I call it sciretance
Here’s an interesting work of art to mews upon. It’s a sculpture by the eminent French artist Jean Tinguely and he called it Meta-Matic. It must be a work of art because it’s going to be seen at Tate Liverpool in the autumn when the exhibition of the work of Tinguely and Michael Landy goes on show. He made it in the 1950s, and several more like it, and it was very popular among the ordinary public though not so much loved by art critics. The problem with it is, it’s also a piece of mechanics. What Meta-Matic does is to respond to the viewers by creating a piece of abstract art for them by drawing on the board. Tinguely was interested in what would happen in the post-industrial world.
Well, no. Thing is, he didn’t think of it, the sculptor did, and there’s the difference. Or, at the risk of asking myself too many questions I can’t answer, is it? When Banksy was invited to take over the municipal art gallery in his home city, Bristol, not a few of us expected the place to be filled with bits of old wall with stencilled humorous drawings on them, but not a bit of it. He elegantly peopled the ranging Victorian halls with vitrines full of what amounts to automota, or at least electrically driven moving figures. You may have wondered if Banksy’s graffiti is art, but no-one says the stuff he’s put into this art gallery isn’t.
So is it that it’s art if it makes you smile, science if it doesn’t? Or only legitimately comic art if it moves?
Can’t be that it’s only science if it’s useful – the Science Museum is full of fascinating useless stuff.
The truth is that mathematicians and scientists are as creative as painters and sculptors, and if you get it as they do what they can make out of a quadratic equation can be as aesthetically pleasing as the line of an Ingres nude.
What you need is imagination, whether you’re checking out the contents of a petri dish or hacking at a lump of marble, and if you can get so sparked by it that something happens that’s unique, you’ve done creativity. Da-dah! So that if someone, call him Arthur Ganson, say, or maybe Paul Spooner, makes some wheels, cogs and levers move together to make a thing pleasing enough to bring a lingering look and a smile, that has to be art. So, last question I can’t answer for now, why aren’t they in Tate Modern?
One museum’s poison…
The trouble often is that it’s the science museums that take the art of science too seriously. You all. Know the great Spooner’s work, which crosses the confines of craft into fine art and takes on a black comedy twist on the way. One such piece was of a cat happily lapping a bowl of milk, then keeling over. It was called Poisoned Milk, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry who were putting it on display didn’t like the title, thought it represented animal cruelty. They wanted it called Spoiled Milk, which rather misses the point – the very response of CMT, who wouldn’t agree to the renaming and it was taken out of the show. And don’t ask what happened to his Flogging a Dead Horse…
What is in a national art museum though – the National Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts, no less, aka the V&A – is an automaton made by CMT’s own Max Alexander along with artist Isabel Vince. It’s in the museum’s Village Fete summer offering, in its delightful quadrangle. Max, who seems to have a bit of thing about sheep but we’ll draw veil, has contributed a new amusement: you lie on a bed and try to throw hula-hoops over the giant mechanical moving sheep. I had a go but I kept falling asleep…