Freitag, 18. Juni 2010

Art + Argument at the Swiss Art Awards

On 16th June, JJ Charlesworth and Rebecca Geldard led the defence of the motion 'Art is not a leisure activity', while Burkhard Meltzer and Quinn Latimer countered their arguments.

“To drop art” opened Rebecca Geldard decisively “within the bargain bin of leisure, is to suggest that there is a shared economy of ideas between the two and that art production is reliant on the world of entertainment - that it’s simply another lifestyle strand, like well-being or the organic revolution, of a larger brand culture built with short-term amusement in mind”.

Burkhard Meltzer countered with a mis-en-scene of the contemporary art environment where artists: “are interested in creating the atmosphere of the theme park, a leisure mood”. Though the activity of producing art is certainly not leisure, the debate’s setting suggested its consumption is; “art as an experience I am invited to takes part in, is a leisure activity, proved by our sitting here in a trailer park!”

JJ Charlesworth set up his argument by quoting Matisse – who dreamt of art being effortless, though it was not. The effort of production not being in doubt, JJ’s question related to the effort required to fully appreciate art. “There are people, ordinary people, you and me, who consume and enjoy cultural forms… without any interest in whether it is important – just what I like, what I desire – but the question becomes whether art is something more than that, and whether it requires some kind of effort or some kind of ambition or desire for something more difficult than merely pleasure, than merely indulgence or seduction.”

Quinn Latimer cited the vague approach artists use in order to side-step formalist critique. This leads to installations that are akin to collectors’ homes, best described in Elmgreen and Dragset’s bachelor pad at the Venice Biennale of 2009. Whether arch or straightforward, “today so much art is sublimated into interior design, pressing this idea forward that art is leisure, that you can’t read too much into objects, they don’t mean that much.”

These opening statements set the scene for a lively debate that ranged from art as lifestyle (Marfa as inspiration for interior design), as art in the experience economy (the equivalent of a mini-break), to what is at stake when art is thus reduced and the edifying role of dealers. A rewarding line of enquiry was the fuzzy experience of art that plays with familiar leisure environments, and whether this familiarity is useful or sedating. Is the realm of leisure indeed an escape route for artists who do not want their work to be taken hostage by identity politics?

Though concord largely reigned between the teams as the debate came to a close, in the final vote JJ and Rebecca were decided the more convincing.

The Collectors, Elmgreen & Dragset at the Danish and the Nordic Pavilions, Venice, 2009

Many thanks to all the participants, to Clare Goodwin and the Cahiers d'Artistes camp for hosting us, to Jen Thatcher for some of the event images, and to the audience.

For more information about Art + Argument, contact AoifeRosenmeyer (at)

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