March 14–April 18, 2014
Listen to these audio excerpts from Hamilton’s exhibition as you read the following review.
Royal Winter Fair Cattle Auction, Toronto
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction, New York
In an article making the rounds online, Chuck Close is quoted saying that “for an artist to go to an art fair, it’s like taking a cow on a guided tour of a slaughterhouse.” That seem a bit extreme initially, but upon closer examination and consideration, it’s at best an understatement. This is akin to the same offence (perhaps) aroused by Anitra Hamilton’s audio installation Town and Country. Frankly, there must be an element of truth it’s so bothersome. Maybe the commodification of the avant garde we feared from Fredric Jameson’s late capitalist modernism (or is it late modernist capitalism? Does it matter?) is already well ensconced.
The space is sparse and dim. The gallery “cube” is broken up (physically)by some lonely speakers: cords and ephemera all cleanly pinned. Two on each side, lengthwise to the gallery: you can listen to the clashing / meshing audio in the middle zone, or favour one voice. To sample from the artist’s words: “Country features the sound recording of a “limousine cow auction” captured at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Town is an audio recording of a Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in New York city…”
‘Country’ is louder, more imposing, and seems to bleed into the more cultured, less (theoretically) market driven (or driven to market, for the cattle) aural sphere of Sotheby’s milieu in ‘Town’. There’s more of a metaphorical spatial fracture than a physical one.
There’s a term for both spaces: pedigree, or perhaps quality. Provenance in the art world shares very many attitudes with the detailed and meticulous tracking of our meat (remember Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease? It came to mind recently when I read of a proven fake by a “master” was to be destroyed…).
The aforementioned article also offers the heresay that the true “value” of art in the spaces of ‘Town’, like Sotheby’s, is manifest in whether it’s the only one available….like a very rare and tasty veal.
Maybe that crossed a line, but offense hints at a ring of truth. Never before has there been such a business around art, whether the markets Hamilton “quotes”, or the infrastructre of the schools and individuals (like, ahem, writers) whom hang upon the art world like parasites. Hamilton plays a bit of a final sarcastic game with us: the space is empty, no fetishized objet d’art to covet. The viewer must look elsewhere for that affirming self gratification.
Town and Country is like that time-honoured tradition of mockery, and illustrating that the emperor is wearing the same old clothes and trying to pull one over on us. And, far too often, the contemporary art world is more like the fawning courtier than the clear-eyed child of that story.
Bart Gazzola has published with Canadian Art, BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for three years), Magenta, PrairieSeen, Galleries West, FUSE, Hamilton Arts & Letters and was art critic at Planet S for over a decade. Also host & producer of The A Word, he currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, after nearly two decades on the Prairies.