Sunday, October 2, 2011

£60,000 for self reflection

Next week in London, a canvas by Bob Law entitled Nothing To be Afraid Of V 22.8.69 is to be auctioned and carries with it an estimate of £60,000.

Law apparently “had applied the seductive idea of nothing to a canvas, and asks the viewer to reflect” (according to the auctioneer’s catalogue).

Metro reports the artist David Hockney as saying, “It seems to me that if you make pictures there should be something on the canvas”.

The idea of “blankness” is not new, and not only in painting. I gather that in some Noh performances (which date back to the 15th century), the actor appears before the audience and says nothing for about half an hour. Half an hour, during which the audience’s imagination can be stimulated.

But I have very mixed feelings about this empty canvas by Law and its price tag.

On the one hand, it seems an awful lot of money to pay, when you could have the same thing for much cheaper, for example by painting one wall in your house in white (see my post about my stay in a Tokyo hotel). You could then project your imagination daily on the empty space. If the space is large enough, one could project films regularly on it, thus turning an empty space into a source of infinite variability and fertile imagination.

On the other hand, given the huge sums spent in auction houses on what I believe is very shoddy work, I would prefer a blank canvas. I can project my concepts on to it regularly, whereas I would have to view a bad piece of art daily, were I unfortunate enough to spend so much money on it.

But of course I defer to those knowledgeable about art. Metro reports the head of contemporary art at the auction house as saying, “Bob Law is the most underestimated and overlooked minimal artist in Britain …[who] didn’t get the recognition that he deserved”

Well, he may now. I hope that the purchaser will enjoy enriching his imagination daily.

As for me, I will stick to a white wall.


Lourdes said...

I am an artist and have often thought about monotone or monochromatic canvases (Ellsworth Kelly's pieces come to mind). A blank canvas is very restful and allows the viewers to use their own imagination to see things that may be in their minds. Our eyes are daily inundated with images that can be visually exhausting. Yet, like you, I don't see the point in paying thousands for something I have on my own wall.

Maybe the point of the piece is to recognize the need for our eyes to rest on something like a blank or monochrome canvas. And if someone thinks that's worth paying for, more power to the artist.

tijs said...

There is not such thing as a blank canvas as art work. Art works can be blank but only if they are filled, as Yves Klein wrote, with consiouness. Monochromes are from al periods and all cultures. Invisable works rather from the sixties and apear in Europe and Japan simultaniously. Dear Semir Zeki, your story about the painter is only interesting if you are interested in market stategy. With art is has noting to do. Tijs

S.Z. said...

Thanks, Tijs...I actually agree with you. And, it seems, so does the art market. The Bob Law "painting" (empty canvas) was actually left unsold at auction. This may indicate that, crazy though the art market is, it is not crazy enough to consider a non-painting as art.

Conference Report said...

I think it's really unfortunate that what could potentially be an interesting set of conversations about beauty, perception, representation, creativity etc is flattened out by their placement within a purely economic frame. The 'value' of gestures such as blank canvases, lectures about nothing (Cage), choreographies that eschew notions of technique (Yvonne Rainer) have nothing to do with the price they might fetch. Art is not the art market.

Also, my own take -