Saturday, 26 June 2010

From graduate shows to Picassos

Tedious rhymes aside, a trip to London this week opened my eyes to the huge gulf between modern art then and modern art now. Visiting the degree show of fine art at Central Saint Martins was testament to the tired and monotonous recapitulation of conceptual themes by students working under the ever-present shadow of the YBAs. Was a cactus on the floor a plant or a phallic metaphor? More to the point, does anyone really care anymore? Not only is such work past its sell by date, having long since lost the ability to shock as so wittily inaugurated by Duchamp almost a century ago, but it certainly doesn't justify the price tags that seem to have been optimistically posited as a student debt get-out clause.
A fascinating exhibition of Picasso's Mediterranean years, meanwhile, served to further highlight the degree to which the act of making has become a lost art. A vibrant, and surprisingly diverse, selection of his later work is on display; ranging from large canvases to ceramic plates. The extraordinary talent of this most eminent of modern artists is apparent throughout, and his ability to draw lies at the heart of the best work; such as the raging bull summoned to life by a few deft brushstrokes in the lithographic series at the start of the exhibition. Entrance to the somewhat elusive Gagosian Gallery is free of charge, funded by wealthy buyers rather than an admission fee. Perhaps, rather than being disgusted by the record sales achieved at Sotheby's and Christie's recently, we should be thankful to the thriving modern art market for generating such wonderful exhibitions at a time of harsh budget cuts in public arts expenditure.