As a person who "looks at art" for a living, there is always the occupational hazard that one or more of your loved ones will become caught in the crossfire; out of desperation to have a partner-in-crime to schlep to a West London gallery and look at the New and the Brave, there is always the chance that a friend, a significant other or an acquaintance will be coerced into looking at, say, a video-artwork of a troll-doll with a talking anus, or a "performance installation" which utilises a series of plastic gherkins and hopes to describe the atmosphere of a single-parent home, and will leave for home feeling less enlightened than ever. It's an experience which throws your own looking-at-art profession into sharp relief: the kind of activity which visitors from another planet might view as a mystifying, surreal and somewhat quaint waste of everyone's time. Having queued in the Godforsaken frostbite of a London winter for a reasonable period of time (a gallerist, later, on Facebook, referred to the situation as being "like Studio 54"), I found myself standing before a painting of Homer Simpson – executed in masking tape, wasabi sauce and English mustard – with my own partner, T.
"Here we are again," he intoned with the damp-eyed resignation of a Vietnam vet; a disappointed vacationer in a world where little made rational or conceptual sense. If I were tasked with expressing exactly why we had travelled, on a Tuesday night, to see a short clip of a man engaged in naked yoga on an exercise ball set to raging techno music, I would have been at a loss – the vernacular falls apart when faced with anything outside that insular art sphere. Was he having, I wondered, a PTSD-style flashback to a far-earlier second date, on which I'd forced him to look at some Flavin numbers ("numbers" being the operative word, as the pieces, of course, are too lofty and minimal for mere titles)? Given that T. is a Writerly writer – the kind who leans on fiction, rather than on the business of quantifying whether an outsized balloon dog or a sexual performance scenario starring Snow White is empirically 'Good' or 'Bad,' for a crust – I thought as an experiment, I'd give him an opportunity to describe the Bloomberg New Contemporaries experience: to show us where on the doll contemporary art touched him, or something like it. This was the result.
"It seemed to me," he began, "that a lot of the exhibition was playing with the longevity – or lack thereof – of art in today's world, and more specifically in the world of the gallery-as-spectacle, which is certainly how the night presented itself. I can only liken many, if not entirely all, of these attempts to the last moments of some kind of vague and very simple bivalve, accidentally stomped on the beach, decaying in its own bubbling matter lurching from side to side and emitting a thin stream of mucus."
"Take, for example, the lurching, bug eyed face of the man proclaiming from a video installation, his head shaved off below the neck, covered in shaving foam. He intones: 'Do you know that this won't be here in a week?' – itself as mundane a comment as might be expected – and then repeats it, eventually fading into a half-formed murmuring 'der der der', before finally decaying into glottal bass-heavy bellowing, exactly as though there was too much 'dead air' to fill."
(It appeared by this point in his missive that I'd made a grave error in choosing this show as the site of a 'date.' He continues:)
"I get it – it's to do with decay, and transience. It's to do with what can be put on a wall. It's also terminally boring, and akin to some short, fevered micro-dream one might have resting one's head against a fellow passenger's unwelcoming shoulder on a short bus ride..."
This, then, is the New Bloomberg experience in a nutshell: contemporary art so Contemporary that to try to define it immediately is problematic. The Shock Of The New endures – in my eyes, also, admittedly, as I moved from artwork to artwork in some kind of an out-of-body daze, at odds with my usual opinionated persona. More sobering than the lack of a visible open bar was the idea that I had become a reviewer so out of touch with the latest trends in art that I had no explanation for the experience as a whole. I have always been an old soul, and now it appears I'm an old fart, as well.
(Still: it's a bonding exercise, of sorts, and as such, I'll be certain to thank the ICA – and Bloomberg, by extension, I guess – in my next Hallmark card.)
(All images: Courtesy Institute of Contemporary Arts.)