Can you tell me how to get to grips with conceptual art, which I find baffling?
Many people are often puzzled, confused or offended as they stand by a conceptual piece of art. But how should we judge it? It’s easy to love something we find beautiful, but much harder to feel passionate about a work like Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, or Mona Hatoum’s garden seat sprouting pubic hair. Every year the general public expresses frustration with the Turner Prize contenders, many feeling that art which is devoid of skill or beauty, can’t be considered a serious part of the art world. Critics have in equal measure praised and attacked conceptual art; at times for challenging, awakening, and provoking us intellectually, at other times for being nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes.
For me, the appreciation of a piece of conceptual art lies in the significance and scale of the statement it makes. If it is utterly mundane, trivial and unintriguing, one’s reaction is going to be less interested.
But there are also those special moments that move and engage you. Shock or outrage is not necessarily a condemnation of an artwork; on the contrary, all major artists, from Monet to Picasso, Munch to Van Gogh, have all outraged their public. As artists are ahead of their times it takes a while for the general public to fully understand what is being attempted. Does everyone immediately engage with Damien Hirst’s artwork, possibly the most controversial of all contemporary conceptual artists? The jury is out, of course. The one thing I advise is to learn about conceptual art, which will make it much easier to follow, as you learn what you’ll reject or appreciate. Knowledge is the gateway to understanding, and by reading or visiting art shows, you will find more and more conceptual artists to enjoy.
Gone But Not Forgotten, Damien Hirst
What is your take on shoes – are they important? And if so, in what way?
An anthropology of shoes reveals some fascinating facts. The Chinese in particular made much of the female foot through foot-binding, with the stunted ‘lotus foot’ considered the height of beauty. Geishas in Japan shuffle around in socks on flip-flop-style raised wooden sandals, reducing their gait and ‘feminising’ the lower part of the body. The ‘geta’ is said to have been the precursor of the Venetian ‘chopine’, and all these devices were intended to cater either to male notions of beauty, or the elevated status of the woman. Now, in the more urbanised West, we see a polarisation of footwear fashion. On one hand, there are highly sexualised, slightly fetishist creations of the shoe industry giants, such as the dominatrix-studded Valentino. Then there’s the sporty comfort of the Prada or Hockley variety. The message seems to be that women can choose what they want. By day they can stroll around The Dubai Mall in their Donna Karans or Tod’s, by night they can arouse fantasies in Louboutin heels that can be walked on only for two minutes at a time. But yes, shoes are the ultimate fashion statement and no fashion lover would be caught in the wrong footwear, as it’s the ultimate detail that can betray an entire outfit. In terms of comfort, from skyscraper to kitten heel, is there a middle ground? I was heartened at a recent London Frieze event to see very prominent collectors arriving in flats. Not a single high heel in sight, nor even the flat-footed, stiff-soled Chanel pump that can be as bad as a heel if there’s no cushioning under the arch. All I saw was beautiful, well-supported shoes that complemented the tell-tale mark of the true stylista where comfort and creativity sartorially seize the day.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Photography: Ben Sage