Some art is so uninspiring it’s difficult to approach it with anything other than an exhausted sign. Think canvases purchased in Next or wretchedly nostalgic paintings of toffs waltzing on windblown beaches. Unfortunately because of the democracy of art, meaning that anything anyone designates as art counts as art, we can’t remove what should be a carefully applied title.
I’ve found the news that Spencer Tunick is bringing his own brand of large scale installation to Manchester and Salford so dreary it’s taken me weeks to get round to writing about it.
Like Bodyworlds, the 4th Plinth and Shelley Jackson’s SKIN project, I can see what is so appealing about Spencer Tunick’s work; All these projects have a few key elements which I think makes them both so bewitching to the public and really quite shit art.
The rhetoric of the real human body is clearly becoming one of the artistic tropes of our times. This makes the works instantly approachable and accessible to everyone. Where other art might be arranged along social, historical or even more abstract theoretical lines, the body is universal... However, this use of such a massive and elementary device often seems to sweep aside the nuances which makes really brilliant art.
That is the problem when the human body is the sum of an artistic work - it seems to encourage a rather formulaic approach. Contemporary art is not like cooking, just because you find a recipe that works doesn’t mean you should repeat it ad infinitum. With the new Spencer Tunick commission, even if it does add new elements to the artist's repertoire, I am certain that we know exactly what we’re going to get. Asides from the initial tacky thrill of nudity, this was an incredibly safe and predictable choice.
I’ve always felt wary of participatory art. Although there is something interesting about the theory, it’s substance is so often much more dreary, dull and poorly executed. The appeal for the participant always seemed an odd combination of wanting to lose you’ve individuality and desperately trying to get a fleeting taste of that arrogant cocktail that fuels artists. Participants should bare in mind, as Jonathan Jones writes, “Participatory art is a denial of talent.”
Although I do recognise that the images Spencer Tunick produces are momentarily arresting, they’ve always seemed more like the substance of a classier kind of amusing postcard. The additional element that this upcoming installation is a response to the works of L S Lowry, the other great producer of postcards from Manchester, just exaggerates this sense.
So... will you be taking part? With the certain knowledge that anything I write has absolutely no effect on public opinion, there is no doubt that the Spencer Tunick installation in Manchester and Salford will be widely considered an exciting and successful work. If you would like to take part, you can registered your interest on the Lowry’s website here thelowry.com/tunick