When art is made to convey a message – social or political – it ceases to be art. This is most obviously true of political propaganda. See North Korea. It is also true of any advert, however good. I love the most recent Guinness advert, which uses the Congo’s Society for the Advancement of Elegant People (Sapeurs) to brilliant effect. But it’s not art. Not for now.
Very occasionally, however, something is made to make something happen and, despite itself, its obvious function, it becomes, in exactly the same moment, a piece of art. The Great Tower of Faile, as commissioned by the New York City Ballet (NYCB), in 2013, is one such work.
A 40 foot tower made of 2 X 2 inch takeaway blocks, on which low-high culture mash-up artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller (Faile) had printed hundreds of manipulated pictures raided from the NYCB archive, the Tower of Faile filled the ballet’s five storey atrium.
Its primary function was to beacon-advertise ballet as being something for the young, to bridge the gap between a seemingly impenetrable and elitist art form and a generation born to television, the digital, the post-produced brave new world of computer generated imagery. Which, as you probably know, it succeeded in doing: Tickets to the ballet Art Series sold out in 7 minutes. The average attendee age dropped from 56 to 31 years old. It was an unmitigated success.
However, and despite its mission, it was also a work of art, and not necessarily because of the much publicised quid pro quo, a block in return for your ticketed interest in the ballet, which feels, to me, more like art as well orchestrated sell than it does real art.
Rather, I love that a three dimensional fanzine-like homage to NYCB heritage could have looked, in and for itself, so dominatingly fragile, a giant collaged sculpture that is also a beautifully organised pile of bricks. For such a big thing, doing such an obvious thing, to feel so materially temporary, so vulnerable, and incongruous, and alien… It surprises me. It’s slightly discomforting. It interrupts. It disrupts. It makes me forget why I’m here, and what I must do. Where’s the message? Nowhere. For now, nowhere.
I love this. It’s brave. It’s clever. And it’s utterly unexpected.