Media Preview: Liam Gillick and Jeremy Deller @ the MCA

October 15, 2009 · Print This Article

I forget that sporadically posting for an awesome blog can be construed as arts journalism, and this pays off in many ways. One of these payoffs I got recently was being able to see a media preview of the MCA‘s two new shows: Liam Gillick: Three perspectives and a short scenario, and Jeremy Deller: It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq. Both Gillick and Deller were there, as well as MCA curator Dominic Molon.

Liam Gillick is completely charming Englishman who wore very nice shoes. The MCA is the last institution to host the exhibition, which was previously in the Witte de With in Rotterdam, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Kunstverein in Munich in different manifestations.

Gillick began speaking by saying that he was curious as to how one could reinvent the midcareer retrospective. Instead of seeing the evolution of his work as a linear progress to be documented according to its timeline, he noted his own “promiscuity of ideas” and wanted to return to his own 17-year-old, suburban, pre-art aesthetic for this survey. Consumed at that time in his life with the legacy of acrchitecture and design, Gillick and curator Dominic Molon (through “dynamic argument and discussion”) created a space that is half carpeted and half concrete, separated by wooden screens. The normally milk white plexiglass ceiling in the gallery is replaced by multicolor plexiglass tiles. There is a vitrine with various posters, books, small designed objects, and publications, which is stunning to look at. Interestingly, Gillick likened this collection of paraphernalia to the experience of moving your home or apartment, and realizing you have so many things, and then realizing that you don’t want to be the sum of these things. There are only two small images hung on the wall, a hand drawn self portrait, next to a digital cubic image done by a German graphic designer. The portrait, which looks like a dopey school mascot, Gillick jokingly described as representing himself as well as all “verbose, self involved, white guy artists of the past 50 years”. The last piece in the room, which appeared incredibly sparse, especially for a retrospective, was a power point presentation set to a repetitive drum beat. Gillick spoke about how he created the drum beat, and then pulled one image at a time, pairing with each image one line of a story that he made up as he went along.

Jeremy Deller’s artist talk felt very different than Gillick’s. As the herd of us media folk slowly was lead into the room, Deller invited us to sit on the nice ikea furniture in the center of the space. There was a coffee table, there were tea and cookies, and mostly everyone was very uncomfortable being asked to sit down. A few martyrs sacrificed themselves and sat down, and then Deller introduced the project. In the space, there are the rusted remains of a car, exploded by a car bomb on Al-Mutanabbi, a street in Baghdad in 2007. This car was towed behind a truck on a six week trip that the artist, an Iraqi citizen, and a marine (that sounds like a terrible joke…) took across the country before the work was exhibited. The artists explains the trip, which was filmed, as a way to promote discussion about the war in Iraq with everyday people as the troup stopped in cities across the US. Also displayed is a huge flag by artist Ed Hall that says “It is what it is” in English, and an equivalent saying in Arabic below it. Painted on two walls are Iraq and the United States, on which the artist has proposed sister cities or twin cities, mimicking what France and Britain did after the second world war to foster community and dialogue between cities that had been in conflict.

The “main part of the show”, as Deller put it, was the lounge area, which will have various service veterans, Iraqi citizens, and academics available daily to engage in discussion with the public. The morning I was there, Iraqi translator and artist Esam Pasha was there, as well as economist and retired marine veteran Wesley Gray. Deller was very adamant that this was “not art”, but an exhibition, and wanted the conversations had to “be the art”. These conversations are not going to be recorded or documented in any way, which I think is kind of a bummer.

The questions from the media to the Wesley Gray and Esam Pasha were uncomfortable at times. When one person asked Gray (who is fluent in Arabic) how he learned the language (through a virtual reality video game), he spoke breifly about customs and signs of respect to the Iraqi people that he had to learn before shipping out. When another journalist followed up with Pasha asking how the people of Iraq were prepared for the American culture (rock music, hats, sunglasses), Pasha replied that they only learned to smile, raise their hands, and do what they were told. He said that the people with the guns are the ones in control. I think a huge success of this project is the civility of the “professionals” during the dialogue that was started. Esam Pasha, another marine veteran and Jeremy Deller were together nonstop for six weeks and could still sit down for a discussion on that day.

I genuinely respect Deller’s desire to create a space for an informed discussion to take place between strangers. We are taught in America that politics is one thing that you shouldn’t bring up at a dinner party, let alone with a stranger. What I think is bullshit, however, is Deller’s assertion that this project is “not art”. He stated this many times during his talk, raising examples like if it was an exhibit in a natural history museum we wouldn’t be calling it art. It kind of miffed me because it seemed as if he was saying that because it wasn’t art, it was somehow more than art, or more significant than art. He seemed to be implying that admitting it was art (hello, you have chosen to exhibit it in a contemporary art museum in a white walled room) would detract from the project, which I think is insulting.

Art or not art, decide for yourself. The calendar of daily talk schedules and speaker biographies for Deller’s project can be found here.

Three perspectives and a short scenario will be up until January 10th, and It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq
will be on view until November 15th.

5 thoughts on “Media Preview: Liam Gillick and Jeremy Deller @ the MCA”

  1. R. Szott says:

    “He seemed to be implying that admitting it was art (hello, you have chosen to exhibit it in a contemporary art museum in a white walled room) would detract from the project, which I think is insulting.”

