Monday, 31 January 2011

Barn befuddles critic

THE Sunday Times’ formidable art critic Waldermar Januszczak went way too far in his scathing attack on the current Royal Academy of Arts exhibition of 20th Century Sculpture at the weekend.
Even though his newspaper was supposed to be the media partner of the RA for the exhibition which is the largest of its kind for 30 years and runs until April, he is entitled to have a negative view.
He has every right to criticize, as he did, the omission from the artists exhibited of the likes of Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Deacon or Antony Gormley.
He is paid to be perceptive enough to point out that the preponderance of ancient artefacts, many of which are superior to the modern sculptures they inspired, rather confuses the point of the exhibition.
But he was not entitled to be downright rude to the curators Dr Penelope Curtis and Keith Wilson, calling them dunces, when he entirely missed the point of the Kurt Schwitters barn in the forecourt.
If he had bothered to ask them, as other newspapers did, he would have been told that the barn was designed to shock viewers into expecting the unexpected.
The barn was a symbol of dark and lonely places that artists work. It represented the artists who are ignored when they toil in unfashionable parts of the country away from the cultural capital. Its inclusion was designed to be a thorn in the side of Metropolitan establishment.
He ignored completely the fact that without Kurt Schwitters, who invented Merz and pioneered Collage and other art using the detritus of modern society, that there would probably have been no Richard Hamilton or Peter Blake in the 60s and 70s and no Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst, whose work Mr Janunszczak obviously admires, in the 21st century.
He claimed that Schwitters was not British. This is disputed as his citizenship papers arrived the day before he died in Kendal in 1948. But his only surviving Merz installation was made in that barn and can be seen to this day in the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. He also influenced hugely British art in the second half of the 20th century.
Far from being dunces, the curators of the exhibition demonstrated a knowledge and emotional understanding of their subject that rather dwarf those of Mr Januszczak. Goodness knows what he would have written if his newspaper hadn’t had a vested interest in this brave and thought-provoking exhibition.

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