Friday, 25 February 2011

St Ives in Winter

Most years I make a visit to the Hepworth gallery in St Ives. In February, this is not a typical seaside visit, though some of our summer holidays have had just as much rain.
I'm writing this sitting in a cafe looking out over St Ives harbour with the low winter sun shining across the water. Even in this gentle light, the sea still has that amazing turquoise clarity.
There is some magic that draws me to the Hepworth Gallery, whether it is the huge pieces in the garden or the poetic wooden works in the room at the top of the stairs, somehow I get my breath back and get the world in proportion. 
This is in contrast to the main Tate St Ives gallery, where I almost always end up admiring the building and the bay, and scoffing at the art.
In a way, one has to admire the skill of those who select the works for display. Or maybe marvel at their gullibility. How come they are taken in by artists who so clearly have more chutzpah than art?
I think it goes deeper; I suspect the Tate is part of an economic regeneration scheme whose sole purpose is to put on rubbish, so that the art on display at all the little galleries and shops in St Ives looks good. Rubbish is probably the wrong word, and demonstrates my ignorance and prejudice; what they display is often simply beyond comprehension, and therefore cannot be proved to be rubbish, but it has the same effect. To the uninitiated, non-connoisseur, the rest of St Ives looks like art.
In some ways it makes more sense to regard the Tate St Ives as part of a massive confidence trick, designed to encourage you to part with your hard earned cash.
Obviously, such a scheme would have to be kept very secret, so all the local galleries are in on the con and do their best, whenever they can, to be rude about the Tate and complain of their arrogance.
The Tate itself has developed the con with astonishing skill. One would expect, given the artistic reputation of St Ives, that there would be a permanent exhibition of the artists who made St Ives famous. Not on your life. That would be too simple. The ploy is to make you think of that, and then treat you to the fringes of modern art. That has the effect of giving you a good laugh, and thus getting you into a cheery mood and further enhancing your critical faculties, so that now you are convinced that you are a great art critic, if only the right outlet would come along.
Thus fired up, you are ready to delve into every little gallery that you can find in the hope of tracking down a piece of real St Ives art to put on your wall back home to show off to your friends and relatives. You have to admit, this must be one of the most subtle economic regeneration schemes to come out of an old gasworks.
How come, I hear you say, that these same people who commission ‘rubbish’ in the Tate manage also to look after the Hepworth, that is so obviously a national treasure. Surely, this means that they really do know great art when they see it.
Could it be possible that I am wrong, and that the stuff I see at the Tate St Ives, year after year, is in fact great art? I don't think so. I think the Hepworth just proves that the whole Tate con is deliberate. Only people with superb taste and understanding would be able to reliably commission work that made the rest of St Ives look good, and do it year after year. 
Let me make clear at this point that I have been a member of the Tate for many years; I have even driven all the way to St Ives for private views. Lois once exhibited an embroidery piece based on one of those private views. I mention this just to demonstrate that I am not biased against the Tate, I am actually paying good money to be served up this overblown self-indulgent claptrap.
I will admit that it does cross my mind that the real skill is the ambition and self-confidence of the artists who manage to sell this stuff to the Tate. I once heard Howard Hodgkin say in a TV interview, “of course, ambition is so much more important than talent.” A remark I regard as so deep that I am forever trying to work it into pieces like this. I suspect that the commissioners at the Tate already understand the importance of ambition, and what better way to provide encouragement, than to hang rubbish year after year and tell the artist how good they are. It's all part of economic regeneration.

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In the unlikely event that anyone was wondering why my posting has become almost non existent; back in December, my mum was knocked down by a car, broke several bones and ended up in hospital for almost 8 weeks. Visiting hospitals and trying to do some modifications at her home to prepare for her rehab turned out to be time consuming. To get our energy back immediately prior to mum coming home we took a three day break in St Ives.
We had a restful break and enjoyed seeing the roads dug up and the shops being refurbished ready for the summer influx. In between the rain and the closed cafes, we did manage one really good meal and bought some pottery. I wrote the above on my iPad, sitting in a cafe by the harbour.