Monday, October 13, 2014

Let’s Talk About Amalia. Let’s Talk About Tracey.

Amalia Ulman at Evelyn Yard

Tracey Emin at White Cube

There is a bounty of shows on view in London and I have only gleaned a small portion of these. Out of those that I have seen, two have particularly stuck with me, the first being Amalia Ulman’s, The Destruction of Experience at Evelyn Yard and the second being Tracey Emin’s, The Last Great Adventure is You at White Cube. They have stuck with me for a variety of reasons but mostly because they surprised me in ways I did not expect and they also have a linkage to each other that bespeaks a much larger issue.

Let’s be fair. Ulman is young (b.1989) and I only specifically point this out because it is so largely a part of her ‘art’ and her ‘identity.’ Her youngness is also a way for me to couch maybe the depth of dullness that is her current show. It is an “immersive installation” and it does achieve this quite well.  There is high production going on with blue linoleum flooring, whispy curtains and pearl bedazzled frames of calendars, amongst other baby blue and white tchotchkes. It is certainly full and seems to have been done exactly as desired in context to space and time. This completeness is why it surprised me in being so utterly boring.

Up to this point I had only seen singular works of Ulman’s along with casual updates of her performative practice via online feeds. With that in mind I was fully aware and lenient about my opinion about her work because I knew that my contact with it was stilted. But seeing this show, in its very realized state, it left me baffled to her persistent notoriety as an artist. This is harsh I know. I know that being a young artist and having your first show(s) is tough and it takes some time to get there with your work but I must remark on it and more then anything I feel bad for Ulman. Her support by the 89plus structure has promoted her and fast tracked her into the limelight and the leaching machine of scooper uppers in the art world. This trajectory is beneficial because it generates attention, money, opportunities and access but it has also resulted in making work, showing work and creating identities that have not had time to incubate, to be fostered, or worked out. 

I now hop over to Tracey Emin and her show at White Cube. One word. Fabulous. It really is a wonderful show and one I think is a must see if you are in London. It is her first in five years and it has a lot of her signature parts. Literally, there are a lot of nudes and the body is site and central.  There are quick line drawings of a nude woman made of gouache in slight varieties of repose that line the corridor walls. I am assuming they are of her, as is everything else in the show. These small drawings are translated into large scale embroidered works, which felt unnecessary but highly sellable.

Then there is the main gallery and within there are small paintings, gouache on canvas, of more firmly formed but still sketched nudes, copulation and extremely abstracted penetration. There is a long table with plaster and shellac lion and lamb at either end and there is more sculpture around the bend made of bronze, some of bodies disintegrating and of forming and others of things like birds.  In addition there are larger scale sculpture and painting as well as a few of her highly familiar neon text pieces. 

There is a lot here but there is a sparseness in scale and a beauty in intimacy. This is the thing that surprised me. I felt like seeing this multi-part and diverse show made me finally ‘get it’ about Emin and her work. The show is so personal but in the very best way. You can feel the feelings because they are about the most human things, love, relationships, the body, time. You also are granted entry into these works by her awareness of the viewer. The nudes and the sex scenes seem like they have been photographed, there is a third party in the room watching or a mirrored gaze reflecting itself. Through this device everything feels very close and more involved.

I can gush on about this show but let’s get back to why I am talking about Ulman’s show and Emin’s show at the same time. They are seemingly very different and they are (obviously) but they share a lot. One is at the beginning of her artistic practice, while the other is firmly established but both of these artists are products of something larger then themselves, currently and in the past.

Emin was apart of the whole YBA stampede and at the time of its arrival everyone loved to hate it and many directed their dislike and anger of its success and hype onto Emin because she is a women and a sassy one a that.  Ulman, as before mentioned, is a part of the trend where very young artists are being plucked by curators and other older males in positions of power to accelerate careers, create a new aesthetic context and to ride collector and press agency trend chasing. A lot of people are very into this new model but many also really dislike it (although most do not talk about it for fear of being shunned out of it). A lot of people who do express their disdain target Ulman because she is the most visible female in this new gang.

Because of these reflective situations, it does give me pause about my own attitude to it all and makes me wonder about how art functions, how things become established and who is gatekeeping all this. In the end am I just liking Emin’s show so much because it happens to have had enough time to get there? I am just disliking Ulman’s show so much because it is at the beginning of an artistic practice which probably shouldn’t yet be seen by the public? I am not sure but it seems impossibly set and I know that there will continue to be artists who we love to hate and some will fade but many will stay around and become more then just hype.