These days I see more of Martin Creed strutting his stuff on stage than I do of his work in galleries. What is that? An early-middle aged pull towards the theater? Or more evidence that "visual art" these days includes just about everything? He was performing recently at the traditional Cochrane Theatre, playing songs and reminiscing about the past year or so, including his ballet (Work No. 1020) that debuted at Sadlers Wells Theater in London. A ballet dancer joined him and mimed all of his actions, which made for hilarious viewing. He rambled on in his endearing way, even mentioning eating his dinner the previous night.
"I timed my pizza perfectly for Holby City," he said (Holby City being a dreadful hospital-based television drama).
Creed also had some sage advice for the artists in the audience. "When it comes to yourself you shouldn’t trust yourself. Catch yourself unawares from round the back."
I was much taken, by the way, with the parody of Creed in Adam Goldberg’s 2009 art-world themed indie movie Untitled.
Genesis P Orridge played what purported to be the last ever gig with his band Throbbing Gristle at the Village Underground in Shoreditch, which was an entertaining, experimental drone. I bought my first band t-shirt that night, at least since 1990, when the Inspiral Carpets played the G-Mex in Manchester. High-point: Racky aka Richard La Rue (he keeps popping up; you can’t keep him down) stage- dived naked. Here’s the YouTube link.
A few days later, Throbbing Gristle’s Sleazy died in his sleep, aged only 55. Rest his soul. The Guardian carried an obit.
Charles Saatchi -- once the adman's adman, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s adman, and now the artists’ adman -- suffered a few slings and arrows courtesy of the Economist last fall. In her much-discussed report, Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, the un-put-downable dissection of the contemporary art scene, claims that his modus operandi brings about a situation whereby "many gallerists try to avoid selling to him because they know it means their artists' works will shortly hit the auction block, introducing unwelcome volatility into their markets."
Her text also claims that his reps resorted to bullying when blocked from buying a photograph and that "the velocity with which Saatchi buys and sells is at risk of making his provenance akin to eBay." Ouch.
"Scratchy" -- as we learn some in the art world call him -- is apparently unaware that "there is a surprisingly fine line between being a conniving jerk and a cool mastermind."
Me, I can’t help but love him, not only because the intensely private Oracle of Belgravia gave me a foreword of sorts for my own recently released book, but also because I am still laughing after having found another of his answers to questions sent in by visitors to his art gallery. (One can write to Q4saatchi@hotmail.co.uk and get an answer to anything, he says).
This I liked:
Q: Are winners in life people who always put themselves first?
A: Most of the "winners" I’ve met certainly don’t put themselves last. And they rarely tend to have low self-esteem issues. This hasn’t stopped my children giving me the "loser" sign, fingers forming an "L" on their foreheads as they see me approach.
Louis Vuitton, at its excessively luxurious store on New Bond Street, is presenting bookcases chosen by artists, including our very own Tracey Emin. Tracey’s "curated shelf" contains Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Nice by Howard Marks and a collection of Armistead Maupin.
At a recent party for Emin at a new studio in Spitalfields, Tim Noble and Sue Webster showed me their "inny" and "outie" belly buttons and badges they’d made to celebrate them. His is outie. Hers is inny. They must kind of slot together surely?
Talking of Spitalfields-based artists, an invite to Gilbert and George’s new show at White Cube arrives today. This is to be a collection of their "Postcard Art," previewing on Jan. 13, 2011, at White Cube Mason’s Yard. The "Urethra Postcard Art of Gilbert and George" promises "Union Flag Picture Postcard Pictures" (they’re sticking to the PC omission of the word "Jack" in "Union Jack" I see, which is odd for a duo so vehemently not PC), "London Telephone Box Pictures" and more. Each picture will be composed of 13 identical cards arranged to form an angulated version of the sign of the urethra. Yes. The urethra.
I was touched by the show "400 Women," on view downstairs in the dank huge basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, curated by Ellen Mara de Wachter. Here are 175 identically sized portraits of women killed over the past two decades in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.5 million people situated across the U.S. border in Mexico. The murders were motivated quite simply by the fact that the victims were women. The exhibition is the culmination of five years of work by artist Tamsyn Challenger, who tried to tackle the trauma of the mothers of the victims, who she met while making a feature for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in 2006. Most striking were the paintings by Humphrey Ocean, Brian Catling, Cathy Lomax and Johanna Melvin.
