Lying somewhere near the graveyard of art criticism is Madder Lake (ahem) Editions, where twisted tales from the artworld are told. This week JAMES MERRIGAN takes the plunge into the murky depths kissed red-red at the shore with his 'YOU' review of an exhibition that doesn't work 💀
YOU wonder what the online world would look like if you hooked it up to a polygraph. You imagine it would register as flatline most of the time, because the event that caused the hyper-enthusiasm or hyper-emotion in you in the first place is in the past, and all you are doing now is essentially documenting the event with pictures and text. You are not really 'overwhelmed' because if you were you would not be able to document it with such sobriety. That's obvious though you admit to yourself.
YOU think that the flatline might get a little jittery when you haven't time to gather yourself; like when you get into a verbal argy bargy in the comment box below a Twitter or Facebook post about Trump or art criticism. But that's Twitter and Facebook. You believe Instagram is something better, something more conducive to your imaging of your identity and process inside and outside your studio. It's personal. You notice the artworld has coveted Instagram as its online neighbourhood – even Cindy Sherman has moved in next door.
YOU think you may be a depressive, but you say to yourself that most of the time you are flatline around art. For you it's never 'amazing' or 'exciting' or 'deadly', or for that matter, 'entertaining'; it's more difficult than all that relative stuff, like skipping with a lead rope. You think you are being cynical for thinking and feeling this way, that you are different, that Instagram will not validate, will not compute. You keep to yourself the thought that it seems, on the surface of your phone screen anyway, that the artworld is a Himalayan line graph with no plateaus, as if everyone is climbing or falling at the same time, never resting. Maybe you wake up every day on the wrong side of the bed but, even so, everything seems flat to you, a horizon, a pancake – so flat that even when you propel yourself to stand on your hands the horizon just cartwheels with you, or when you flip a pancake you are met by the same golden brown desert waiting for the sugar rush.
YOU finally arrive in the art gallery, and the exhibition that has all your LOVE in Likes on Instagram doesn't do it for you in the flesh. You whisper: 'This exhibition doesn't work!' between an agreeable friend and the defenceless art objects – between a marshmallow and a soft place.
YOUR friend asks you, "Are group exhibitions meant to work, does that really matter?"
YOU say, "Well yes. Because some art objects survive group exhibitions and some don't... can't, because they're either too vulnerable or aggressive or whatever within the display, the architecture, the design. And it is the responsibility of the artist, curator, or whoever makes the selection, makes the edits, makes the choices, to make sure everyone is part of a bigger picture. If not, group exhibitions are nothing more than Argos catalogues. So it matters."
YOU qualify later after taking the mountainous scenic route on Instagram that whispering 'This exhibition works!' or 'This exhibition doesn't work!' is not really a criticism; it's worse, it's a dismissal. And it implies, claims even that other art exhibitions 'have worked' for you in the past, but this one, right here, right now, just doesn't work for you for no reason or just too many reasons to mention. Maybe, you venture, Instagram is to blame.
Brave now, YOU take another step, admitting to yourself that the current group exhibition at the Kerlin Gallery Dublin just doesn't work for you in the flesh, on the whole — THERE, YOU SAID IT! But it works on Instagram! That's why you are here. Everyone else exclaims it works on Instagram too. Or did they? Back up! (back to YOU!). Were you lying through your ## or did it just make for a nice image? Did it just work on your phone?
YOU uncrumple your face to reveal a mask that hides nothing: all the images you took of this exhibition on Instagram is just a case of you picking your favourites, isolating them and cropping them and filtering them so, they represent you, us, not it; your Christmas tree among trees. You agree with yourself that you don't really look at the big picture anymore because the big picture doesn't fit on your phone; that you do a lot of picking and choosing and isolating and 'why didn't you pick me?': there's a lot of YOU going around these days.
YOU conclude that this group exhibition is not really about 'working' anyway and that that's obvious. It's a 'pick me' exercise you think to yourself with no cynicism or irony or sarcasm or anything insincere you – YOU! – might think is behind that thought, that sentiment, that fact. The fact is (between you and YOU) currently at the Kerlin there is a group of young, emerging artists who have been put together in a commercial gallery space *PoP* (price tags from €800 – €8000 excluding 11.5% tax) with a potential solo show or gallery representation dangling just in reach, for one [*PoP*] (YOU speculated Hannah Fitz (if anyone) on Instagram before you saw the show in the flesh but, now..?)
YOU realise too that there's not so many installation shots of this exhibition on Instagram, and the ones that exist don't work, just like the exhibition in the flesh. Everything is up in your face, theorising in its limited and limiting territory. It's a perfect Instagram exhibition. Too much, too little, to you this exhibition is an exemplar of how all exhibitions have the potential to work on Instagram as a carefully conceived, cropped image, separated and selected and individual: YOU.
YOU find, however, that amidst this catalogue arbitraire you have no choice but to draw closer and frame the more enticing objects on your phone. And when you do you realise that a lot of the stuff here works. Isolated, some artworks breathe in their immediate oxygen, and you gasp a breath of ennui toe-to toe with Fitz's derailed circuit of cigarette smoke before drawing in, drawing back, raising your phone and taking another image that tricks you and me and them into believing that the wood is free from the trees; but in truth, it's not, not nearly.
YOU then notice beyond the wood and trees Daniel Rios Rodriguez's paintings and everything else recedes like a film set, a flat image, Instagram. You find yourself getting up close with this flesh and blood painter's character and desire sublimated in paint and pins and rope and more. You speculate and believe and hope that these paintings don't work well on Instagram; they must come across as dried out pancakes. In the flesh, however, they are the plateaus you have been searching for all along. Hung low, you see all the paint-mess from above, in relief. Copper pins push through aureoles of Madder-mixed-white. Ever so precisely and delicately some messy panels are paint-pleated at their zig-zag edges, making these works worlds within worlds. Like Picasso who lassoed a painting in 1912, you realise Rios does the same here but adds a bow so you leap frog to Jean-Michel Basquiat's exposed teepee corners. You concede texture and surface, like Norbert Schwontkowski's paintings, makes for good paintings; image is secondary. YOU go AWOL. You imagine lying on the surface of one of Rios' paintings, crusty and squidgy and sharp. A pin impales your heart and the polygraph peaks, and then, you get up and move on, flatline.
YOU come to terms with the fact that some art belies the photograph and some art defies the photograph. Take your pick.
Through 26 August.
 Artist and former art critic William Powhida and art critic and former artist Jerry Saltz had a recent Twitter argument that broke the flatline when they disagreed over what passed for 'young artist' in the artworld. Jerry wrote in a review that 40+ was young while Powhida vehemently disagreed. They publicly don't like each other anymore; privately, they probably never did.