Daily Archives: May 10, 2019

The great gallery joke

At first glance I thought that Blindside was completely empty. I looked around for the ‘closed for installation sign’; nothing. There was something hanging on the wall of the second gallery, so I went inside. It was only after I entered the gallery that I saw the paintings.

Jan Murray, Chute (Old Police Hospital) 1, oil on linen, 2017

Three paintings of air vents hung on one wall. There are more tromp l’oeil paintings of hatches, grilles, chutes and ceiling vents. Jan Murray exhibition “Unseen” at Blindside in October 2018; oil paintings of the overlooked architecture of the Nicholas Building and Old Police Hospital. It is the opposite of the old cartoon of the middle aged couple mistaking the gallery’s air vent for a work of art.

The Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty wrote:  “The box, which I have called the white cube, is a curious piece of real estate […] However roughly treated, the white cube is like a straight man in a slapstick routine. No matter how repeatedly hit on the head, not matter how many pratfalls, up it springs, its seamless white smile unchanged, eager for more abuse. Brushed off, pampered, re-painted, it resumes in blankness.” — Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution (2009)

The double act between the art gallery and the artist gives the art its comedic meta concepts. It is a double act as old as Dada. Consider all the art spawn from Duchamp’s readymades that require the gallery to be present. All the readymades, all the installations, all the interrogations of the gallery space from Tracey Emin’s Bed to tomorrow night’s contemporary art exhibition opening.

As in comedy this double act is an uneven relationship; the gallery has all the power but takes the comic artist’s jokes with good humour. This power relationship is questioned, ridiculed, knocked about is at the core of so much modern and contemporary art. Playing on the tension of does the artist or the gallery, the frame, the plinth make the art? The art gallery is the antithesis of the artist, a space without personality.

If the institution displaying the object removes itself from this double act and no longer accepts being the butt of jokes then it becomes a museum, a temple or a palace. In such an arrangement any authority that the artist had over the object is replaced by the authority of the institution and ‘by royal appointment…’ becomes a measure of quality. And both royal and popularity as authority expose the arbitrary and an-aesthetic aspects of such power.

And now I have explained the great gallery joke; a terrible thing to do to any joke.


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