"Gravity and Grace." (Sculpture Show in Hayward Gallery, London, England) (Reviews)

Article excerpt

Canonization, of a sort, in journalistic art criticism is always in vogue, but one must remain highly suspicious of the kind of pious invocation of history masquerading as critique that is really about beating the present and its possible future(s) over the head with the big stick of the past. Readers are most likely familiar with the phenomenon of chastening young artists in the name of Minimalism, arte povera, and Conceptual art. Simply add the prefix "domesticated" to any curatorial category you care to mention and voila, Bob's your uncle!

Imagine if you will a land where even the auratic Modernist original is at risk. Consider the mode of criticism required for the claim that arte povera is "Dada mischief overblown and gone to see ... whatever was done in the Swinging Sixties, Bernini did it better." (Why stop with Bernini? The logical terminus of the search for quality is surely the mold and damp of a Neolithic cave.) If you cannot begin to imagine such a land, then close your eyes and think of England. According to most of the art critics there, "Gravity and Grace"--an exhibition of sculpture of the '60s and '70s curated by Jon Thompson, former Reader in Fine Art at Goldsmith's College, London--is a chamber of trivial horrors that ought to be returned to the rubbish heap; an ill-considered historical undertaking padded with second-rate examples of what is probably a discredited moment in postwar art history anyway. Such an exhibition hardly requires justification in a country where such work is rarely on public view and generally received with hostility. While it is true that "Gravity and Grace" suffers from being an admittedly idiosyncratic selection of arte povera and post-Minimalist work, one must hold an English curatorial culture which requires the couching of one's ambitions in the stifling language of Donish preference at least partly responsible. For its scope "Gravity and Grace" is a remarkably vivid and long-overdue slice of art history.

The response to this modest proposal has been predictably swift and parochial, but also unexpectedly nasty, brutish, and cowardly. Exhibitions like "Gravity and Grace" predictably and quite unfairly bear the brunt of a wasted--and wasting--national cultural policy; in one respect they cannot but come up short. …