As soon as my review on the Turps Studio Programme exhibition at Paul Stolper Gallery went viral, I got an Instagram message from artist Victoria Cantons who is one of its participants saying: ‘Hello, you posted on a scathing review of the Turps show. I was wondering which day you visited? I didn’t notice you at the PV. Also aside from Rihannon Salisbury, you only comment on abstract work and nothing on Phil Allen’s directorship of Turps or his curating of the hang. Victoria’. It seems that Victoria was felt left out not matter how ‘scathing’ the spotlight was. For her, it seems to be just a matter of being mentioned.
I decided to end my original review asking the question of whether it was convenient for these artists to allow the general public to see such bad work so early in their careers. Is the Turps Studios Programme being helpful drawing not only public but also specialised attention to this kind of works. In any normal circumstance, the answer would be negative unless the whole point of such a programme were not to teach them how to make excellent works of art but instead to train them into the arts of how to quickly materialise their own subjectivity into some kind of object (done with pigments) that after being priced and hung in the context of a commercial gallery is transformed into a commodity. In my review I wondered whether, at the end of the day, what these students are learning is not how to excel in a certain medium but instead how to price, package, showcase and network in order to be out there in the market. This takes us back to the end of my original review where I asked myself whether these young middle class boys and girls were posing as bourgeois bohemians to get into what Richard Florida in ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ calls ‘the creative industries’ which, as we know, has fuelled the UK economy since Tony Blair while deeply compromising the quality of its artistic output that has become more and more commercial.
I have, recently, been socially interacting with students and prospective students of the different fine arts programmes in the UK and I concluded that for them networking is becoming the most important part of artistic labour. They consider Private Viewings and ‘having meaningful chats’ as a fundamental PR part of their production. This is particularly apparent in a show, like the Turps Studio Programme, that claims that the sensual materiality of the artistic object is more relevant than its conceptual credentials. When Victoria Cantons turns a question into an interrogation asking: ‘I was wondering which day you visited? I didn’t notice you at the PV’, she transforms the attendance to the PV not only into an obligation for her but also for those who ‘dare’ stepping into ‘the system’ giving an informed opinion. The second part of Cantons’ question is more straightforward and narcissistic and it has to do with the reason why I hadn’t mention her work, in particular, which are two mask-like tiny portraits which unselfconsciously use the tools of the photographic frame and close up as passport pictures, whose lack of expression creates a fetichistic detachment that, from an expressive point of view, disconnects the viewer from the work. This, added to the lack of pictorial virtuosity only leaves space for that disconnection to become an allegory of the zeitgeist and thus, possibly, a displaced self portrait of the artist if we understand her though her bulimic uber professionalism avant la lettre. It must be born in mind that she is to start the MFA at Slade this september. Nothing of this make her work relevant after Gerhard Richter’s 1977 portraits of blasé individuals from photographic portraiture or Marcia Schvartz’s gendered confrontational portraiture during the 80s and 90s.
What is interesting is that the fact that I wasn’t interested in her work didn’t occur to her and instead she thought it was my duty to write about everything. Even worse, she could not see this as a blessing in disguise since the review was, to put it in her words, so ‘scathing’. Regarding her asking me why I have not commented on Phil Allen as director of the programme or about his curating of the show, I still do not know what she means. Is she being bitchy about him? I must confess to be surprised with the fact that that show needed a curation in the first place. All the rest of the institutional hierarchies and toils are not of my concern and I wonder why she thinks they should be.
Nothing prepared me, however, for what came after that for when I asked her why she was sending me to check on Phil Allen’s profile on the Turps website, as if having seen the works wasn’t enough, she said that she deigned to answer my question because ‘she decided to give me the benefit of the doubt’. In other words, she had contacted me to eliptically ask me why I hadn’t written about her work and since I didn’t understand the question, she decided to insult me insted of being thankful for visiting the show. Not even that because according to her a ‘review’ of the show is ‘baseless’ unless ‘I look below the surface and make myself properly informed’. I still wonder what kind of information does Phil Allen guard under seven seals? Are not my 8 years of study at the Courtauld Institute enough to give an opinion as a viewer?
But what happens if we approach her discourse from the point of view of deconstructive criticism and analyse her idea of ‘serious’ criticism. According to her message, the ‘privileged’ terms in her discourse are: ‘doing enough research’, ‘looking under the surface’ and ‘interacting at the Private Viewing’. If the job of the critic is, however, to make evident the premises and mechanisms of self deception that might allow the reader to see that what is said does not mean what it is being said, we must invert her privileged terms and counterpose ‘casual viewing’ to ‘research’, ‘in sight’ to ‘under the surface’ and ‘not interacting with the critic’ to ‘seeing him at the PV’. A deconstruction effort shows that Victoria Cantons believes that the art world is tribal and encrypted and no one can talk about it without accessing its deepest secrets unless certain rites of tribal initiation (the PV at the gallery?) are performed. Hers is the discourse of the bureaucrat and not of the artist. J A T
PS: After reading this review, Miss Cantons added: