Jeremy Deller - Great Britain
Jeremy Deller’s great right? Everyone seems to have a huge boner for the guy and his work. I remember the first time I saw it as a freshly minted college grad in 2008. I was volunteering at a museum showing ‘On Procession’ and thinking, “OK, so this dude threw a parade in Manchester, England? hmm… must have been cool but wtf is the ephemera from it doing in Indianapolis?” But people had a boner for ephemera from 60’s happenings and those seemed pretty rad, so I figured that I probably just didn’t get it.
After seeing his work “English Magic” at the Biennale, I can finally verbalize what has bothered me about his work for so long. Before I do that however, I should say that a lot of what he does is rad. He has a great adolescent imagination that lets characters like a giant English goshwak and a Victorian wallpaper designer come to life in his own absurd political narratives. There was also a portion in English Magic that was like show & tell, where you could handle ancient stone axe-like tools and receive a short anthropology lesson on them from an attendant. That was cool, it was an interesting gallery interaction and using that kind of historical collected item as a social practice medium felt new.
Those two notes aside, the show was largely overproduced cultural taxonomy to an upbeat soundtrack and I would put that part in bold if it wasn’t cheesy. The show felt tagged, bagged, and on display. That pretty much sums up my problem with the other Deller shows I’ve seen too.
As with all taxonomy, design and curation are paramount. The presentation of artifacts can lead to the illusion of cohesion or illustrate supposed historical narrative. In all his shows, especially English Magic, the design and curation feels way too important to the experience of the artwork, and usually it is theatrical and cheap, like an exhibit at a children’s museum that caters to the lowest possible expectations for attendees’ attention span. It is like they are dioramas displaying what art could be, or point to an experience of what art was. Whether it was successful or not, that approach made some sense when he was exhibiting remnants of an experience like ‘On Procession’ as a way to recreate a piece of the original art for a new public. But in English Magic, it feels forced with too many disparate threads and too much production magic.
Here is a link to the video that ‘ties it all together’ for English Magic:
I apologize for not taking more of my own photos at this one. These are ripped from the internet. The pictures show 1) Victorian arts and crafts artist, William Morris tossing a russian oligarch’s yacht into the Mediterranean 2) drawings by veterans in jail, some very emotional ones too 3) copper records with arrowheads marching around them like ants 4) a goshawk with a range rover in its talons (presumably because Prince Harry was not allowed to be in the goshawks grasp at the British Pavilion. Also you should know that Harry probably shot a goshawk which is a semi-endangered British bird of prey… Even more context is probably needed to get it actually, but that of course is the problem.