In their very different ways these four artists confront the cynic of Wilde's epigram with his own short-comings. Turning it, literally, upside down: what we should know is the value of everything. Its price is immaterial.
'The only authentic cultural production is that which can draw on the collective experience of marginal pockets of social life... not fully penetrated by the market and the commodity system.” (Frederic Jameson, Signatures of the Visible)
In today’s art world, we certainly do know the price of everything. At the time you’re reading this, a Jeff Koons or, heaven help us, a Lucian Freud will cost you tens of millions of dollars. A Titian will be cheaper, by the way. Once upon a time, in living memory, (just), there was a generation of artists who made work that grappled seriously, occasionally (and understandably) bombastically, with their parents’ history. ‘Their parents’, because these artists were Germans, they’d been infants during the Second World War. Now they’re nudging into their eighties, and their prices are enormous. In the generations below them, even just below them, there’s an ocean of -less art: affectless, weightless and pointless, art that can only be said not to waste our time because it needs so little time to take it in. Prices here are equally sky-high.
Once we bump back to earth, we recognise of course that there are two artworlds that aren’t even remotely interconnected. Down here the cultural production carries on at its own pace, led by quite personal, sometimes private forces. Seeing what you see and wanting to pass it on. Rather than ‘Look-at-me’ art, it's 'Look-at-this'. It's art whose value lies on the margins, resisting assimilation.
The four artists we have chosen for this show take completely different routes to show us what they see. In Anna Jung Seo's case it's literally what she sees: she's painting glimpses of life in a London street market, the lens is the strangeness of the everyday. David Sullivan's paintings are more overtly political, using found imagery to confront lived experience. The painter (or project) known as Playpaint gives us abstractions where processes of repetition and optical effects vary from work to work, the rules of the process subverted each time. Madi Acharya-Baskerville, the only sculptor in the show, combines found objects, scraps of fabric, robbing them of their former meaning but investing them with a new (sur-)reality.
What all the artists share, quite by coincidence, is their ability to alarm. An allegorical lesson. Anna Jung Seo's anecdotes tend to have a nightmarish aspect, (it's the way she tells them); Sullivan's more objective eye is often focussed on warfare or injustice, Playpaint's jumbled fractality seems geared to upset, and the constructions of Madi Acharya-Baskerville, small as they might be, can be disturbing by their very tininess, as if the burglar you've disturbed turns out to be Tom Thumb.
Art which aims, even obliquely for a re-evaluation of the status quo (within society or within art itself), is often seen as compromised; but the status quo is so rapidly evolving into a steady state of must-have next-please tail-chasing up-to-dateness that any pause is bold dissent. And boldly dismissed by those supposedly in the know, fearful perhaps that before jumping on the bolting horse they should've studied its form.