Sunday, March 23, 2008
Outside the Peter Doig exhibition at Tate Britain, a video shows the artist talking about the show. People crowd round the screen, but some of the words are difficult to hear because of a booming sound coming from a nearby darkened room. I go into the dark room to discover it's a video installation. One of the grumpy old ladies who was plainly having trouble hearing Doig buttonholes an attendant - 'What is this?' 'It's a work of art.' 'But we can't hear anything.' I suspect a lot of people are like that lady, they like Doig but they don't like contemporary art. On the other hand, he is also embraced by the mandarins of the art world. His White Canoe sold for $10 million and the critics I have read have been, at worst, indulgent, at best ecstatic. His paintings are, unquestionably lovely things. You see them, you like them. The next moment, you'll be picking up the references - the religious iconography, Picasso, van Gogh, any number of impressionists and, perhaps pre-eminently, Gaugin. There's also various movies including Blade Runner, this being one that nobody else seems to have noticed. In short, the moment you walk into the show, you are seduced by the paintings. I was particularly taken with some paintings of a Le Corbusier building seen through trees. But then, I realised, these would have worked better as photographs. This led to the further realisation that I was completely unengaged by any the paintings, that it was all just being laid out in front of me, the elements of a certain kind of art but not art. Is, I began to wonder, Doig - instantly accessible and artistically aware - just the painter we need to reassure us that painting is not dead? Or perhaps I was just in a bad mood.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:25 am