WINNER OF ART & CULTURE ART CRITICISM PRIZE VOLUME IX ANNOUNCED:
We are pleased to congratulate Daniel Udy as the winner of Volume IX of the Art & Culture Art Criticism Prize, with his review of Keep Your Timber Limber at the ICA.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank new and existing writers for submitting to the prize, and our first panel of three judges; Brian Dillon, Editor of Cabinet, Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain, and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, President AICA UK (International Association of Art Critics).
Brian Dillon, Editor of Cabinet commented:
The review of Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) seems to me the most clearly and energetically written, and has a strong critical perspective on both the works in question and the curatorial ambitions of the show. It's important I think that such a piece doesn't feel as though it's written from and addressing only an "insider" position; this reviewer was unafraid to address the perceived failings of the exhibition, but he or she also acknowledges a wider context for such imagery. The final sentence is a nicely tart summation of a pointed but fair argument.
Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, President AICA UK (International Association of Art Critics) commented:
The review of the ICA exhibition Keep Your Timber Limber fulfils the prize criteria on every count. The writing is lucid and has verve and pace . In the first paragraph the writer sets out a clear critical stall and is unafraid to pass judgment on curatorial coherence, or lack of it and on artistic exhaustion. The text vividly describes the visual phallic power of individual works while subverting their imagery with the writer’s own, conjured through well chosen and simple words. The writer is clearly at home with the field and expresses frustration at the curatorial tendency to over determine artistic intention, to load artists’ work with socio political content which the work itself may not hold. There is also exasperation at the failure of group shows to represent the artist well and a call for the rigour and focus of the solo show.
I regret I missed seeing this exhibition, but having read the review, I now feel I did and I hugely enjoyed the surrogate experience . All that can be asked of a short review.
Winner: Review by Daniel Udy
Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper), ICA, London
19 June - 8 September 2013
Click HERE for more information about the exhibition.
Behind a warning of 'challenging' content, a gargantuan phallus is scrawled on paper spreading over two walls. Judith Bernstein's Fucked By Number revisits a work from 1967, substituting the Vietnam war for Iraq and Afghanistan. An American flag hangs from its urethra; crude chalk pubic hairs sprout from giant testicles; military suicide and PTSD statistics dance around the oversized sheets. Curator Sarah McCrory's brash opening encapsulates both the single thread of continuity and bewildering divergence of Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper). Throughout the works on show, genitalia abound. Engorged, throbbing and mid-ejaculation, penises burst forth from every wall in the ICA. Beyond this, the exhibition is unsure of where to place its focus. The eight artists are said to explore issues 'ranging from the politics of gender and sexuality to feminist issues, war, censorship and race'. Attempts to refine such an expansive field are only half-heartedly applied; for a show which holds such explosive potential, the approach to its central tenet – political transgression through works on paper – is confused at best.
McCrory's text explains that technical skill and commercial context are used to legitimise subversive content. But where then do the scribbles and smudges of Bernstein's expressionist drawings sit? She is the first to fall victim to a curatorial narrative that is over-prescriptive and simultaneously vague. Margaret Harrison's nearby watercolours tackle comic book superheroes with a gender-bending brush; Captain America is given pneumatic breasts and stiletto heels, his genitals adorned with the blue and white stars of the spangled banner. Not much has changed though from earlier paintings of pin-up girls and foodstuffs, and the same can be said for Bernstein – practices stagnate, motifs are re-used and the original gestures lose their bite.
Moments of brilliance glimmer throughout subsequent rooms, sadly blighted by collective incoherence. Works by Tom of Finland, Mike Kuchar and Cary Kwok cry out for an exhibition of their own, with only the subtlest of nods towards an obvious trajectory that runs through the three. Finland's rippling muscle men form a collection of leather-clad clichés, but the tired stereotypes of hyper-masculinity are a testament to his influence; his alternative to the post-war figure of the homosexual (passive, effeminate) began as a private exercise yet quickly gained a cult following in homophile magazines. Mike Kuchar similarly uses drawing to carve out personal fantasies for public consumption, the oversized genitals of his cavemen and gladiators swinging like tumescent pendulums as they fuck and fight across the pages of underground gay comics. Cary Kwok is Finland and Kuchar's heir apparent, adopting the tropes of hardcore porn in painstakingly rendered biro drawings. The split-second apex of pornographic film, the cumshot, is meticulously translated onto paper; ribbons of ejaculate fly through the air as a hasidic jew, vicar and buddhist monk reach the point of orgasm. Adjacent to this an orgy unfolds, as a mass of different-sized figures cum, caress and embrace. The personal erotic investment required of all three artists is palpable – Finland famously remarked that 'If I've not got an erection while I'm drawing, I know it's no good' – yet these tensions between public and private are left largely unaddressed.
Antonio Lopez's death from AIDS highlights the most pronounced intersection between politics, sexuality and art in recent history, but his fashion illustrations are superfluous. The illness' devastating toll is manifest in the drawings of many brilliant artists (Keith Haring immediately springs to mind), but the spectre of AIDS feels like an insignificant addendum here. Directly opposite, Marlene McCarty's large-scale drawing depicts a female primatologist, repeated twice, engaged in an amorous three-way with a gorilla. Limbs sprout forth in a polymorphous mass, but the relevance to other pieces on show stops at her meticulous detail. Once a member of AIDS activist collective Gran Fury, it's a pity that McCrory misses an opportunity to examine this facet of her practice and inject a female voice into a predominantly male discourse. What political transgression is McCarty trying to achieve is instead unclear, and her depiction of zoophilia falls out of kilter with surrounding works of gay erotica. A single, unnecessary painting from George Grosz epitomizes the confusion of Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper); signs point to narratives that lead in a multitude of directions, and attempting to take it in feels like standing at a crossroads. The power of individual pieces saves the exhibition from being a complete disaster, but it seems the ICA realised the scale of their task a moment too late.