26 January 2016

Puzzling

Herman Chong
can't be wrong.
Can he?
I like art and when I am in the mood, I love to visit an art gallery. Pictures, sculptures and art installations have the power to please us, provoke us, enlighten us, annoy us or completely turn us off. Humanity's ability to create art is surely one of our finest traits and in my book the making of art is far nobler than the making of money.

When I was down in London in October I walked by The Camberwell College of Arts - an impressive Victorian building on Peckham Road. Part of it is devoted to The South London Gallery. There are even brown visitor signs in the area, directing art lovers to the gallery. On this past weekend's London trip, I went back. Frances and Shirley were happy to go along too.  

We went in and first of all checked out the bookshop with arty souvenirs also for sale. We noticed a bustling cafe that spilled out to the front of the building. It seemed popular with local families but we weren't there to sit in a cafe. We were hungry for art.

There was a large and airy room beyond the bookshop. A few people were standing in it and some kids were skidding about on the floor which was covered with identical black business cards. In fact there were exactly one million of them and they had been spread there by Singapore-based "artist", Herman Chong.

It's not the kind of thing that appeals to me. I think such stuff is  trite, trendy and easy. Throwaway art based on self-indulgent art school notions. Those business cards said nothing to me.

Then we looked for doorways and staircases that would lead us to other rooms in this so-called "gallery" but there were none. All that we had to look at was the pile of business cards. Had we missed something?

I went to the book shop desk where the arty young woman on duty was maintaining her Facebook page. I began by asking her where the art was, explaining that we were paying a special visit to the place. Politely, she explained that The South London Gallery is not an art museum, it's a place where different artists come and go and different arty things happen. I smiled at her, thanked her and expressed my disappointment.

It looked like an art gallery. The walls were white and there was a cafe and a bookshop but really there was no art. Later, when I checked out the reviews on Trip Advisor, previous visitors mainly focussed on the cafe - as if they had gone there to eat and drink, not to look at art. Quite baffling.

As we walked away I apologised to my womenfolk but they were also astonished that it was possible to promote an art gallery that contains no art apart from a million business cards chucked all over a wooden floor. Up North we call a spade a spade and if we see a fish and chip shop we confidently expect it will sell fish and chips. Similarly, we expect art galleries to have galleries of art. The clue is in the name. Clearly in London, they think differently!
Floor covered in business cards at The South London Art Gallery

32 comments:

  1. Art? Some people are so busy being pretentious; and they're all pretenders, pretending they're intellectuals!

    How idiotic for anyone to call that art?

    We're doing it all wrong, Yorkie! But you've inspired me!

    I'm going to gather together all the dead leaves from around this property. I'll fill a room at the local hall with them; cover the floor from wall to wall, from one end to the other.

    I'll stick up a sign outside the "Gallery"; put an ad in the local rag (they won't charge me because I write a weekly article for the paper) and I'll call my work of genius - my work of art - "Flighty Art - It Always Leaves!".

    I'll be rich! I'll be rich!!! Either that or locked up!

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    1. Perhaps you should give your inspirational art installation a more pretentious title. Let's try Latin..."Foliorum Caducorum". After Tamborine Mountain you could take the piece to Brisbane, Sydney, New York where art lovers would froth with delight and you would be on the covers of glossy art magazines!

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  2. You guys were bamboozled! If you were really unhappy you should have asked for your money back.

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    1. In England most art galleries and museums have free admission and that was the case with this one.

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    2. I guess you got what you paid for, then. Nothing!

      What a load of bull!

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    3. I wish there had been another space with a load of bull in it. At least that would have been something else to see.

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  3. Are you fing kidding me? What a waste of precious space in crowded old Londontown and what a complete waste of your time and that of your womenfolk! One hopes you didn't have to pay to get in.

    There is a fairly new modern art gallery in the heart of downtown Denver. I really like it. The taxpayer funded three storie building, that is. I wouldn't give a dime for any of the art that is inside the edifice!

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    1. Some modern art is thrilling. I have seen many uplifting or admirable pieces. And no, we did not pay to go in Mama Thyme.

