The other day, a friend said to me "yes Jon, but who is an artist you actually like? Who is your favorite artist?" The remark came after I had spent five minutes deriding Air-Port-City, a work by Tomas Saraceno in the Psycho Buildings show at the Hayward (link).
Talking about art, it is easy to focus on the negative, the problems with a work or process. It is always safe to critique, complain, dismiss a work as too simplistic, too didactic, too utopian, too instrumental ... take your pick. Saying you actually like something is putting your head above the parapet - it is an invitation for someone to say "you like that? Isn't it too..."
Of course, my first response to my friends question was to say I don't believe in favorites and top-ten lists. That's all pop culture stuff.
At the same time, the question made me think back to a lecture by Pil and Galia at Goldsmiths.
The Goldsmiths MFA program has a weekly lecture series. In '07 Pil and Galia gave a memorable first lecture of the academic year. They decided to do a "top ten" list, going through a series of contemporary artists - ten they loved, ten they hated - and explaining why in each case. What started out as a serious academic survey of contemporary art practices quickly descended into farce. I remember at one point towards the end of the lecture, one of them clicked the next button on their slideshow, glanced at the image, said "too german," and clicked next again.
In the pub afterwards, many of the freshers looked quite confused - they came to a graduate art program and this was the level of discourse? A satire more biased than Fox News? What about all that criticality Goldsmiths is known for?
But the lecture was very considered. Through producing a moment of top-ten populism, Pil and Galia highlighted the entertainment aspect of art discourse, and showed there are no real authorities in art. Although there is a difference between an extended academic treatise and the simple phrase "too german", neither explains art. Don't come to an art degree program expecting answers.
Ooo, go on then. Francis Alÿs.