Friday 18 December 2009

On Ben Frost @ Boutwell Draper Gallery

At which point did Pop Art become redundant as a commentary on both art and society?  I wish I had been able to experience both the nascent rush of early consumer society in the 1950s and the dazzle of an art that took it as both subject and form.  The strangest transformation that movement took was to become THE official art of the eighties and nineties, mixed with a little theory and low conceptualism Pop Art is the establishment.  Just ask Jeff Koons how he's holding up financially.  That might be why I shudder at the snarling kitsch of
Ben Frost's show 'Lost In The Supermarket' at Boutwell Draper.  It manages to be both pretentious and condescending while masked in the veneer of radical ugliness.

The best way to describe the work is as a series of high gloss painted collages of consumer logos, cartoon typography, manga sexuality.  It's hard on the eye and easy on the brain.  Each picture is dense with appropriated image, like the palimpsest of an angsty teenage collage.  It relies on staggeringly obvious juxtapositions and comes out as a less clever version of Adbuster's subversions of advertising.  On top of these accretions of commercial art come every street art cliché there are: aerosol tags, artful drips and stencilling.  If it were original it might be more interesting, if it were not so cynically tapping into so many vogueish styles it would just be laughable.

My biggest problem with the work is the implicit sneer at consumers.  The narcotic accumulation of images assumes a pretty high level of dumb receptiveness on the part of ordinary people.  You have to have a that low an opinion to be able to imagine that these dayglo explosions really represent the mental landscape of real people, either that or you have to be an artist.  My better half uses the phrase 'secret stupid' for people whose puddle like depth is hidden by confident rhetoric.  I now realise the war against Secret Stupid Art has been one of my key theme this year.  To be this stupid and grandiose an artist must need a breathtaking lack of insight.  

There.  I got that all out.  I've been avoiding ranting all year, but I've seen too much glib, dumb, lazy self-satisfied art that's been fluffed with Theory 101 that I can take no more.  Let's make 2010 the year of the War on Secret Stupid Art!

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