Contemporary art: what’s it all about? Money seems to be the deciding factor. Accordingly, I put all the artists I saw around London this weekend into Artprice’s “Contemporary Art Sales League 2014” spreadsheet. Within the six galleries visited, only four names came inside the top 500.
Richard Prince was top – at sixth place with a £19 million turnover in 2014. Marc Quinn was 70th, with a measly £2 million; Glenn Ligon was 79th, with roughly the same; and Joseph Kosuth was 229th, with just £450,000.
Assuming some costs go to dealers, it still makes the position of a top 500 artist incredibly powerful. An artist like Joseph Kosuth is still enviably in league with, say, the CEO of a top bank. With great power, comes great responsibility. So it is funny to think that a quiet room above a tailors in Mayfair represents as much money and power as a plexiglass tower block on Bishopsgate.
The best show in London today, however, can be found a few bus stops further down from the smog-tinted, Victorian frontages of Camberwell Green. At Thomas Hirschhorn’s show at the South London Gallery, we first see a ravaged black canopy, letting in the cold morning light. Literally miles of masking tape hang like algal fronds from pillars. The scene looks like a gutted squat, sketched out in cardboard brick. Swiss artist Hirschhorn makes the negative space in the installation seem solid – he lets us into the space he has carved out for us.
Word by Word at Luxembourg & Dayan, in Savile Row, is a group show that references the power of text in art. Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation is cited – where the dialogue between Mary and Archangel Gabriel is reflected in actual text. We see “Lost Without Love”, and “Petite”, written out on Betty Tompkins’s black notepaper, made to resemble film negative with its frilled borders. Christopher Wool’s slogans, set on lurid turquoises and pollen yellows, are an object lesson in setting type on a page. We are shown how typographical art can be decorative and beautiful without losing its worthy, Conceptual intentions.
At the Camden Arts Centre, Hannah Collins creates music through space. She juxtaposes verdant, kaleidoscopic flora-and-fauna picture sequences with a bleak landscape of snow and threaded branches. The latter, black-and-white image is a road to Auschwitz, and is the culmination of a slightly constrained exhibition. Elsewhere, at Monumental Mobile at Dominique Lévy, we see one of Alexander Calder’s bright, hanging, stabile sculptures.
Richard Sides made me feel right at home in his installation at the Lisson Gallery’s group show: Californian postcards; UK Citizenship application forms; cans of beer; Orangina cans; video art with tacky sofas laid out – the weekend rain tapping in accompaniment.
Then came Marc Quinn’s dystopian The Toxic Sublime at White Cube. “Toxic” was the word, unfortunately, but his stainless-steel sea-shells were very good, with the slightly plastic feel of his typical work (such as his Fourth Plinth statue).
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