Why I’m seeing red after my brush with modern art
Let me acknowledge a personal interest at the outset here: I wrote the foreword to the catalogue for the latest exhibition of paintings by the artist Anthony Murphy at the Ib Jorgensen gallery in Dublin.
I would like to say that Ib paid me €10,000 (£8,676) for my contribution, in fact I would love to say it, but it wouldn’t be true. I wrote the foreword because Anthony is a quite wonderful artist, of a kind that is regrettably becoming rarer and rarer.
One does not need to have the interpretive skills of a soothsayer reading chicken entrails to understand what his paintings are about, which is so often the case of modern art, and has been since Picasso became a whore, and Peggy Guggenheim went mad with the family money.
He paints what he sees. He doesn’t produce photographs, but interpretations of reality: their origins are recognisable, but the resulting canvas always shows the objects through the prism of his delightful mind. Sometimes his paintings are quite abstract; sometimes, they are relatively literal.
But either way, the product is real art. The term “art” sometimes almost has no meaning any more: the last time I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art I was tempted to pop out again and buy a container of petrol and some matches with which to accurately express my appreciation of the exhibits.
There was, I recall, an exhibition dedicated to Aids, which consisted of photographs of the faces of men who had died of the disease.
It was also accompanied by photographs of their genitals. Is it possible for me to describe how much I do not want to see such things when going to an art gallery?
Actually, it might well be possible, but only if fuelled with sufficient alcohol, and with an ample disregard for this newspaper’s house-rules on inflammatory or obscene language.
But without such assistance, no, it is not. If I want to see the wizened genitals of dead men, then I will go to an Exhibition of Dead Men’s Wizened Genitals, and who knows, even wallow amid the scrota and the prepuces: but I will not call what I am seeing art, nor will I account myself an art-lover as a consequence.
“Modern art” is one of the greatest con-tricks of the 20th century. Good people have been lured into its toxic shallows, where they have perished of sheer vapidity.
Artists of merit and skill have been seduced by the pretensions and witlessness of a market that is awash with stupid money.
The aforementioned Guggenheim was the main engine for technically inept self-indulgence being rebranded as “art”.
It apparently wasn’t sufficient for this madwoman to collect objects and canvases of no artistic merit, for she then had to house it all in what had been a magnificent merchant-prince’s house in Venice.
This was vandalism of high degree: and one which Ireland, in a pathetic example of cringe-mimicry, emulated: some 25 years ago, the government of Charles Haughey took the recently restored and quite magnificent Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the only 17th century building in Ireland, and laid waste to its beautiful interiors, in order to create a “modern art gallery”.
The resulting travesty is the Irish Museum of Modern Art, a halting site for whatever itinerant visual vogues are current.
Moreover, much modern art, lacking artistic input of any kind, often falls back on a trite and largely adolescent political agenda, such as gay rights, global warming or African hunger, in order to give some apparent substance to what otherwise has the intellectual substance of a butterfly fart.
This is not Anthony Murphy land, and nor is it Ib Jorgensen land. Both men are warriors of serious art; of technically accomplished works created by a great vision and deep ethical purpose.
This is the continuity that European culture created and refined, connecting Van Eyck with Van Gogh and B Ballagh.
What links all true art is a love of beauty: it is the ethic of the aesthetic, a moral compulsion to create things that please the eye and speak to the soul. And no, I don’t know what the soul is: I just know it’s where we feel the unquenchable emotion at what we hear or see, without the intermediary of an explanation that most modern art requires.
(The “greatest” work of modern art of the 20th century, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, is intrinsically and explicitly meaningless, and only an accompanying text will tell you that it represents a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe’s Kondor Legion on the Bas but no, no, enough already: life is too short).