Francisco, formerly with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Goldsmith's College, both in London. He's curated at such places as the Whitechapel Art Gallery, a major contemporary space in London.

He seemed nice enough, low-key and straightforward, with no posturing or pretentiousness. He mostly showed things from shows he's curated, as well as some of his own work and some pieces on paper he's commissioned to be issued as limited editions. His matter-of-factness seemed genuine. There was a heavy emphasis on text-based work, along with photography, installations and such.

The overriding approach was conceptual, ideas being clearly paramount and the visual element a minor concern, if not altogether absent. He clearly took it as a given that this was not only valid but quite normal, perhaps the actual norm. Much of what he presented as art was purely textual, meaning one literally had to read it to "get" it. It had no visual value at all. It is really writing, just like "performance" is theatre, but if any of this stuff came up in the literary or theatrical world it would be ridiculed because it is so simple-minded and unevolved. There was no hint that he knew anything about "conventional" art, though I suppose he must because he went to art school.This guy is moving and shaking and apparently teaching; but the stuff he's doing is cold, little more than mind games, cleverness and manipulation, and silly without being amusing. Aesthetics is nowhere in sight.

How the hell did these people get to be the establishment?


Posted November 23, 2003

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