Online Viewing (part 2)

detail from The Temptation of St Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch

During the first phase of Lockdown Richard Guest and I made a few virtual gallery visits – here is our equally virtual conversation that followed…continued from part one


Yes, the Bosch site is incredible – very nice to get lost in there! It helps that the paintings are so sensuous and strange. And refreshing that there are no price tags.

OK according to Artsy this is what sold at Frieze (which has introduced price transparency with this online fare). The list includes works by Yinka Shonibare, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui (whose work sold for $1.5m), Leon Kossof ($1.8m), Miquel Barceló ($210K), Damian Loeb ($180K), Suzan Frecon ($400K), Wolfgang Tillmans ($220K), and George Condo (who seems to be getting a lot of attention at the moment, $2m kerching!). I wonder who they sold to – perhaps some of the billionaires who are benefitting from us all being stuck at home.

For some reason all of this reminded me of how Andy Warhol and Bruno Bischofberger are represented in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, which naturally led me to Tate Modern’s latest Warhol exhibition. Here’s the exhibition tour:

And here’s Basquiat: Basquiat (1996) – better suited to our lockdown existence than representations of physical works maybe?…

Basquiat (1996)Basquiat is a 1996 biopic/drama film directed by Julian Schnabel based on the life of American postmodernist/neo…


Like you say – the bones of the art world are exposed and you can see both ends of the transaction transparently. Although the creative act still somehow maintains its mystery. I am not strong enough for the Warhol tour at the minute…what I am afraid of is that it will determine what I look at in the show, and for how long. Before we even get onto any predigested critical ideas that I don’t want. Exactly the reverse is true of that wonderful Bosch site – it just presents the work in exquisite detail The rest is up to you.

Before we get completely sidetracked by David Bowie in Basquiat (I know you want to!), can we go back to Rodney Graham at the Lisson Gallery? I thought his work was interesting, also not unrelated to George Condo (who I had to look up, I’m ashamed to say). Graham is of those ‘Russian Doll’ type artists – sort of a painting within a painting…what did you make of his work?


Yes, I think the “directed” experience is like listening to some long-winded article slowly killing the excitement of the work for me. Ha, ha – the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind (it’s a very odd performance and very enjoyable to watch). The Rodney Grahams are interesting – for all their archness and his evident physical removal from the process of making, the paintings are quite warm. Synthetic Cubism is a friendly vehicle. They work in this context because they are very graphic – you don’t have to worry about texture when you’re looking at them on a computer.

Today I feel really pissed off that I can’t go and stand in front of an Agnes Martin painting and watch the light play across the surface. Sick of screens to be honest.


Screens are just an unavoidable part of modern life. Like avoiding anything that nearly everyone else does, like driving, telephones etc- to live without them would require a conscious effort. I felt they worked well for Rodney Graham’s work because they are an intermediate vehicle for images, that cleans them, strips them out. The artist has no control over where the image goes and is received – they are pixels, colour values, numbers. However, for some artists – and I think Graham is one – they have decoupled the physical work from its meaning and we receive the two separately. I think this is quite a recent thing, but I could be wrong. The work has to be unencrypted by the viewer according to an accrued set of rules and values triggered by embedded cues in the work. These are transmitted in a more diffuse way by publicity, education and media. The are floating in the primordial soup we call culture. So the cubism of Graham’s paintings is removed from competing with real synthetic cubism and the image becomes some kind of place holder for ‘the thing you think cubism is’ 

Is this a new thing? Or has art always worked in this way??

Richard: One of the things I like about our conversations is that weeks can go by between contact. Yes, I guess screens are unavoidable – I didn’t watch TV at all from 1994 until a couple of years ago (and now cannot sit through whole programmes) because I got sick of watching the news. It had a more radical effect on my ability to socialise than I could have anticipated.

That’s a fascinating idea and I think it’s new. I wonder if it has been adopted by artists as an MO or whether it’s happening by accident. If it worked this way in the past, the work would have stood on its own and it would have been a slower accumulation of information via books, magazine articles, exhibitions etc with longer periods between each event (months and years, instead of days and weeks), which would have enriched the experience – it would have taken the viewer a lot longer to join all the dots. By removing the physical experience, the process of assimilating the artist and their work is accelerated. Opinion formed, trace memory filed away, the art equivalent of vaping. Is it a bad thing? It’s an interesting idea that the work is really just this intangible thing which is a network of bits of information. The work exists outside the work.

The viewer has to decrypt the work and its supporting metadata, as the machine has to decrypt the coding that is its transport. There’s something chilly about that. Reminds me of John Foxx’s Metamatic LP (which seems relevant to today’s world again – it was released in 1980).


It is a chilly idea, but perhaps only because we are still bound to the notion of individual artistic originality. If the metadata that can give an artwork meaning is permanently floating in the ether of society’s media, it just condenses in the artist’s mind. This makes the artist more of a host than a progenitor of ideas. 

I am not sure this is new, but great artist of the past have taken possession of ideas that were floating about and made them their own. Think of any artist from the past that was any good. But today the ascendancy of a curatorial class has made it possible for a generation of artists to merely relate the ideas from one context to another and leave it at that.

Is the assimilation accelerated by the absence of a a physical object?

So perhaps there is after all no-one driving.

One comment on “Online Viewing (part 2)

  1. Reblogged this on The Future Is Papier Mâché and commented:
    Part two…

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