How Do We Experience Art?

JESS MIDDLETON-PUGH steps, blinking, out of the art gallery, and ponders the art out there in the ‘real world’. Is the best we can do really George Osborn standing on the fourth plinth in a silly moustache?

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I’m taking a daring step today. One small step for man, one giant leap for the agoraphobic art historian, as I creep out of the musty and outmoded gallery, and step into the newest and coolest venue to experience art: the street.

In a world of commodity and convenience, art is evolving to meet the spectator where they are, rather than expecting the public to make the arduous trek to the museum, like in the good old days. Those ‘good old days’, were when only an elite section of the population visited a museum, and were classed as connoisseurs. Now, the viewing of art has become democratic – physically bringing art to the masses, and I’m all for it.

A brilliant example of this new trend is the pop-up galleries found so commonly these days around Soho. Just as they are established quickly, they are made to be viewed and understood speedily; in your coffee or lunch break, to and from work: whenever you have a spare five minutes, because that is all you need. They are not formidable, slow and outmoded, as with many of the major galleries of today, but instead present an easy, user friendly way to enjoy art. They are the Mac to The National Gallery’s PC.

An installation at the ‘I am Soho’ pop-up gallery

Stepping into the open air, the art form that most majorly impacts on us is sculpture. These are placed in the public sphere; in school yards, town hall squares or, in the case of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North or Serena De La Hey’s Willow Man, by the road side. These are works created solely to be viewed when you are whizzing past them at 70mph (which I guess is the exhibitionary equivalent of a Drive Thru). In these kinds of settings, the sculpture is an integral part of the viewer’s landscape, if only briefly.

Contemporary sculptors and curators are repeatedly establishing the notion of art as transient. The creation of a work which makes a statement and then disappears is more and more common, and a classic example of this is the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Gormley’s 2009 contribution pushed this idea of transience and creativity even further by using people as his medium, blurring the lines between art and performance, and relinquishing control into the hands of a group of oddballs.

(Case in point: The Tab’s George Osborn during his stint on the plinth)

Allan Kaprow, an American artist of the ’60s, called for ‘artwork and life to be inseparable.’ He listed the objects that could be used in the creation of art as anything from ‘chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog.’ Before you attempt to cover your pet pooch in acrylic paint, an easier (and more ethical) option is to simply step outside, open your eyes, and see the art that is being exhibited all around us. As cheesy as that sentence sounds, it is certainly a more refreshing, inclusive and soul-nurturing way of viewing art.