It’s hard to describe the disillusionment we felt upon reading the latest issue of State of The Arts. The magazine has been undergoing a bit of a redesign and editorial rejig over the last few issues and seems to be heading into more promising territory for the visual arts. Unfortunately the new cover story which features UK art critic Matthew Collings is a major disappointment and it’s not just because the choice of interviewer was Peter Hill. We’re starting to think either we totally misunderstood where Collings was coming from or he’s radically changed his tune since This Is Modern Art.
For us, the book, and then the TV series of This Is Modern Art screened on the ABC, was one of the most exciting visual arts publishing/broadcast events of the last decade. We know we are prone to over exaggeration but with the exception of Art:21 and Robert Hughes’s American Visions, there had been sod all decent imported art television.
In Collings we found a like-minded lover of contemporary art who had a wry, sometimes sarcastic but always enthusiastic, positive, point of view. The way the TV show had been made was outstanding and televisual moments such as a Glitter Band track (Rock & Roll Part One) laid over shots of a boot sculpture by Martin Kippenberger was the perfect distillation of what was possible with sound and image on TV arts shows. That Collings also understood and celebrated Salvador Dali in just the right way turned us into fans. We read This Is Modern Art, Blimey, It Hurts! and as many of his monthly diary entries in Modern Painters that we could get our hands on.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that we would eventually become disappointed with Collings and although we thought that his last book Matt’s Old Masters was only intermittently interesting, we held out hope that he would rally again and throw off the gathering clouds of late middle aged ennui he seems to be suffering under. (Just in case he wouldn’t we are now turning our school-girlish obsessions towards Dave Hickeyknowing he won’t disappoint us as so many have before. We have his picture taped to our bedroom walls and we write of him regularly in our clasp diaries.)
Anyway, we’re not sure what State of The Arts was hoping for by asking Hill to interview his former boss (as Hill had once written for Artscribe when Collings was the editor), but he certainly lived down to our expectations with questions like these:
“Peter Hill: Our connection goes back to Artscribe [magazine]. I think at one point I worked under five different editors at Artscribe, from James Faure Walker through to yourself and Stuart Morgan, further on to Michael Archer. What I would like to raise is London and the art scene in the 1980s and the 1990s. You did a fantastic thing with Artscribe, getting it into colour, getting it global and international and getting people like Jutta Koether, Diederich Diederichson and Jerome Sans — a really great global list of people — coming in to write for it. Then we get to the “90s and everything seems to be centered around London. I’m just wondering how you felt about that split between the ’80s land the very much Saatchi-backed early 1990s…”
This is the first question in the interview. We had to rouse ourselves to slog on through the rest of the interview where Hill basically set up moments where Collings could rail against contemporary art and rhapsodise about his new found love of old masters.
“PH: Reading Modern Painters you seem to be mostly travelling between London and New York and back again [these days]; do you still have a fondness for what’s happening in Europe?
MC: If anything, when I go abroad I go to old museums: when I am in New York I spend time at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] and hardly ever go to the contemporary art galleries. I don’t not go at all [but] when I do, my eyes are rather glazed with boredom and I don’t find anything of much interest there. I no longer really think about problems of internationalism – which are the hot bits on the map and which are the cooler bits.”
The most depressing moment came where Hill and Collings melded minds to damn video art, an area of contemporary art that Hill has demonstrated he knows precisely nothing about.
PH: Where would you say video as a medium fits in now? Do you see that almost having exhausted itself?
MC: Totally a complete waste of time. I don’t think you should even bother with it. I think you shouldn’t bother with photos or video. If you do want to bother with it, that’s fine but it’s of no interest to me.
PH: In Melbourne they have opened this centre for the moving image [Australian Centre for the Moving Image], which they’ve spent millions on …
MC: Yes I know. That’s a waste of time. Waste of money, waste of time. Get rid of it.
PH: Exactly. I wonder what is going to be in there in five years time from now,
MC: The same sort of idiotic videos that are in there now. I think a lot of videos are good but video as a medium is now an academy, and artists, anyone creative, have got to resist academism. It’s right for there to be academic scholars but one doesn’t really want to see academic art, there’s not really any point to that. The whole point of art is for it to have some life to it, some freshness. It’s not possible for video art to have that now.”
What a depressing state of affairs between the pages of State of The Arts. We know that Collings is an ironist and there’s probably a huge grain of salt to be taken with those statements, but c’mon guys, do you really want to elevate Hill and Collings to a cover story? It’s all fine and good that these two grumpy old men don’t much care for new fangled video and there’s even a certain set of people out there who still question the legitimacy of photography, but if nothing else, such a tired position is anything but provocative. It’s boring and sad.
Collings previous position as a positivist is long gone and in its place is the default position of old fogeys the world over – distrust the new, claim that there’s an “academy” (or conspiracy) at work, damn everything. If we ever start going on about how bad video art is, or start lionising Lucian Freud, just put a pillow over our collective faces.