Monday, March 7, 2011

Barking up the wrong tree

It seems rather extraordinary in this day and age for so much attention to be paid to an artist’s bohemian lifestyle. Not only has the stereotypical expectation that an artist should match his iconoclastic stance on the world with a non-conformist life been shattered but in the wake of the “death of the author”, which has shifted attention to how artworks are shaped by society and received by audiences, rather than the quirky traits of the creator, it seems so outdated to be foregrounding an artist’s social habits as if they are testament to his supposed genius.

Nevertheless, such has been the case with Wayne Barker’s retrospective, which is wryly titled Super Boring. During the opening speeches the emphasis seemed to be on his excessive lifestyle and drinking exploits rather than the nature of his art. This brand of machismo back-slapping, which plays out in the catalogue too, no doubt left some guests feeling as if they had stumbled into some sort of American frat-party.
Andrew Lamprecht, the curator and author of the catalogue, does, however, find a way of embedding Barker’s lifestyle within his art practice. It is implied via various quotes from people in the art world that some of his antics were evidence of his artistic sensibility. That Barker is believed to have embellished and fictionalised many of his life’s experiences is thought to substantiate the manner in which he has utilised his life as art. It is an interesting proposition. But you can’t help feeling, given that his art doesn’t embrace any kind of performative aspect – perhaps barring some appalling photographs of black naked women posing in ethnic dress – that this theory doesn’t quite stand up to his art. In other words, his artworks seem quite distinct from him. He is not present in his work – his life cannot be traced through it.