ART / And here's one that was done earlier: Art after art after art: Tom Lubbock looks at the cross-referential paintings of Ken Kiff and the self-referential creations of Gavin Turk

Visual art has a thing about its own history. It's become one of the main ways of dealing with it. Leaf through any exhibition catalogue, and you're always coming across those trans-historical look- alikes, where you get an illustration of a picture in the show, and then on the facing page there's another one that was done earlier - by another artist, a century or two earlier - which looks a bit like it. Of course, this isn't entirely bogus, and can be enlightening. There's not been an artist ever that hasn't taken off somehow or other from an earlier one. But the point is, the knee always jerks in this direction. Find a precedent, trace a genealogy. That's the way to look at art. That's what art looks like.

But how much more fun if you can get the genealogical process going on before your very eyes, catch it in the act. Some such thought seems to be behind the National Gallery's quite recent institution of Associate Artists. What happens is that a fairly established figure in British art is offered a studio in the gallery and the freedom of the collection for a year. The idea is that the artist will absorb him- or herself in the collection and, if things go to plan, be inspired to do some pictures which refer more or less recognisably to individual paintings in the gallery, so that when, at the end of the year, there's the show - hey presto, it catalogues itself. Here's the new work, and here's the old one. Cross-check away. A small but straight-down-the-line art history materialises even as you look.

The most recent, and in fact only the second, associate artist has been Ken Kiff. Kiff is in his late fifties, and thus not likely to be seriously diverted, even by total immersion in the late greats, from the kind of pictures he's been painting for some time. These could briskly be described as psycho-landscapes, done in gorgeous and deeply saturated colours, and peopled with archetypal- looking characters, like Woman or Tree or Sun (with a face and tentacular rays) or Man-monkey. They're a difficult kind of picture to talk about, because they put so much weight on colour, and trying to read any specific psychological story into them is not very rewarding. Some people find paradisal sensations. Others see hopelessly gauche symbolism and draughtsmanship. For myself, I'm just beginning to waver away from the second position.

But either way, he's quite an odd choice for this project. Kiff himself seems to have felt the same way, and his response has hardly been ravenous. He's on record as saying that he didn't feel wholly in tune with the National's collection: his own natural forebears were mainly outside the gallery's remit, being modern masters like Klee and Miro. (That in itself is a telling point against look-alike genealogies, because Kiff's own work doesn't actually look like Klee's or Miro's at all.) But perhaps it was a cunning choice too. Any nod to an Old Master would at least give you something definite to get a grip on. And there are some. Kiff has to an extent responded in the hoped for way. Sometimes it's quite literal: sections from pictures by Rubens, Pisanello and Bellini are loosely paraphrased in charcoal, and that's not so interesting, one artist's image done in the style of another. But there has also been some more creative input in some of the paintings, though most seem to be much what he would have done anyway - and especially in one called After Domenichino.

This is exactly the kind of picture an associate artist is supposed to do, and - with no prejudice to the picture itself - an object lesson in why this associating project is a bit of a waste of time. For it's likely that many people seeing this painting (it is illustrated here), and learning its title, and knowing the circumstances in which it was made, are immediately going to start saying to themselves: 'Aha. But now we would also like to see the original painting by Domenichino. Surely it will be interesting for us to cross-refer between the ancient and the modern work.'

Well sure, that's the whole game. But no, actually, it isn't interesting to make this cross-reference. Don't bother. Domenichino was a 17th-century Italian painter, and it's not a surprise to find that the picture in question, Tobias and the Angel, is very, very unlike Kiff's picture 'after' it. Despite certain perfectly obvious similarities - the layouts of figures and composition do indeed look quite like each other - there is no significant connection to be made between them. These are not two different paintings of the same subject. The two artists have a wholly divergent interest in narrative, in colour, in angels, whatever. You could certainly plug through a point-by-point art historical comparison, but you'd only come away with the empty-handed conclusion that they're just extremely different.

For art-on-art of an, oh, quite other kind, visit No 8, Denmark Street. At the very worst, if you're in the West End, it shouldn't take too long. This vacant three- storey house is currently open afternoons on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and it's occupied by the 'Collected Works 1989- 93' of Gavin Turk. The title tells you something of the artist: that his career hasn't been long (he's 26), and also that some kind of waggery is in the offing. So it is.

Turk (his real name, quite conceivably) is rather like a fictional artist created by someone out to satirise the art scene. The difference is that Turk is his own fictional creation. His work is about the figure of the artist - as exemplified by himself. It's self-referential and art-referential to the nth degree: very silly, quite funny.

Turk first came to attention as the centre of a (small) cause celebre. For his MA show at the Royal College of Art, he exhibited an empty studio, but on one wall there was an imitation blue memorial plaque with the words 'Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here'. At this, the RCA, which had become interested in seeing signs of hands-on work from its students, did something almost unprecedented, and refused Turk his degree. What a gift: here was the 'academy', in good old 19th-century fashion, actually rejecting an artist. A great start, an 'art event' that couldn't have gone better if it had been planned. It's probably Turk's most impressive achievement to date.

Subsequent work is a mixed bag of squibs aimed at various fine art superstitions: creativity, originality, individuality, aesthetic interest. There's a series of pictures in which the artist's signature is the main or only motif. There's a life-size wax-work portrait of the artist as Sid Vicious singing 'My Way' (levels, levels - 'My Way', that anthem of individuality which everyone sings). There are almost exact replicas of work by other artists, like some insultingly-easy-to-forge minimalist cubes by Robert Morris. There are hits at the sanctified objet trouve, like a vitrine with bits of chewed gum stuck to the inside.

One may say that these points have been made before, and that Turk is only replaying, dead-pan and upon himself, all the old jokes about modern art that have adorned the pages of the New Yorker for decades - these modern artists can get away with anything, you can't tell the difference now between what's an art-object and what's not etc.

And then, on the other hand, scepticism towards fine art shibboleths is such a conditioned reflex in the knowing art circles which are Turk's home audience, that nobody need turn a hair. And of course, at every doubt, the work can side-step neatly; anything that might be said about it - a complete scam, say - could equally be said to be what it's about. But really, knowingness itself is not the point. Knowingness has become more like a genre that some artists work in. It's not going to change anyone's life, not for half a minute. But the thing is to do it with some high spirits, and there are some here.

Andrew Graham-Dixon is on holiday

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee