Earth – Art of a Changing World, Royal Academy of Arts, London
Timely, but not earth-shattering
Monday 07 December 2009
What an agreeable day for a dandified stroll up the Burlington Arcade!' I am thinking to myself as I stroll up the Burlington Arcade, that bit of narrow Regency splendour, bursting with dinky, high-end emporia.
The red carpet feels springy to the heel; the Christmas decorations are preening themselves; and the shoeshine "boy" (circa 45) is busy collecting a bulging hat-full of £3.50s from his leg-sprawling male customers. Just then I spot the first of the exhibits from the show that I'm just about to see. It's one of a whole line of polyhedra that hang high above the head, complicated geometrical shapes in steel, all lit to please – not unlike Christmas decorations themselves, I'm thinking.
The show itself couldn't be more timely in theme, with the Copenhagen shenanigans being upon us. It's all about how artists today are responding to the idea of the Earth, that beautiful, fragile habitat that's under threat as never before thanks to the multitude of brutal own goals that mankind has scored over the last few millennia. Thirty-five artists are represented, ranging from one or two fresh out of art school to names as well established as Gormley, Hatoum and Parker. The well-known names are offering things we've seen before, which seems a bit of a shame. Gormley is crowding out the largest space of all with Field, all those tiny clay beings with yearning eye sockets, and now re-titled as Amazonian Field so that it feels a bit less like something that was first made in 1992. Mona Hatoum is displaying a powerful cage-like, off-kilter globe, with the continents lit by threads of red light. There's a real urgency about this piece. It looks like a fairly unspecific wake-up call of some kind...
And that word "unspecific" stays with me from beginning to end. There is much good work here, much work that demonstrates that artists, like so many of us, have consciences. Much of it probes the intricate delicacies of the things of the Earth – how a formation of passing clouds can look; the wonder of certain species of jellyfish. But not a single one of these artists seems to have been present at any of the real disasters that have taken place in recent years as a result of climate change – floods, typhoons, earthquakes. Or, if they were, they haven't documented the horror of it all. No, many of these artists have been fantasising instead. Why else would Tracey Moffatt represent human disaster by a film which consists of a splicing together of disaster scenes from films? What we needed in this show was art's equivalent of Don McCullin, someone who dared to document something really dangerous. What we have here instead is a tad too polite, too easy on the eye.
Fortunately I can speculate on all these issues at the oyster bar which has opened for lunchtime business just outside the entrance to the gallery. I even spot a bottle of bubbly. What a terrible world we live in. Cheers!
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