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  4. And did you leave your business card?

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    1. That might have spoilt Herman Chong's piece as my business card has black and amber stripes on it.

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  5. You seem very calm about this puzzling situation. It sounds like trashy advertising to get people into the bookstore and cafe.

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    1. All part of life's rich tapestry Red!

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  6. When it comes to art (in any shape; painting, sculpture, music, theatre, ballet...), I have a rather conservative taste and often don't "get" the "art" in modern art. But occasionally, something is different, and I understand it - or at least think I do. Not so with these business cards, though. Well, at least the copy shop who printed the one million cards for the installation were fairly paid, I hope.

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    1. I bet the actual makers of those cards rubbed their hands with glee when Herman Chong explained what he wanted. And when he left I bet they laughed themselves silly!

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  7. Eeeee YP - they're a rum lot down south (or should that be daarn souf?).
    You should have left your card, it would have added a certain offbeat touch, and then you could have retitled the installation "Yorkshire Pudding's calling card" !!

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    1. Ee by gum Cuppa Lass, two little girls were enjoying simply sliding about on the cards so the display had some value.

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    2. My old dad used to say, "Listen, my children, take my advice: Pull down your pants and slide on the ice." I hadn't thought of that in years until you mentioned those two little girls.

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    3. Fortunately, the two girls were wearing pants.

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  8. These contemporary galleries are more of an 'art space' for conceptual artists. Each show is dedicated to only one artist. Calling itself the South London Gallery may have caught you out a bit. The one next to Chelsea school of Art is called the Chelsea Space. One in Bethnal Green is the Tea Room. They do not show mainstream art. The moral of the story is to find out who is showing before you go.

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    1. Yes Rachel. It was dumb of me to imagine that a "gallery" would contain numerous pieces of art to consider. It opened in 1891.

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    2. You cannot assume anything.

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  9. The same is true of the Sage in Newcastle. Each floor has one artist's exhibits. Sometimes I find them absolutely stunning (Antony Gormley) and sometimes I don't. One of my criteria (not always able to find out this information though) is whether or not the artist can produce acceptable conventional art. If an artist can draw say the human figure well. Then I think we can safely say that by producing a distorted figure he is trying to say something. (e.g. Picasso's Guernica). And of course we must not forget John Cage's 4'22'' of Silence, which he called "I have nothing to say and I am saying it. And that's art."

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    1. Thank you for your considered input Mrs Weaver. I have seen "Guernica" at The Prado in Madrid. A stunning depiction of the effects of war that also demonstrated Picasso's genius. It fair takes your breath away.

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  10. What a bizarre installation -- although from your picture it does seem to have an arresting visual presence. (And if kids were sliding around on it, a tactile one too, I guess.) I wonder what Herman was trying to say? Make a comment about the throwaway nature of society or commerce, maybe?

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    1. Herman was trying to say "I'm Herman Munster!"...Seriously though he was indeed attempting to say something about commerce though what it was I have no idea.

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    2. I think it is about exchange, or communication, and the business cards represented people we have known and now don't know and don't care about anymore. He works in text and stories and how we look at them. His name is Heman not Herman! His work is supposed to be quite humorous but maybe that was not apparent to you?

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    3. Humorous? No that was not apparent to me and I also read the pretentious background explanation. It is possible that some visitors to The South London Gallery might have liked that pile of business cards but I just wanted to carry on and see other exhibits in other rooms - pieces that might speak to me in a way that Heman Chong's rubbish couldn't. But there was nothing else to see.

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  11. That Herman Chong -- he's a real card!

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    1. It took me a moment but then I got it!

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  12. All I could think of when I saw the picture was how tedious it will be to actually get all those business cards picked up and then disposed of. What a waste of time, money, energy....How disappointing for you all! You must immediately plan a more enjoyable outing as your reward!

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    1. We didn't mind too much. Afterwards we went for a nice walk in a nearby park and then had a simple but tasty lunch in a Vietnamese cafe.

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  13. Hey Yorkie! Where are you hiding? Come out! Come out - wherever you are! You are definitely not here!!

    Bring your note with you! I hope all is well.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.