Posts Tagged ‘Orpen’

Blackpaint 193

September 14, 2010

Jeremy Deller

Article on above’s new work  by Jonathan Jones in today’s Guardian.  It consists of the hulk of a private vehicle, blown up in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad in 2007.  Deller acquired it and it is now on display at the Imperial War Museum.  Jones approving article compares it favourably with Mark Wallinger’s display of Brian Haw’s anti-war stuff in the Tate Britain a while ago; Wallinger’s exhibit, says Jones, was home-grown, concerned with domestic attitudes to the Iraq war, civil liberties here – Deller’s work brings the war directly to us, it’s “not rhetoric, but reportage”, it’s up to the punter to interpret. 

There’s something unsaid here,  surely.  The sense in which Deller is being an artist here is the same sense in which he is a reporter; he chooses.  He could have chosen some other example of destruction, a damaged British or American armoured vehicle or articles of bloodied uniform or equipment (no doubt, there are practical reasons that might have prevented that, but I make the point for the sake of the argument); that would have sent a different message.  Reportage can sometimes do the job of rhetoric, but it claims to be The Truth. 

Jones is, clearly, perfectly aware of this and says, “Anyone is entitled to interpret what it means”;  he’s not primarily concerned with possibilities of bias, but with the nature of “war art” – its immediacy or otherwise. 

My main point is to question whether this is art.  I have no problem with the concept of ready -mades, but by displaying the vehicle in the Imperial War Museum, he gives it the status of a historical document, not a work of art (unless it was up in the gallery bit, with the Orpens and Nashes – but Jones says it’s in the main hall).   Down on the ground floor, with the Tiger tanks and T34’s and mini – subs, it’s another interesting historical document.  Indeed, that is how Jones describes it – “A historical document, dragged from hell..”.  You could argue it’s different,  because the rest of the stuff is in pristine condition, showing little or no sign of violence – it’s still documentary, though.

Take Fiona Banner’s warplanes in Tate Britain.  She has decorated them and chosen how to display them, but had she not, they would still be works of art, to be judged as such, by virtue of being displayed in an art gallery.  Context is everything.

Then again,  it can be given context, separated  from the “historical documents”, by a plaque with a title, “Baghdad, 5th March 2007” and Deller’s name, as artist.  That would make it a work of art, because it would tell the public that’s what it is, or what is intended.  I’m going up to the museum today, to see if that’s what’s been done.

I’ve visited the museum; the exhibit is right at the front of the hall.  There is a folder of photographs from Baghdad, centreing on the bombing that smashed the car, but with no pictures of bodies, blood or body parts, or injured people in distress.  There is some background history to the Iraq war and of the booksellers’ district where the bombing happened. It’s described as a display, I think, although that might refer to a number of videos under Deller’s name, relating to the war, which I didn’t see.  The exhibit is at no time referred to as art.  It’s clearly NOT art: it’s reportage, as Jones says, with some interesting contextual background.  There IS an interesting contrast with the brightly painted and polished guns and tanks around it.

I referred to the car as being “smashed”; actually, it is more crushed as in a compacter – except that it is a uniform rusty orange/brown and looks as if it may crumble to the touch, like a brick of burnt paper.  I didn’t experience the visceral, horrified reaction that  Jones describes – I think photographs might have done more to convey the horror.


14th September 2010