“Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus.”
People often ask what makes something art, don't they? And there's your answer.
It was brought home to me in two starkly contrasting ways over these past few days. Secondly because one of my visits during my Paris weekend was to the Monumenta exhibition at the Grand Palais: Personnes by France's greatest living artist, Christian Boltanski.
I'd remembered reading reviews a month or so ago, so I had a visual recognition of what this installation was about. But nothing more. So the sheer scale of this work came as something of a shock. But the biggest shock was the soundtrack, which turned this vast building (and we're talking about the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern multiplied several times) into the most claustrophobic space imaginable. That's very difficult to describe in words (well, for me at least), so if you've got the time do listen to Adrian Searle's audio review. It will give you some sense of what being inside that space feels like. And here are some more pictures:
But what does it mean? Well, for me it was a comment upon the holocaust, and of man's inhumanity to man. Your interpretation (should you go, or if you've been), may be different. Adrian Searle, for instance, says that it's reflecting upon the fact that no one ever reaches heaven. But I don't think the precise interpretation is that relevant: what's important is that you allow yourself to be moved. Admittedly that's pretty hard to avoid.
There's a connection, though, between this and a private view that I attended on Friday evening. And the connection is...
Because I'm involved in a project called the shape of things, and Friday saw the opening of an exhibition featuring the work of Rosa Nguyen and Alinah Azadeh at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. I'll tell you more about that, and about Rosa and Alinah, another time. But there are direct parallels to be drawn between the work of Botanski and Alinah, both in their subject matter, the conceptual approach to expressing that subject through artistic endeavour, and the materials used in creating their separate installations. The root of Alinah's piece lies in the Asian tsunami of 2004 in which her mother died - and the works on display (The Gifts 1-99 and The Gifts) arise from Alinah's quest to give expression to her grief: you can read a pretty good review from the Bristol Evening News. Now listen again to Adrian Searle's audio review and you will hear him describe how visitors to Monumenta move around the space as though they were looking for lost relatives in the aftermath of the tsunami.
Yet you'll probably come away from Botanski's work feeling in some way dispirited, whilst Alinah's will uplift you - there's no doubt about that, as you can see from Gift No. 159 (Lili's Camera):
If you can get to either exhibition, or both, then do. Monumenta is on until 21 February at the Grand Palais, Paris, and you can catch both Alinah Azadeh and Rosa Nguyen at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery until 18 April (and if you went to the recent Banksy exhibition, then you'll know where that is).
Go along and let yourself be moved.