News Column

Letter: Post-it notes on artistic gigantism

May 3, 2014



I can understand Adrian Searle's irritation with Alain de Botton's curation of the Rijksmuseum to reflect his "art as therapy" theory (Report, 26 April); he is a professional critic and he doesn't want to be told how to interpret things. But personally I find de Botton's work helpful, inspiring and exciting. I've often been in a gallery or museum and wished for plain English insights into the work. Many of us appreciate such information being made available to us. It can add depth and meaning to something that can otherwise feel obtuse and unrelatable. I very much want to embrace art but am sometimes left mystified and disconnected because it's presented in a void.

The analysis of art doesn't come easily to everyone. Don't want to be guided in what to look for? Don't read the descriptions then. De Botton - in this exhibition, his books and the fantastic workshops and courses offered at the School of Life - aims to translate things into user-friendly language, to broaden the audience and bring pleasure and solace to people who may otherwise be excluded. That's a noble effort that I welcome. I think he's articulate and brilliant, and I'm grateful for his efforts.

Emma Clayton

Brighton

1/15 Adrian Searle has missed the underlying point De Botton is trying to make: that art has the potential to help us to reflect on issues intimately related to our private (and public) lives. This is not a new idea. Only we have forgotten this through decades of scepticism and a "material turn", in which stuff for its own sake is seen as valuable.

So we hoard and measure and evaluate material culture based on surface data that looks good and knowledgeable, but ultimately has limited sticking value when it comes to thinking about how we live our lives. De Botton is right: we do need to learn to see art again in more immanent ways. But we do not need facile stickers to do this for us; rather, we need schools and universities that no longer abdicate their responsibility to help us engage with art in intimate, assimilative ways that become part of our daily "working equipment".

Richard Whitney

Pewsey, Wiltshire

1/29 You report the artist Simon Starling as criticising Henry Moore for accepting a commission for a sculpture celebrating the splitting of the atom (Report, 30 April). Has he actually seen Nuclear Energy in its position on the site of the first atomic pile in the University of Chicago? There is no way that this brilliant and horrible piece is a celebration of atomic physics. When I visited the Enrico Fermi Institute I was amazed that the physicists there could bear to see it outside their windows.

Tony Sudbery

Professor emeritus, University of York

* The chairman of Arts Council England, Peter Bazalgette (Just as big as a Boeing 747, 24 April), says Richard Wilson's new sculpture for Heathrow Terminal 2 "lifts your spirits". When I read those words my heart sank as my blood boiled.

At 78 metres long and consisting of 77 tonnes of aluminium, Wilson's creation is just the latest example of a trend towards gigantism in modern public art. Antony Gormley can probably be blamed for starting it with his Angel of the North. Other sculptors who subscribe to the bigger-is-better outlook include Anish Kapoor (his ArcelorMittal Orbit made for the 2012 Olympics is Britain's largest piece of public art, at 114.5m tall) and Damien Hirst, whose Verity, an allegory of truth and justice, is a 20m high stainless steel and bronze affair; and if you visit St Pancras station you'll be cowed by Paul Day'sThe Meeting Place, a gigantic 9m tall pair of lovers in bronze towering over you, locked in an embrace.

"I wanted that wow factor," says Wilson of his Terminal 2 sculpture. So wowing the public would seem to explain why these artists are in thrall to bigness. This is why size really matters for them. In my opinion, what they actually achieve is to prove that more is less - more size, less depth.

What can't be denied is the impact these mega-objects have on our cultural and natural environment. The smelting and working of all that bronze and steel must have required vast amounts of energy. Wilson's aluminium structure might add prestige to the expanding aviation industry but its creation will degrade the natural environment. Can creating a piece of mega-art for its mega-wow effect justify all that pollution?

John Lloyd

London

Letters online: Nudging is anti-democratic and anti-political

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Source: Guardian (UK)


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