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Artist’s Statement (Sir Hermann Black Gallery, 2002)
This exhibition offers for sale paintings comprised of individual panels or “lots”. Each lot is numbered. Upon sale each painting is disseminated according to the number of lots sold and where they are housed. The original work can only be reconstituted if all parties agree to co-operate in its reconstruction.
Valuations – “It’s an art work AND a real estate business plan!” Two visions of mutually assured seduction: native forests transformed into leafy suburban houses – inside each house a picturesque oil painting of a virgin rainforest. The straightened gazes of the artist and the collector/real estate agent, are equally fixed on frame and grid. The subject matter of Art Realty concerns the loss, commodification and cultural valuation of our natural environment. The more valuable a work becomes the more it physically disappears yet multiplies as image. The fewer mangrove trees left standing the more we love them to death. Now the natural world can be directly exchanged for carbon credit points. Fine art aesthetic systems of rarefaction and speculation also build up cultural credits. The grid unifies the world: 1 old-growth tree equals 1 new car equals 1 Arthur Boyd painting equals 100 farting sheep. The grid overlays both the material and immaterial worlds alike.
Pest Inspection Report – So where does the meaning of the exhibition Art Realty reside if not in the individual lots? The individual purchased lots do have value both in a speculative monetary sense and as indexical evidence or proof of the exhibition event. The lots are indeed rare objects in a limited material sense. Yet the meaning of the exhibition is, in a gestalt sense, larger than the individual lots. In an empty moralistic sense meaning resides in the gaps of white space (white noise of representation) between the framed lots – in the bonds that no longer bind the useless art object. In an aesthetic sense meaning always seeks to overflow the frame, to flood the gallery and fill the world beyond. In a pathetically real sense, the beautiful concept lives only for the duration of the show. This is post art gallery art that needs the gallery in order to leave it.
Reading the prospectus – In a negative aesthetic Modernist sense (“we must destroy the meaning of art as representation”) Art Realty is a conceptual event process that never ends. In a positive postmodernist sense, that drives beyond the narrow confines of aesthetics, there is a self-reflexive subversion of ideological closure – “there hangs a banal panel of non-descript marks” – useless as a found piece of some lost jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps a Borgesian puzzle where the impossible task is to fit the real world back together now that any monological truth has ceased to exist! So we are left with piecemeal fictions rather than total works of art, yet we hanker for the gaps to be filled, in life as well as art. Those pad-locks are both reassuring and terrifying.
No deposit and no interest for the rest of your life! – Each lot is a developed block that comes complete with special features ready for you to build your own special vision. A unique once only offer of an original work of art authenticated by the artist in his own hand. Watch your interest grow with each passing year.
Conditions of sale – All lots are numbered and signed by the artist and come with a site map and certificate. Information on adjoining lots may be supplied if the owner-neighbours are all in agreement.
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by George Alexander
Co-Ordinator of Public Programs
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Your Lot: Kurt Brereton's Art Realty
Art Realty is a morality tale in an over-the-top credit economy, a Swiftian satire at a time when culture as a whole has become commercial, and social riffs can be used to move product. Sarcastic, funny, educational, pathetic (in a cagey post-pop sense), Kurt Brereton has resorted to a kind of eleventh hour visual art, finely poised between parody and sincerity, cynicism and idealism. His panels retain the classicism of a traditional art, only to subject it to a remorseless pummelling. Keeping the textures of Sunday painting and landscape drawing, every panel fights a losing battle against the forces of market manipulation.
In line with Andy Warhol, Brereton’s a Capitalist Realist who sees through the idealism of art (Warhol painted paper money, the commodity of all commodities, the absolute fetish); like guerrilla artist Hans Haacke, he also sees artworks as the historical products of a consciousness industry. But there’s something down-home about what Brereton is focussing on here. Our ugly ideas of space at the moment: how we shrink ourselves spiritually with notions of private beaches and company towns, gated communities and tourist bubbles. All at a time of institutionalised abuse around ideas of sanctuary and asylum. How entire ecosystems like mangroves, grasslands and rainforests are being lost to a pet and garbage ecology of the suburbs, attracting junk food Ibises and Currawongs swooping on road kill. In this context Art Realty is a stealth bomber against a stultifying cultural climate. But it’s hardly likely to ingratiate itself to the art community.
