A Show that needs to explain why it matters.


Great Idea but nobody cared…

I’ve just been to The British Art Show 8 , it’s been peregrinating around the UK for some time and according to the organiser’s blurb, ‘ is a touring exhibition taking place every five years that provides a vital overview of the most significant contemporary art produced in the UK‘, so I was really looking forward to it.

‘Everything,’ as Greyson Perry remarked, ‘was contemporary once’, and it’s in a spirit of optimism and open mindedness that I go along to these things.

Here’s the thing: I absolutely love and embrace Art, in all its forms, it’s my job, my passion, my work, my free time – in short my vocation.

In marketing terms that makes me a dead cert for being interested in, and being prepared to work at a show; imagine my disappointment then when it turned out to be inaccessible.

Let me qualify that; there were great ideas there but nothing that engaged.

For instance one of the artists sandwiches bits of code and numbers in his sculptures which are described as ‘detailed sculptures derived from the complex interior mechanisms of locks. Embedded within their layers of metal, stone and resin are numbers, letters and months that hint at things of emotional importance: ‘birthdays, anniversaries, deadlines, deaths’. Describing each of these sculptures as a ‘metaphor for content just out of reach’, (the artist) intends their encrypted, enigmatic forms as ‘an invitation to unravel’, unpick or decode.’

So what?

The forger Keating once remarked that he liked to imagine what it would be like to take a drink with each of the artists he copied, to get a feel for their personality.

This is interesting insight: as an art enthusiast he felt – as I do – that Art really does capture and convey something of the spirit of its creator.

Now in that spirit, could you imagine being sat next to a person at a dinner party droning on about hiding tangental bits on information which may – or may not – allude to significant dates in their lives – in inert objects?

At what point was this artist encouraged in the idea that the best, the most visually stimulating, most memorable, most compelling way to get the common man to think about ‘content just out of reach’ was to stick a few random numbers in bits of sculpture  made to look like a squashed lock?

I’ve just spotted my schoolboy error; maybe it’s not for the common man, but the art intelligencia?

But hang on, in that case when did it become OK to stretch a pretty thin metaphor (locks = being locked out of something), and then wrap it up in some inherently everyday objects  and remark to oneself ‘my work is done.’

I mean no disrespect, and this artist has done good things, but (and I was there) nobody was interested.

I’m just not convinced that the ‘stretch a metaphor’ school of Art is so  inherently good, that’s it’s absolutely OK not to bother with making it accessible.

I get it that Art has to reflect the Human Condition, and that in this 21st Century should reflect the influence of mass imaging technology in all its forms, but when did we loose sight of the basic need for Art to be also an engaging  and stimulating  visual medium?

I took a great deal of very good things from the British Art Show.

That the internet can be dangerous for innocents (a good film reimagined as a very dark fairy tale): Imagined and imaginary people are interesting subjects for artists (well that’s not really new, how many painters witnessed the Passion of Christ?):  Dialogue from sampled words and phrases can be interesting out of context (exquisite corpse anyone, it’s a great Surrealist technique?).. it’s not at all bad but is it really ‘the most significant contemporary art produced in the UK’?

If the test of Art is that it touches us by revealing aspects of the Human Condition – my condition, your condition, then it was all Art; but it all rather felt as though the idea was an end in itself.

Making that idea, explicable and engaging was evidently all a bit crass. ‘Far better,’ I seemed to hear, ‘to work i in an self consciously aesthetic manner’, which proclaimed THIS IS ART and forget about all the inconvenience of making  it compelling.

The potential was there, so was the talent, but the passion was absent and so, dear reader, were the public.

The linger time (now there’s a phrase to conjure with) in the galleries was inversely proportional to the importance of the work, because most of these artists just couldn’t see the point of making their work accessible and engaging, so the public didn’t bother to really think about the great ideas on offer.

If the British Art show isn’t engaging the British people then on what measure is it ‘the most significant’.

I think we need a bit more, I really do.

Well there goes my Arts Council approval, critical acclaim and funding. I’ll console myself with this note which I received recently from a member of the ‘art interested’ general public, which I’ll quote in full

Hi Jim,

I spoke to you at The Painted Garden Exhibition in early August with my wife & a friend.  We were all greatly impressed.  You were kind enough to show us around & enthuse about Matin’s work.  At the time I had not the words to express myself properly, so I asked for your email address so that I could unburden myself in the written word.

Re: The Painted Garden Exhibition  an autobiography by  Martin Kinnear 

I found the experience profoundly moving and just wanted/needed to say something by way of feedback as a response.  Many others will speak more articulately than me & with greater knowledge, but not with greater feeling, admiration or gratitude.

The impact on entering the gallery is truly stunning.  To me this is the best contemporary art exhibition I have seen & my only yardstick for that definition is that it hits me so eloquently with its depth of beauty & with its exquisite language of colour.

There is a real sense that the Impressionist Masters have been superseded with the accumulation of every one of their lessons into a new exciting vision.

The information / explanation beside each painting adds depth & if placed together with the paintings as pages would make a worthy book.  Each painting too gives power to the whole & though they will soon be physically separated, they will always remain related & so reflect a power from the complete series.

Great to know that they will be reunited at the Sainsbury Centre at the UEA where the exhibition will reach a wider audience & surely bring national recognition to Martin.

All in all it rocks the heart and it moves the spirit to a higher realm of positivity.

If I speak with too much emotion, then I apologise, but that is not my fault but Martin’s & his journey & portrayal of emotional & visual experiences in a walled garden.

Thank you for this opportunity to email you. I have email copied your mother in by way of thanks to her & I hope you might pass on my comments to Martin himself.

I will pay a second visit shortly & may see you then.

All good wishes

Richard Hulett


I haven’t swallowed my own PR or fan mail, nor am I convinced that all Modern Art is bad, nor have I any agenda other than to create Art which informs and moves people.

None of the above makes me a ‘better artist’ than any of those in The British Art Show, but, judging by the public reaction to their ‘significant work’, nothing could induce me to set my mind to whatever set of loftily aesthetic criteria required of those wishing to become ‘significant’. I’ll stick with moving people to tears

I’m afraid that the gallery manager Jim, was a little over zealous in saying my work would be shown in a public gallery; it won’t of course because it engages and moves people, rather than seek to make me appear impossibly, aesthetically remote and well informed.

Rant over.

Should your interest in locks be inexplicably lacking or tangental, you can still visit my show until 4 September, whereupon it will be dispersed to collectors from the UK and beyond who were engaged and moved enough by it to part with their hard earned time and cash. Alternatively visit chub.co.uk , fire up your online diary, pour over your bucket list and get with the zeitgeist.



‘it hits me so eloquently with its depth of beauty & with its exquisite language of colour.’ That’s why I get out of bed and create Art, but I’m not holding my breath for critical approval:-)


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