Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Robert Dingle - Unfinished Symphony

Unfinished Symphony…
The Fine Art Society
10th Oct – 10th Nov 2007
Curated by Toby Clarke
Written by Robert Dingle

Is it ever possible to declare an artwork finished? In the physical sense this may be easier to assert than in the metaphysical. If the work continuously produces new meanings and associations in different contexts over time, can it ever be said that the work of the work draws a totality?

Unfinished Symphony takes its name from a composition written by Schubert and the title gives a reasonable indication into the premise of the exhibition. Held at the Fine Art Society, off New Bond street, the exhibition includes seven contemporary artists each contributing models, plans, drawings, marquette’s, recordings and fragments.

The exhibition is composed within a single room in the basement of the building. A large sculptural fragment by Conrad Shawcross, Proposal for the superphysical, 2007, £16.000, dominates the floor space. Around the periphery hang copious drawings, proposals and photographs by Jake & Dinos Chapman, Keith Coventry, Tony Heywood, Gavin Turk, Oliver Marsden and Keith Tyson.

Tony Heywood’s 3…2…1, 2007, £36.999 Inc vat, quivers and shakes intermittently awaiting a certified time when the model will explode and destroy itself, revealing a new sculpture inside. The marquette was initially designed as a model for a life size 50s tower block although here it is presented as the work.

What does this exhibition tells us about the nature of contemporary art practice? This trope of artistic practice comes as nothing new. Last years Velázquez exhibition at the National Gallery featured several pictures that the painter had not completed. Concurrently the Da Vinci exhibition held at the V&A saw a great deal of attention directed towards his preparatory sketches.

There is a historical precedent set within the arts for incomplete or fragmentary work. In some cases these works are regarded as complete in their own terms and their incompleteness draws little away from the enjoyment of the viewer. Schubert’s unfinished symphony written in 1822 is one of the most notable examples of this. Intending to produce a traditional four-movement symphony (following the discovery of two movements found in the archive of the orchestra Schubert had sent them to) Schubert’s two movement composition remains one of his most cherished and highly acclaimed works.

If only the same could be said for the work in this exhibition. On paper the show seems promising. In practice the exhibition is regrettably dissatisfying. The exhibition displays relatively insignificant work (in terms of what these artists are capable of producing) and markets itself off the back of recognized and reputable artists. For example, the singular A2 drawing by Jake & Dinos Chapman seems non-representative of either their artistic practice or their addition within the exhibition (the same can be said for admissions by Keith Coventry and Gavin Turk).

The idea underpinning the exhibition impresses itself upon the choice of work. There is no indication that the work selected for the exhibition is particular for any other reason than its collective incompleteness. The subject matter of the work becomes subjugated for this reason and in this respect the exhibition seems to only function on one level.

The gallery’s interest seems apparent; work that had in some cases literally not made it off the drawing board (for various political, economic, pragmatic and personal reasons) becomes marketed as its unique selling point. The work declared by the artists seems to incongruously complete itself through the exhibition process. The exhibition, usually regarded as the end point in artistic production, forces the work to be viewed as wholly incomplete. This exhibition appears to demonstrate the gallery’s (and by extension, the artworlds) un-relinquishing propensity to incorporate and commodify any and all disparate elements of art production.

It seems that the cause attributed to the strike of each work would appear more accurate and enlightening if attempting to construct an image of the social, political and economic traits of contemporary society. In short, the cause appears more interesting than the effect.

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