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Whose Failure?

This afternoon, we took Magnus to see Claudette Johnson’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, which I count as one of their hits and have blogged about before. We also had time to pop into the Ashmolean and spotted an exhibition of work by A R Penck, which I hadn’t noticed before. I’m less convinced about that one – but is it a failure of the artist, the curation or my aesthetic sensitivity?

I found the paintings crude in both subject matter and mark making. The key motif is a stick man with what might coyly be described as indications of his third leg. Even in the more abstract pieces, I didn’t see much I’d give further consideration to if I’d produced it myself. There are a couple of examples on Google’s ‘cultural institute’ page for the artist and you can zoom into the details to examine the marks reasonably well for the digital medium. I can see he is exploring symbolism but, given the primitive nature of the application, I’m not drawn into wanting to find out more.

Maybe I’m missing something in finding nothing impressive about the artist but a third option struck me between “I’m blind” and “he was rubbish”. Could it be that the selection of pieces on display fails to represent a fair picture of his output or provide a way in through examples of more approachable work or of how he might have influenced other artists?

I’m not sure but, unlike the Johnson exhibition, I probably won’t go out of my way to return to this small display in the Ashmolean’s basement.

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