Gary Webb’s one-ton brick wall has been erected in The Approach gallery for the show entitled "Key Largo." Inspired by "cheesy 3D brick that is usually at these sort of out of town shopping areas," this carved brick sculpture entitled Dorset Knob depicts in bas-relief the Calvin cartoon character doing an enormous wee. It’s almost a painting in soft red brick.
Hard to sell, I imagine.
Downstairs were spooky slurpy syrupy white porcelain sculptures and upstairs were pencil drawings -- all bearing titles with no-punctuation -- from Rachel Kneebone at White Cube Hoxton Square. As grave as the imagined as frivolous as the eternal and Eyes that look close at wounds themselves are wounded express the trauma of grief and death with white twisted figures seemingly wrenching themselves apart. Overly long legs reminded me of John Currin paintings in porcelain form.
The Skills Exchange project in conjunction with the Serpentine Gallery and Age Concern Hackney is another piece of connective tissue between art and the wider world initiated by Serpentine curator supreme Hans Ulrich Obrist. This linking of young artists and older people seems particularly new: artist Tom Hunter completed a residency with the elderly on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, east London, and made a magical film with those residents called A Palace for Us.
A private showing at the Rio Cinema in Dalston took place in October. The estate, which sprung up in 1946, was seen as a "palace" to those who remembered the ruins of war and their previous dwellings in the East End slums.
The plucky and erudite art dealer Hannah Barry of the eponymous gallery wowed the world with her Peckham Pavilion at Venice 2009. Last fall she opened her new New Bond Street space with Tom Barnett’s "Oxenhope Paintings."
Barnett’s recently revisiting of his childhood home in Yorkshire ignited his visionary paintings. Oil, pigment and spray on board create deceptively slight images of innumerable nooks and crannies of West Yorkshire moors. Precipitous valleys gouging through the eastern slopes of the Pennines convey a sense of ancient massive geological process.
What an uncannily brilliant and strange new gallery space for Ibid Projects. In a run-down old paneled-wood-walled building on the east of Hoxton Square, you have to walk up and down a number of rickety stairwells to see the work on show. Nothing’s changed in here seemingly since the 1940s. I hope they leave it like this and don’t wankify it up and make it into a clean white cube. Rallou Panagiotou’s marvelous "Exaggerate the Classics" series of large sculptures, which reference the esthetic of ‘80s pop videos and video games, looked almost mental against the weird skew-wiff wood paneling.
Are the ‘80s back in now? I see Phillips de Pury is calling for lots for an ‘80s-themed auction.
So, to Christmas. This Spicy Jalapeno Chicken Sausage packet of sausages with a Lucian Freud painting on the front was the greeting from New York conceptualist Alex Melamid. Does Lucian know? And what would Freud say? White Cube sent a "Hope and Homes for Children" charity message from Jay Jopling, accompanied by a Darren Almond snowy woodland image. And Sadie Coles sent this jolly jumping lights e-card. Jolly.
Tate Britain’s almighty Christmas Tree for 2010 was created by artist Giorgio Sadotti. Flower Ssnake 2010 (sic) is a traditional Norwegian Spruce placed in the gallery’s neoclassical rotunda, but Sadotti resisted the tradition of decorating it. At the bottom of the naked tree rested a coiled bullwhip, waiting to be used. Echoes here maybe of the Passion of Christ? On the 12th night of Christmas, a date which traditionally marks the end of the festive season, the tree is to be spectacularly animated in a one-off performance for the public. The gallery will be opened at 7 pm on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, and the spell of Christmas will be dramatically driven out of the tree with the whip.
"For me the challenge was to present a tree that was naturally effortless," says Sadotti. "A tree that managed to maintain its dignity and timeless grace. A tree that remained sublime. A tree that was familiar but strange, like all trees but no other. A tree that had potential to become another. A tree that talked. A tree as a tree as art."
Tree as human surrogate. That’s what we like. I always thought that the trees were watching me anyway.
LAURA K. JONES is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, the Saatchi Magazine and artforum.com.