Michael Craig-Martin: a conversation (part three)

The final part of my conversation with Richard Guest about Michael Craig-Martin’s Serpentine show

The Future Is Papier Mâché

5th January 2016, David Cook and I visited Michael Craig-Martin: Transience at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing. Here’s the third and final part…

Richard: Ha, just about. The comparison with the Rothko room is interesting. To me, where the Rothko room has an under-lit chapel-like atmosphere, MCM’s rooms at the Serpentine are in-your-face oppressive, like being trapped in a car showroom with an over-energetic salesman. Not so much of the transcendence. And I think that’s part of the point. MCM makes you engage with the work and the objects he depicts by force. These are aggressively ugly colour combinations – they’re pugnacious.

It’s interesting that some of the objects depicted have fallen out of use or had their design overhauled. Here we have Cassette, 2002. By 2002 cassettes had pretty…

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4 comments on “Michael Craig-Martin: a conversation (part three)

  1. Thanks very much, David!

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    I enjoyed that dialogue.

    From the pics you shared in your 3 posts, I could some up this show in three words: Dude Discovered Design.

    And my critique would be a four letter acronym that just occurred to me: OBCT – overrated, boring, cerebral, tripe.

    I know that’s harsh, of course, but one really has to milk it to come up with how to make this inherently interesting, and not just that sort of thing like when Damien Hirst discovered color charts are really fooking beautiful in their own way, and why not just make blow ups and put them in an art gallery with a blown up price tag, and call them ones own.

    I’m assuming the pieces are appropriated from somewhere, which is hard not to think when the first image I saw was the game controller

    Just looked that shit up, and, AFFIRMATIVE, full on appropriation. Just do a Google image search for “Xbox control drawing” and there you have it.

    It could be the line drawing in the instruction pamphlet that comes with the device. Dude looked at it and had the wisdom to realize that graphic design and mechanical illustration are kinda’ bitchin’ if you stop and look at them with an open eye and open mind. There’s an elegance and economy to them, and they exist as symbols as well as illustrations. Blah, blah, blah.

    It comes off a bit like mindless twaddle to educate a mythical perpetually dumb audience who can’t see the refinement of mechanical drawings, or the colorfulness of a color chart, for themselves. Which is not entirely unlike the enlightening political commentary of other pieces designed to open the heavy lidded eyes of an assumed politically inert art audience (see Banksy).

    I enjoyed the theorizing about the role of the hand, the absence of the person, and the post Duchampian, post Warholian paradigm. Interesting to ponder what all that means, especially when taken out of a self-referential insider art group. What happens if one tries to stuff music in that envelope?

    I didn’t know about this artist, other that the earlier conceptual piece. I admit the work, to my eye, is actually kind of appealing (in the same way as decent graphic design or packaging is), but kind of really colorful shit, too.

    I don’t need any appropriationist to show me how to get or appreciate the visual aspects of the world I live in, especially when they are deliberately and skillfully designed to be aesthetically pleasing on the front side. I’d rather he borrowed that aesthetic and did something else with it. Y’know, contributed jack shit.

    Sorry, again, if that seems harsh. I enjoyed your posts, but not so much the crafty art (ironically and seemingly self-contradictorily meaning both senses of the word).

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment!
      Craig-Martin was an interesting choice for me because I didn’t really like his work on an instinctive level – it left me cold and I had dismissed it for a long time, but it’s clearly very considered and he has positioned it very carefully in the world of contemporary art. Clearly you can say that it is derivative both of industrial design and some other artists, but I wanted to understand a bit more how he arrived at it. I do see a bit more in his work now than I did previously but if I never saw it again I’m not sure I would miss it!

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Yes, very true. I’m sure I would have went in with a similar attitude and similar outcome. I can always get something out of decent art, even Hirst spot paintings (well, I haven’t tested this one yet). But I’m also aware of bringing something to the art because of the environment it is shared it. It’s kind of like how anything put on a pedestal can become worthy of SOME attention. In other words, I realize the work in question has some merit, and is intelligent, it just happens to represent what I think are rather bankrupt assumptions/conclusions about art, and of course I think the quality of art suffers for that reason.

        Your approach – to attend with an open mind, give the artist the benefit of the doubt, and attempt to receive his message – is optimal and commendable. I suppose my negative response to the art is in direct proportion to how overrated I think it is. If he was a young, unknown artist, I might comment his use of line and flat color, and encourage him to take it further.

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