Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Anticipating the Future

Among the spectres of GSA’s Mackintosh Museum Polish artist Mariusz Tarkawian predicts the art of the future. 
Who among us hasn't wondered whether Damien Hirst will pickle his own body in a tank of formaldehyde as a posthumous self portrait? It seems so obvious that a failure on Hirst’s part to fulfill our expectations would be disappointing, almost as disappointing as when something so easily anticipated is fulfilled. When confronted with the banality of conceptual art, philistines are heard to moan, ‘my six year old could have made that.’ When they start saying, ‘my six year old saw this one coming,’ you know something's about to go out of fashion.
For Mariusz Tarkawian's first solo exhibition in the UK he's made a point of exposing the predictability of ‘leading’ artists by illustrating his own prophesies of their future work. “Some artists’ work is easier to predict than others,” he admits, slyly neglecting to comment on whether that should be viewed as a strength or a weakness. As for Tarkawian's own strengths, the most blatant is how prolific he is.1200 drawings fill the walls of the Mackintosh Museum in four separate series. When work is displayed on such a scale you can't hope to give equal time to each piece so you start looking for patterns, common threads and the odd stand-out work.
It seems fitting to discover that Tarkawian's main theme is history, the history of art and his personal history in discovering art. The largest of the four series is his attempt to reproduce every drawing he has ever made. At 770 drawings, it offers an impressive visual lexicon, from the earliest stick figures right up to copies of Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
Exhibitions Director Jenny Brownrigg believes the show “has real relevance to the context of an art school.” Indeed the drawings look right at home next to the school’s permanent collection of Classical Greek and Roman sculpture until you realise that these plaster replicas are no longer used as teaching aids but remain on prominent display as useful ornaments in a façade of tradition. Rather than produce a pleasing harmony with the exhibition, the sculptures actually serve to amplify the discordance that Tarkawian's work is exposing.
Confronted with one artist's ambition to rebuild history, you can't help but feel sorry for present and future generations of artists who inherit the broken traditions of art. When the only tradition left to break demands we break with tradition itself, you've got to ask yourself, what's so great about a future unburdened by the standards of the past? Especially when that future seems predictable. Tarkawian's drawings, with their explicit tributes to a broad history of art, speak of a desire to find continuity with that history rather than any serious foretelling of the future. There's a hint of mockery in his predictions, tempting us to get the laughter over and done with well before next season's novelty art has even had time to roll off the assembly line.

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