    Why on earth would this be insulting? And the only thing you could fault him for is not being a bit more precise in saying that it is not *intended* as art. Just as he alone can’t ultimately decide the determination of this activity as art or not, you can’t either. Of course you mention he said the conversation would “be the art” which appears to be a contradiction on his part, so one could have an issue with that I suppose.

    Sure it is happening in an art museum, but do you have any evidence that he was offered other venues which he turned down in favor of an art space? If not, his “choice” to show in an art museum is not as pertinent is it?

    I can’t read his mind and wasn’t there to pick up on his tone, but to say something isn’t art might not mean it detracts, but rather *distracts*. Maybe he thinks conversations about how this fits into art history or whether the furniture is arranged properly

    Your choice of the word “admit” is puzzling. Let’s say he ‘confesses’ that it is in fact art what do we gain from calling it that? What does that add to our experience? And isn’t it entirely possible that whatever you think it adds, another reasonable person could say it doesn’t?

    And can I just say that if ever an artist could be accused of embodying the spirit of The Emperor’s New Clothes – Liam Gillick is it. So Lauren, I hate to tell you, but he wasn’t wearing shoes – “very nice” or otherwise.

  2. Lucas says:

    art or not art, it doesn’t really matter.

    what matters is whether deller’s work has some sort of impact within the particular social constructions in which it locates itself.

    It seems to me that Deller’s rhetoric about it being “not-art” follows Allan Kaprow’s much earlier assertions about a kind of “social-insulation” that comes about at the moment in which the audience realises that the action or object before them is “just” art (ie, not something “real”). In this moment its danger is diffused and it becomes ‘mere’ spectacle.

    However, the more that artists do “real things in the real world”, the less the designation “art” will stand for this social-insulation. Deller’s Battle of Orgreave is a great example.

    My own experiences of Gillick’s art and writing, however, have been that it is almost entirely art-specific, and of little interest in social situations beyond the high-art world.

    His 2009 venice biennale work is a (very resource-heavy) case in point… The direct experience of the work yielded only a mild sense of alienation for me, compounded by an impenetrable didactic catalogue essay. It’s in considering this writing component (where Gillick’s work is shown to have come about from extensive research and labour, and is claimed to be Very Important) that I’m inclined to agree with R.Szott about the Emperor’s New Clothes. It seems an arrogant exercise.

    Which is why I’m intrigued to hear the author above say that Gillick is in fact a “charming” fellow. Life’s like that eh?

  3. The Shark says:

    Lucas -I went down to see the two MCA shows -after reading the piece and Szott’s rebuttal… are both absolutely correct -actually the Jeremy Deller/Iraqi piece is marvelous -(I took my 3.5 year old daughter Amina who is half Palestinian…we plan to return….) actually this is such an elementary argument though isn’t it? How much really good art has ever been about art about art as cathexis?….of course there are examples -Titians Flaying of Marsyas…or any of the literary phenomenology of Alain Robbe-Grillet…

    I keep thinking of the line in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich….something to the effect of ‘give me bread not sugar’……and isnt that what most good art does? That within a good work of art -its cosmology, such a small amount is actually given/dedicated to art -War and Peace -its about WAR Tolstoy would say -having little to do with art- -this argument holds equally true when it comes to painting…which has been an argument of mine-

    …and as for the emperors new clothes, – Luc Tuymans (to bring it back to painting) and Liam Gilllick are not dissimilar in their specious like qualities ….as for Dominic Molon, he of the awful exhibitions, the question is, where lies his area of expertise? Certainly not in rock music/SYMPATHY For THE DEVIL -with Patty Smith reportedly stalking out of the exhibition wondering out loud who was the asshole who thought up this show and didn’t know shit about rock music -to the Karen Killimnik crapola fest….perhaps his exhibitions need to start coming with a disclaimer -a warning to the viewer beware, given the quality of previous outings, , this may suck.

  4. The Shark says:

    -actually back to a previous discussion -of what value is it really to even compare -much less denigrate what non art people view as art -as art is not where their greatest forms of aestheticism comes into play: consider this: is any work of art of the 20th century equal to the aircraft carrier-in structure, design, or, imagination?…..or the p51 Mustang -or the Grumann Hellcat-or the Avenger -or submarines…. did any art even approach these heights in the 20th century…where man really out did himself in terms of weaponry, elegance -life and death….and that’s without even mentioning the Manhattan Project- you want to discuss creative genius-

  5. I was in a panel discussion about Diller in a Kunsthalle in Switzerland a while back. I too have found some of his work interesting, but I stand by my two then-stated perceptions, for which I caught some serious heat.

    They were:

    1) He is a curator, not an artist, which is OK, but explains why he is a curator-darling — underlines the fact that the “international independent curator” types see themselves as the true artists


    2)I see nothing in his work which I haven’t seen better elsewhere, often done as “admitted” curation, or as non-art activities, not primary artwork in itself — e.g.: historic recreations are carried on excellently by many groups world-wide and for ages, the involvement of Northern UK brass in pop music as a political statement (Sgt. Peppers anyone?), installations of found “folk objects,” CDS of collections of local music, etc. ad infinitum.

    I find his assertions, as in too much Late Neo-Conceptualism at the moment, to be dupliciously evasive — he says it is “art” when confronted about its quality in comparison to other activities of this sort that are not art but much technically better, and, alternatively, says it is “not art” when confronted about its quality in comparison to other art.

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