Archive: Issue No. 86, October 2004

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Marcelle Duchamp

Marcelle Duchamp
Fountain, 1917

Marcelle Duchamp

Marcelle Duchamp
Fountain, 1917 (detail)

Feedback is an open forum for readers to share any comments and insights relevant to art practice in South Africa. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

From: Ed Young
Received: September 24
Subject: Art criticism in the press

A couple of weeks ago I came across an article by Melvin Minnaar published in the Cape Times entitled 'Flip Side of Art Stirs Passions Even Before Event'. It was an article about Andrew Lamprecht's 'Flip' exhibition. It wasn't a bad article; a Minnaar tour de force in fact. He seemed to engage with Lamprecht's work on a fairly stable level and presented a nice description of the Muizenberg/Simon's Town Watercolour Society's concern over Lamprecht's exhibition, which presents the old masters in the old Town House with their backs turned to the viewer.

This is not a piece concerned with your average stupid Sunday painter, however, these old folk might have to realise that Lamprecht is a historian as much as he is a theorist, and the backs of these paintings have as much, if not more historical significance than the front. It's like these guys telling their wives not to turn around because they have a huge saggy arse. And I promise Lampie will turn them back as soon as he is done with them � Iziko will � or some private company that Iziko will have to subcontract because it is in no department's job description to turn paintings around. Anyway�.

My concern is Minnaar. Towards the end of the article he starts showing off with contemporary examples with which he is familiar, the obvious Santiago Sierra reference etc., and the famous Duchamp reference which these boys (almost without exception) throw in whenever something slightly conceptual rears its head. Duchamp produced Fountain in 1917, and not 1913 as Minnaar declares with almost absolute authority. I will not dig into the complexities of Fountain's history as this piece does not allow for in depth discussion (nor does Minnaar's).

But, if Minnaar was at all in doubt about the date surrounding this conceptual piece, the consultation of any high school art kid could have been of some help. In fact, the numerous reproductions of the piece all mark the date of its production, since this formed part of Duchamp's signature on the work.

Minnaar is not the only one. In an unfortunate review of my own work One lame Asshole, for sure the famous playwright Guy Willoughby wrote: 'Why, Marcel Duchamp did precisely the same thing with far more wit and invention in 1913 when he mounted his famous urinal on a pedestal and signed it 'R. Mutt'�'. The obvious attachment to this specific date could be a link to the possible date of birth of the above-mentioned critics.

This was not the only factual inaccuracy found in this highly critical press review. Willoughby did not enter the space of my exhibition and obviously wrote about works that did not exist as part of the show. His writing was informed rather, by others bitching about the latest Ed Young piece. The work described in the article as an object for sale was in fact not my own creation but a piece of vandalism produced by some (presumably) innocent gallery attendee. He also mentions the Bruce Gordon piece as my final year undergraduate work (which I will excuse).

Shortly after the publication of this article I found myself drinking hefty gin and tonics with Willoughby. The article came up in conversation. I said that I agreed with everything except the factual inaccuracies. Willoughby, shocked at first, insisted on publishing a retraction. I felt uncomfortable with this as I did not want to respond to any published material before I had finished my project as a whole. Willoughby did not publish a retraction.

As embarrassing as this might be, I feel that this topic is in dire need of discussion. If Minnaar and Willoughby can't be bothered to check their references, then how are we to take their writing seriously, and even more importantly, how are these critics to be trusted?

Unfortunately, South Africa is faced with a situation where the arts get very little, if any coverage in the popular press. So, do we bitch about it? Do we complain to the editors when this itself might result in an even more drastic cut of art coverage? Even if we could get them fired we might contribute to the closing down of the arts pages in the local press. But, what I am trying to get at here is that these folk should drop the bitch-ass, I-am-only-doing-it-for-the-cash attitude.

I can personally recommend a few able individuals for this job, as well as a couple of 14-year olds. Point is, if we are faced with this insubstantial amount of newspaper coverage, we need quality and not some half-baked asshole unable to engage with production. We need to identify individuals capable (and willing) of acknowledging conceptualism and its existence beyond Duchamp, or at least Fountain.

And Duchamp made Fountain in 1917.

From: Brenden Gray
Received: September 22
Subject: Art criticism in the press

I have always felt that ArtThrob is in the position to become a dialogical space for artists, learners/students and arts educators to communicate. Given the relative flexibility of electronic media it could become a dialogical space rather than only a space where information is transmitted and presented. The website for me works in a primarily presentational mode � giving reviews, news, etc. This prevents two-way conversation, contestation and debate. It could become a medium for active involvement in critical engagement with the visual arts.

The feedback section I think is misnamed given the kind of entries it is receiving. Debates begin to emerge in this space, despite its title as a place where readers present comments on the website. Another space could be created that documents ongoing critical conversations between practitioners who take different positions.

I think that one of the reasons why there is a crucial shortage of critical writing about art and culture is that there is no dynamic public platform or forum. Given the relative anonymity made possible by the internet, an author can present their ideas without the fear of being ostracised or stigmatised by a very small visual arts community which is so often the case with contributors in vulnerable positions (young, emerging writers, critics and commentators).

As an educator I have always felt that students can develop their writing skills best in a real communication situation, where writing has a purpose and a wide audience. Learners and students often see very little value in writing because their audience is usually one lecturer/teacher (and, if they are lucky, a moderator) where the primary purpose of writing is not communication and exchange, but assessment. I imagine Master's students, matric learners and learnership students being able to test their ideas in a real forum, a space that is alive and responsive.

Finally, the website caters for the arts industry in terms of giving space to curators, artists, arts administrators and critics to present their ideas but does not engage arts educators or learners. Many artists have or are engaged in education and I suspect that a section devoted to educational issues may garner some interest.

Thanks for this constructive advice. We at ArtThrob are committed to engaging in wide dialogue about the site, how it works and the sort of coverage it offers. Our Gauteng regional editor, Robyn Sassen, is currently doing research to find out how we can better serve our readership. The issue about the Feedback section is well taken but with very few exceptions it seems very difficult to get debate and dialogue going. What are other readers' opinions? (Andrew Lamprecht)