Art over the last twenty years has shown itself to be the last refuge of 19th century laissez faire capitalism, a guiltless corporate investment, the most desirable of futures. The booming art market of the 1980s did for artists what Watergate did for politicians: it revealed the industry behind the idealist rhetoric. And even after the October 1987 crash, the art market continued to boom.
Yet never has it been so hard to sustain an art career. Never was there a more discouraging climate for developing slowly. The market moves at mach-speeds, while some artists look like they are trailing behind like a bunch of peasants on bikes.
Market capital has got so mobile it no longer relies on the fixed signified of resources, like rivers, harbours, beaches, and unpolluted skies. As data pixellates around the globe on a green screen roller coaster of reflex buying and selling it becomes clear it has little to do with the national economy on the ground. Entire landscapes have become one-crop economies subject to the whims of giant corporations. Small countries can be wiped out in a commercial ad break.
Financial pressure can consume everything. Nothing can beat money’s universal liquidity: it dissolves anything of substance. This is the point in this exhibition: truth can be thinned down to the thinness of gridlines, or property lots.
In cities like Sydney the financial pressure on every square meter is so great that the value of the land overwhelms the value of buildings that then are made disposable. Despite appearances, there is no art as impermanent as architecture. All the solid brick and stone and concrete mean nothing when this intense capitalist metabolism consumes their physical substance. Forests are cut and turned into money, because you can make more money on the money than you can on the forests logged sustainably.
With the institutionalisation of market value over use value, homes themselves become commodities on a shelf. Less to do with real demand, location, access, quality, property goes up because property goes up. While the secondary market in mortgages also grow without the slightest connection to actual properties or owners. Quick-buck speculation and abstract investment is the norm.
Brereton’s “lots” reveal how property lines cut like an Exacto knife. Geometrical, 2-D, not of this world, grid logic sculpts how we live like nothing else can. A triumph of abstraction, real estate operates at a distance from the real. The “real” in real estate derives from re-al – “royal” – rather than from res –“thing” – which is the root of “reality.” Realty is in many ways the opposite of reality. All that is solid melts into cash. A room or an artwork embodies its history, but a dollar gains its time-and-space binding power from having no history, and the dollar wins. The room becomes not what happened in it, but what its square-footage is worth.
Maximising real estate market values, homes become steadily more standard, stylish and inspectable in order to meet the imagined desires of a potential buyer. Seeking to be anybody’s house it becomes nobody’s. Maximising art market values, art no longer serves a connoisseurial elite or academic public, nor a middlebrow public hostile to the avant-garde. Art now serves it up to a no-taste public with a keen appetite for everything. Hence all those bums-on-seats blockbusters that demand new traffic patterns coordinated by museum marketing departments and tour guides with walkie-talkies.
Art and politics have been uneasy bedfellows since the 1930s. We like to keep them apart: newspaper reflexes on one side; romantic limbo on the other. Politics wears its urgencies on its sleeve, with the moral alibis of front-page historical presence; while art plays in the sandbox—or the Leisure Pages—just part of the good life, like a jetaway cruise to a beach resort, earned only after putting in the hard yakka in the mouse-race. Kurt Brereton sees them seamlessly intertwined in this show.
So in this show the artist has decided to take the rectal temperature of our deplorable era, while thinking through the dilemmas of personal conscience, of how we’re signing away our cultural property rights, our art heritage and our double helix, to a system that seems keen to downsize our own asses and our assets. There are not too many artists willing to do anything but succumb to this steamroller system with its own green lights.
When we lift up our eyes from the computer screen, the mixing board or the darkroom, the whole art business can seem like a whimsical scam, but we feel trapped by our own dependency and self-loathing. Or else we just go on worrying about our weekenders, our psychotherapy, or “slow food” vacations in Tuscany, and the private schools for our sensitive kids. Transfield, John Firth-Smith and Carla Zampati invite you to feel bad about asylum seekers at the MCA. We look for an angle, for a spin or a take, instead of consulting the compass points of principle.
Kurt Brereton is an ant at this capitalist picnic, but Art Realty is part of an attempt to make reality more real, rather than less real. An aesthetic of interruption and intrusion, he shows us teetering between selling out and buying in, idealism and realism. With works that look innocent, even goofy in a join-the-dots way, they act as a jokeless joke aimed at our bottom-line logic. They remind us that the art community is no longer made up of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters; we’re more like landlords and tenants, owners and pets. Should we be surprised when the picnic’s over and the pets are put to sleep?
© George Alexander (AGNSW) 2002