Spotted in a Frankfurt orthopedist's shop window, these Bunuelynchian items:
The Guardian reports on a recent study of gallery-speak, officially christened 'International Art English':
If you've been to see contemporary art in the last three decades, you
will probably be familiar with the feelings of bafflement, exhaustion
or irritation that such gallery prose provokes. You may well have got
used to ignoring it. As Polly Staple, art writer and director of the Chisenhale Gallery
in London, puts it: "There are so many people who come to our shows who
don't even look at the programme sheet. They don't want to look at any writing about art."
its pompous paradoxes and its plagues of adverbs, its endless sentences
and its strained rebellious poses, much of this promotional writing
serves mainly, it seems, as ammunition for those who still insist
contemporary art is a fraud. Surely no one sensible takes this jargon
David Levine and Alix Rule do. "Art English is
something that everyone in the art world bitches about all the time,"
says Levine, a 42-year-old American artist based in New York and Berlin.
"But we all use it." Three years ago, Levine and his friend Rule, a
29-year-old critic and sociology PhD student at Columbia university in
New York, decided to try to anatomise it. "We wanted to map it out,"
says Levine, "to describe its contours, rather than just complain about
They christened it International Art English, or IAE, and
concluded that its purest form was the gallery press release, which – in
today's increasingly globalised, internet-widened art world – has a
greater audience than ever….
IAE always uses "more rather than fewer words". Sometimes it uses
them with absurd looseness: "Ordinary words take on non-specific alien
functions. 'Reality,' writes artist Tania Bruguera, 'functions as my
field of action.'" And sometimes it deploys words with faddish
precision: "Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009;
2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have
its best year ever."
Through Sketch Engine, Rule and Levine found
that "the real" – used as a portentous, would-be philosophical abstract
noun – occurred "179 times more often" in IAE than in standard English.
In fact, in its declarative, multi-clause sentences, and in its odd
combination of stiffness and swagger, they argued that IAE "sounds like
inexpertly translated French". This was no coincidence, they claimed,
having traced the origins of IAE back to French post-structuralism and
the introduction of its slippery ideas and prose style into American art
writing via October,
the New York critical journal founded in 1976. Since then, IAE had
spread across the world so thoroughly that there was even, wrote Rule
and Levine, an "IAE of the French press release … written, we can only
imagine, by French interns imitating American interns imitating
American academics imitating French academics".
The mention of
interns is significant. Rule, who writes about politics for leftwing
journals as well as art for more mainstream ones, believes IAE is partly
about power. "IAE serves interests," she says. However laughable the
language may seem to outsiders, to art-world people, speaking or writing
in IAE can be a potent signal of insider status. As some of the lowest
but also the hungriest in the art food chain, interns have much to gain
from acquiring fluency in it. Levine says the same goes for many
institutions: "You can't speak in simple sentences as a museum and be
taken seriously. You can't say, 'This artist produces funny work.' In
our postmodern world, simple is just bad. You've got to say, 'This
artist is funny and …'"
This BBC report on quantum biology is about the most fascinating thing I've heard on the radio in ages.
Do you remember when these were springing up all over the Southeastern United States? (via Paco Camino's RSS feed):
We Anglo-Saxons are a race of reckless innovators, especially those of us who risked everything to cross the Atlantic and found the Land of Opportunity. It's our job to create the trends everyone else imitates, and we take it on gladly. Meanwhile, we look at the Continent with bemusement. There, 'stars' that would long have been forced down into the septic tank of obscurity continue to be venerated by millions of people. Hugh Schofield noted the curious French tolerance of Johnny Hallyday:
In fact, when one looks around, one realises that there is an unusual
level of flattery – one might even say obsequiousness – in French
public life, especially when it comes to culture.
If you have ever watched French television, you will get the picture.
typical mid-evening programme is a chat show on which the invitees are
members of the small, unchanging – and therefore ageing – club of
Behind in rows of seats, a youthful
audience hand-picked for telegenic good looks bursts into applause at
every anecdote or hackneyed clip from the archives.
At the more
serious end of the market, the annual literary season is in September,
when there is a rush of new publications and the big book prizes like
the Goncourt are announced.
Here, too, listening to the reviews is like being beaten about the head with a powder puff.
Nothing is ever mediocre, let alone bad.
is uplifting, exquisite, crafted, delicate, challenging, or that most
irritating of French words: "engage", which means "committed", though to
what is never spelled out.
One realises after a while that the French view their stars almost as
members of the family. They enjoy going to see them in the same way
they enjoy catching up with the latest family gossip.
of conservatism is actually quite refreshing after the brutal neophilia
(the constant need for the new and the culling of everything that is
familiar) that one associates with British culture.
The bad reason is that it is all about self-protection.
Succumbing to sycophancy, after all, is a way of reassuring oneself that all is good in the world, when clearly it is not.
Seen like that, the French are merely deluding themselves that their
culture matters the way it once did: sticking their fingers in their
ears, if you like, and whistling to Johnny Hallyday.
Much of this applies equally to Germany. Die Zeit, despite its many virtues, is probably the worst offender here, dutifully reprinting every syllable that drops from the mouth of Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Schmidt. In the culture pages, virtually every writer, no matter how obscure, is dutifully given the epithet groß (great). Pop acts that are long-forgotten (or who have degenerated into jokes) in the Anglo-Saxon world – Metallica, Ozzie Osbourne (g) — fondly embrace Germany as a sort of geriatro-rocker retirement home. Quondam innovators Kraftwerk, who haven't released any genuinely new music in decades, continue to pack them in in Germany (and to be fair, MOMA, where their concerts were billed as a 'curated' retrospective, drenched with nostalgia).
Which brings me to this clip from the 1996 direct-to-video movie 'Vibrations':
Someone in the US unearthed it and it's become a minor Internet sensation under the heading '90s nostalgia. Yet in Germany, 'techno' music is alive and well — in fact, the 2010 version of the Love Parade attracted almost a million people. If it hadn't been for the overcrowding that killed 21 people at that event, it would still be going on.
A few days ago, I challenged readers to identify this film still:
I was a bit disappointed that nobody came through. Mr. M wanted to know the answer. The still is from the 1963 Czech science-fiction movie Ikarie XB-1. The entire original version, with good English subtitles, can be found on YouTube and is highly recommended. It's a moody, philosophical film about a crew of astronauts who stumble upon an abandoned ship from an earlier voyage and much else besides. As you might expect from a Czech movie, the futuristic spacecraft furnishings are stylish and appealing. There's even a party scene in which we hear the easy-listening music of the future and watch astronauts dance to it!
As a special hidden bonus, the crazed tuber, Hitlerized. I finally figured out what drove me to this act of desperation: the highly suspicious red-white-black and brown color scheme of the background. I am only making explicit what 'Potato King' — if that is their real name — clearly wanted us to perceive subliminally.
With apologies to This isn't Happiness.