Art for art’s sake

14 07 2015

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter went to the Vancouver Art Gallery on their Tuesday “by donation” evening. She didn’t get to see everything, but was enthusiastic and wanted to go again. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go with her this evening.

Now, first of all, I have to applaud them for having Tuesday evenings as “by donation”. It allows people who might hem and haw about being able to afford the normal entrance fee to pay what they can, or what they feel appropriate, and still get to experience the art on display. As we queued I saw several posters informing attendees that it was entrance by donation, and that a donation of $10 was appropriate. The normal entrance fee is $20 (or $15 for students) and I think a donation of $10 or even $5 would be quite achievable for anyone who was even vaguely interested in visiting the gallery.

I was quite prepared to fork out my $10 and though I accept I am reasonably affluent, I was appalled by the number of well-dressed, iPhone-toting student types who were handing over 25c coins as their entrance donation. Now, I used to be a student in a former life. I know money can be tight, but 25c?! That, dear reader is most definitely taking the piss! All due respect to the staff though – they smilingly took the mite and issued a receipt and entrance ticket (which possibly cost more than the 25c received!) See elsewhere for my thoughts regarding integrity!

The temporary exhibition was “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums”. These were good, solid religious paintings by the likes of  Botticelli. Not sure why, but I found them intensely boring. Shocking, I know. Some of them were literally hundreds of years old. They were incredibly skilfully painted. Ground-breaking at the time. I could appreciate their art, but they were just not doing it for me.

As we moved to the stairs and the first floor, I was completely lost for words. Here was “modern art” in its extreme. My daughter loved “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?” Me though – it looked like a bunch of random items from a car boot sale. With some of it I could again see the skill in its execution, but I was left with an overwhelming sense of WTF?! One entire room (Geoffrey Farmer’s The Surgeon and the Photographer) was filled with foot high folk created from fabric bodies and carefully placed collage from magazines and the like. It looked for all the world like the left-overs from a Terry Gilliam segment of a Monty Python film.

The full half hour?

The full half hour?

Ni

Ni

Sorry Mr. Farmer… just not my cup of tea.

One of the other rooms was a bizarre installation of animatronic items with changing lights and sound. A small anteroom had an IKEA bed with a sleeping bag on it, and my artsy daughter told me that the main installation was supposed to represent a nightmare as experienced by the person who was overnighting in a strange house. Hm-mmm. Perhaps… I definitely think one of the Slag Brothers from The Wacky Races was there though…

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

The installation is called Let’s Make The Water Turn Black and is another Geoffrey Farmer work. It’s supposedly an homage to Frank Zappa and his developments in xenochrony or “strange time”. I can believe that.

The top floor made up for everything though. There was some weird nonsense with “wallpaper” – basically digital patterns projected onto the walls of the room, but otherwise there was some of the VAG’s Emily Carr collection and… photographs! I loved the photographs. “Residue: Persistence of the Real” included a series of photos by Robert Burley (from The Disappearance of Darkness series) of disused manufacturing plants associated with film and photography. There was Polaroid, Ilford and Kodak. I was just mentioning the lack of Agfa (where I used to work) when around the corner there were two images of Agfa’s Mortsel site near Antwerp in Belgium, which I knew very well. I wonder how many casual viewers had even realised the connection between the images.

Source: Robert Burley: FILM COATING FACILITY, AGFA-GEVAERT, MORTSEL, BELGIUM [#1] 2007

One wall had a series of three or four images depicting the demolition of one of Kodak’s plants in Rochester as it came to terms with the death of film. End of an era that everyone saw coming except Kodak!

There was another series of images by Geoffrey James called “Inside Kingston Penitentiary” which depicted the final day as the Ontario prison was closed down. These images were stark but very human, showing how prisoners had imprinted their personalities on the harsh environment of the old prison.

 

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