Monday, 6 July 2009
So the Trafalgar Square plinth lark got hijacked by a protestor. No surprise there, though it was a pretty lame 'message' - Ban Tobacco & Actors Smoking. Hmm... It will get worse and nastier, especially as Gormley, no doubt putting a brave face on it, seems to have given the green light to any nutjob who cares to get up there and make his/her 'point' - he might live to regret that... Never mind, Gormley has more important things to do, such as appearing on The Archers, an imminent event excitedly discussed by the denizens of Ambridge this evening, ahead of an edition of Front Row much of which was devoted to the Plinth. O dear o dear... Let's get one thing straight. Such is the lamentable state of public sculpture, there was never any prospect of the empty fourth plinth being satisfactorily topped - the nearest of the various try-outs was Rachel Whiteread's ghostly inversion of the plinth itself, which could have stayed put as far as I was concerned. But no, all manner of fantastically dumb and/or fantastically badly executed ideas were tried out - and then the great self-publicist Gormley was allowed to take over with his crass notion of allowing 'ordinary people' their moment atop the plinth. The best moment in Front Row's plinth coverage was the contribution from the excellent Ben Lewis, who hailed the event as historic - in as much as it marked the most banal idea any artist was ever allowed to enact in a public space (or words to that effect). He's right of course, but what can you expect when art is viewed in terms of 'ideas' and novelty and entertainment value, as so many competing attractions in a consumer fairground? And how else would art be viewed in a culture that has lost touch with its roots? A truly modern art is always the product of a deep engagement, not with the present, still less the future, but with the past. The gods of literary modernism, for example - Eliot, Joyce, Pound - were steeped in the literature and culture of the past, rediscovering, reimagining, re-creating, knowing that there was no finding a way forward without going back, back, back. The art that consciously addresses the present rarely lasts. As Charles Peguy wrote, 'Homer is still new this morning, and nothing perhaps is as old as today's newspaper'. Or, God help us, today's art world stunt.