Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Canvas Prints are the Epitome in Bad Taste

I’ve loathed canvas prints for a long, long time, and for someone who is so openly opinionated on anything from politics to standard roses, it seems strange even to me that I’ve kept this loathing a secret for so long.


I think I was secretly afraid that it was some kind of art snob bias; however, I now realise that that’s more to do with my living too long in Australia, where any mention of arts funding results in the standard letters to the newspapers, accusing the government of catering to ‘latte-sipping, opera-watching elitists.’ Oh, if only they knew what us ‘elitists’ got up to in the local Artist Run Initiative…

Anyway, back to canvas prints. So why are they so offensive?

  1. The most obvious first reason is that they are spruiked in home improvement magazines as a quick and ‘tasteful’ wall accessory that will complement any house colour scheme of your choice. Examples printed on their glossy pages often include the ubiquitous oversized sunflower or frangipani image (sometimes with a suicidal looking dew drop on a petal’s edge), shells on the beach, or a desert landscape. It’s one thing that these magazines call them ‘tasteful’, but they also frequently call these ‘free computer desktop’-like images ‘art’.
  2. An oversized flower is one thing, but in practice, many ‘homemakers’ end up getting an oversized portrait of their kids printed on these canvases. Oh, but wait there’s more…. not before converting the digi file into an ‘arty’ black and white. What is wrong with regular photographic paper? Yes, I know that the neighbour has photographs of his kids printed on photographic paper, but hey, his is printed in gloss, you could always try matt… or a better frame…?
  3. Shops selling these canvas prints market them as ‘instant art’, and eBay is littered with canvas prints of giraffes and inoffensive ‘abstracts’. Art is rarely ‘instant’, and while I’m not necessarily equating time or labour with good art, it is offensive to artists everywhere that these banal objects are being bought and sold under the banner of ‘art’.
  4. Canvases are not an ideal printing material for photographic images. The only reason why canvas is being used is because of the material’s connotations with the fine arts. Yet, taking a photo of your small child with a bucket and spade in its hand and slapping it on a canvas will never turn a family happy snap into a work of fine art, no matter how many pixels your new digital SLR, with optimum zoom and five different coloured flashing LEDs, has. If you want art on your wall, employ an artist. Hell, there are heaps of artists out there that would love to earn a bit of money doing what they love and are good at, rather than stocking shelves of the local Kmart with the latest canvas prints from China. If you ask them nicely enough and promise not to tell anyone, they might even be able to use colours that fit in with your interior design. Yes, it will cost more money than a canvas print, but at least you won’t have something on the wall that is akin in taste to serving cocktail frankfurts at a wedding.

That’s my rant. I probably could come up with many more reasons than the four listed above for why canvas prints are the spawn of the devil, but I’d like to hear other people’s opinions too. Please leave your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Venice Biennale: Day 2, Pavilions in San Marco

I’m in Venice for the Arts in Society Conference, which means that day two of my Venice Biennale encounter is fairly limited in terms of the amount of art I can experience (I’m not sure that the word ‘view’ is adequate for a large percentage of the artworks at the Biennale). I manage to sneak away from the conference to see a couple of nearby pavilions scattered around the western San Marco area: the Republic of Cyprus, Estonia, the Republic of Gambon, Luxembourg, Iran and the Republic of Slovenia. Of these pavilions, I’m most taken with Rumours by Socratis Socratous from Cyprus (and no it’s not just because of his name), and the Slovenian Miha Strukelj’s Interference in Process.
Stickers for the various national pavilions in San Marco, assisting victims of Venice's maze-like streets.
Socratous’ installed work is based upon a recent event in Cyprus where a number of palm trees were imported into the country to create an ‘exotic, eastern feeling to the local environment’ (artist statement). Rumours started to spread that Cobra eggs were hidden amongst the roots of these trees and that they had started to hatch. The resulting exhibition includes a large palm tree lying horizontally across the floor, videoed interviews, photographs, a collage of text, and most intriguingly, a room that is shut off from public entry by a clear acrylic barrier. The space is set up to look like a one-room home, filled with a messy combination of bed, carpets, clothes and most worryingly, an empty glass snake enclosure. At the entrance to the room, leaning up against the barrier, is equipment familiar to me as those used for snake handling. I stand at the barrier for a long time, looking for a sleek shiny body. I’m tempted to tap the glass, but after reading Harry Potter I feel guilty about disturbing the potential snake (ridiculous, I know). Then I do something that I still regret – I ask the bored looking attendant (the Cyprus pavilion is hard to find, so I’m guessing the flow of visitors may be a little slow) whether there’s actually a snake in the room. On reflection, I would have preferred not knowing.
Miha Strukelj’s work in the Slovenian pavilion is described in the Art World guide to Venice as examining “the issue of perception in five equal segments via painting and drawing.” Now, I don’t know if he changed his mind sometime between the press release and the work but the exhibition and the above description don’t seem to match up. In fact, the exhibition as a whole doesn’t seem very well resolved, but I’m taken by his drawings, which are directly applied to the walls of at least half of the difficultly shaped bottom floor. Looking at times like a road map, or if you squint your eyes you can alternatively see the outlines of buildings, the drawings lapse in and out of these line drawings and what appears to be planning grids and even scribbled mathematical equations. The wall drawing works well with the odd space, the staircase, and the hall that leads to nowhere. Unfortunately, the freestanding painted canvases and drawings that make up the rest of the exhibition are comparatively underwhelming.
Next up: Day 3 of the Venice Biennale - the Arsenale