- In 2012, Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry investigated the different cultural tastes of different class strands within the UK in the 3-part series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’, beginning with working class taste in Sunderland. Perry covered related material in the 2013 Reith Lectures, the last of which was given in St George’s Hall in Liverpool. In lecture one, Perry
argues that there is no empirical way to judge quality in art. Instead the validation of quality rests in the hands of a tightknit group of people at the heart of the art world including curators, dealers, collectors and critics who decide in the end what ends up in galleries and museums. Often the last to have a say are the public.
- Perry’s tapestry series ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ came to Liverpool in 2014. It is currently still on tour.
- This 1949 article from ‘Life’ magazine classifies tastes on a scale from ‘high-brow’ to ‘low-brow’. Plus ça change…
- The idea of ‘art for all’ remains popular with government ministers, as shown in this 2014 speech by the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, or this 2015 speech by Labour’s leader.
- On the issue of different forms of capital, and the kinds of knowledge required to successfully navigate the cultural field, this report discusses the difficulties for wealthy technologists in navigating the art world:
…the art world’s barriers to entry are discouraging and confusing. Parties are exclusive. Works are not always sold to those with the most money. Images are often not online. Invoicing can take months.
- Popular culture’s crossing into the space of the art world likely reached its peak with Jay-Z’s 6 hour performance of his paean to art and wealth, ‘Picasso Baby’, in New York’s Pace Gallery in 2013. In 2015, performance artist Marina Abramović said of this collaboration: “he just completely used me”. (The Abramović Institute, which has been criticized for its use of unpaid, volunteer workers, quickly apologised to Jay-Z).
Commonly known as [John] Cage’s “silent” piece, 4’33” comprises three movements during which a performer—or performers—are instructed to produce no intentional sounds for four minutes and 33 seconds.
(First performed in 1952, the official 4’33” app for iPhone is now available)
feature images of graffiti taken by Gilbert & George, alongside images of London that are often similarly direct and brutal. They were created in 1977, a time of recession and social discontent, and their raw confrontational energy has been compared to punk, which emerged during the same period. Wandering the city, the artists had begun to collect images, and the power of these pictures derives partly from the way they bring together these fleeting impressions to portray the city as aggressive, decaying and chaotic.
- ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’. The last painting completed by Piet Mondrian, in 1942.
Whereas Mondrian’s early paintings were built up out of long continuous lines and large planes, which could be compared to whole or half notes in music, there now appear much smaller forms, comparable to eighth and sixteenth notes, contrasting only here and there with larger areas. This innovation, which evidently took place while Mondrian was working on the painting, gives the canvas a new and sparkling vivacity.
Here a woman with brown curls and a white, blue, and pink flounced dress dances in the Paris nightclub Bal Tabarin. […] In his  depiction of Bal Tabarin the artist [Gino Severini] merges his interest in capturing the dynamism of motion, shared with fellow Futurists, with the integration of text and collage elements, such as sequins, influenced by his study of French Cubism.
In his landmark essay ‘The Sublime is Now’ (1948), the American abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman announced that ‘the impulse of modern art’ resides in the ‘desire to destroy beauty’. The problem with beauty, according to Newman, is that it prevents the artist from realising ‘man’s desire for the exalted’, in other words, for the sublime. In religious art, for Newman in particular, a preoccupation with the beautiful – with its emphasis on the figurative, the perfection of form, and the ‘reality of sensation’ – has impeded the perception of ‘the Absolute’ […] In Eve 1950 and Adam 1951–2, Newman makes no attempt to depict the first man and woman in any natural or literal sense. Instead of recognisable figures the viewer is presented with vast extents of red, interrupted by darker, vertical stripes. A thin, hard band of purple marks the outer right-hand edge of Eve.
- ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’. 1979 disco song performed by Sister Sledge, containing the lyrics “He wears the finest clothes/The best designers, heaven knows/Ooo, from his head down to his toes/Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci, he looks like a still/That man is dressed to kill”. Composer Nile Rodgers reportedly believes this to be the first instance of the now commonplace practice of referencing luxury brands in popular music. (Consider, for instance Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Niggas in Paris’ from 2010: “What’s Gucci, my nigga?/What’s Louis, my killa?/What’s drugs, my dealer?/What’s that jacket, Margiela?”)
- ‘Helikopter-Streichquartett’. Composed in 1993, this piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the few avant-garde composers (along with John Cage) with a relatively high public profile forms part of the opera ‘Mittwoch aus Licht’, first performed in its entirety as part of the London 2012 ‘Cultural Olympiad’. Initially, Stockhausen was reluctant to compose a string quartet, as “a typical genre of the 18th century”, but found inspiration in a dream:
I heard and saw the four string players in four helicopters flying in the air and playing. At the same time I saw people on the ground seated in an audio-visual hall, others were standing outdoors on a large public plaza. In front of them, four towers of television screens and loudspeakers had been set up: at the left, half-left, half-right, right. At each of the four positions one of the four string players could be heard and seen in close-up.
Say “Pierrot,” and any musician will instantly know you’re talking about Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 21, “Three Times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire.’”
One of the most influential works ever, it remains knotted in paradoxes. The composer was a Jew who at the time insisted he was Christian; but not very long after this disavowal emphatically re-embraced his Jewish heritage. The work mocked religion — specifically the Mass — but was nothing if not spiritual. It transfixed audiences; but disturbed some listeners enough for them to shout for the composer to be shot. It was abstruse music; but was performed as if it were cabaret. […] Even after 100 years, it retains both its impact and its strangeness.
Working with only the most basic elements -straight lines and primary colors – Mondrian strove to create pure objective art that he believed would change the world. This sincere and dramatic ambition for such a restrained painting of nothing gives Mondrian’s work a conceptual heft that extends far beyond what is visible.
In the 1990s the BBC aired a documentary called ‘Signs of the Times’, in collaboration with Nicholas Barker and Martin Parr. Directed by Barker, it was an early version of reality television […] Two thousand people applied and fifty were chosen, from a range of ages, races, genders and social backgrounds. Parr was asked by Barker to be the stills photographer on the shoot, and created a subsequent book to accompany the documentary.
discarded nitrous oxide capsules collected by the artists [Gilbert and George] on early-morning walks in the streets near their home. Known as sweet air, or hippy crack, the gas induces euphoria, hallucinations and involuntary laughter.
- ‘The United States Government Destroys Art’. A 1989 drawing by Richard Serra which
comes from the artist’s “angry period,” in the years following an incident with one of his works installed in lower Manhattan. Tilted Arc was commissioned by a government program for the Federal Plaza in 1981, and was immediately victim to a great deal of controversy and criticism. […] As the artist has explained, the idea of the piece was to make viewers more aware of themselves in the space of the sculpture, and their movement throughout the plaza– as the viewer moves, the sculpture changes, expanding and contracting. Unfortunately, many people who needed to navigate the plaza on a regular basis did not have much interest in exploring the spacial metamorphosis of their surroundings, at least not every day, and instead considered it an eyesore and an obstacle. After much protest, Tilted Arc was dismantled and junked in 1989.
Elaine Sturtevant replicates work by artists such as Warhol and Jasper Johns and exhibits the versions under her own name. […] Sturtevant is a perfect example of the quandary of art in the post-modern age, when originality seems either impossible or irrelevant.