When visiting art galleries I often find myself spending more time reading the caption next to the works of art then actually studying them. I would love to say that I fall into the art work, are touched and moved by it, but often I’m not. Instead any thoughts or emotion are gleamed from the caption. . I’m not alone in this sin, we all do it. Text written by someone else is easier to understand than the art itself. They do the hard work for us. Would we be satisfied if the art wasn’t there at all? Is the caption ever enough?
In 2012 the Hayward Gallery ran the Invisible exhibition, where the art on display was not there in the conventional sense, and sometimes completely non-existent. Conceptual art of the highest degree? The exhibition drew large crowds, and became one of the highlights of the year.
Also in 2012 an installation appeared in Bristol which broke the art viewing process into a number of steps like a musical score. It dealt with the discovery of art caught by chance out of the corner of the eye. We stop and stare, draw closer, examine, read the caption, confirm it to be true and then leave. This was about the experience of art. The abstract expression of Bartell Newman often just splits the canvas into three coloured sections. Mark Rothko ditto, Kazimir Malevich even more so. The sceptic may say they are just blocks of colour, not much to feast the eyes on. We glance, read the caption, nod and move on.
In Shea Hembery’s 2011 TED talk How I Became 100 Artists he curated an exhibition by 100 fictional artists. All the art was created by his own hand, but each was unique with its own story. It was believable. He worked outside the normal constraints of art, broke the rules. The “exhibition” itself was art. Good, but not good enough. He didn’t let it take its natural conclusion. Why create the art when he could have just written the captions?
This zine does that. It contains the captions of 15 fictional works of art. They’re ideas scribbled down in notebooks which were never realised due to either lack of time or artistic ability. Does it matter that these works don’t actually exist? If the captions exist and convey the ideas sufficiently, then maybe the art does too. Imagine that the captions in this zine belong to real works, that they’re hanging in a gallery and that these are their captions. You glance at the work for a few seconds, then read the caption. The caption contains all the information needed to appreciate the work. You have now “experienced” it. This is not how you should visit most galleries, but for this one it is enough.
Gavin Watkins October 2014
P.S. While writing these captions I realised that some of these ideas are actually quite good, and not very hard to realise. Maybe in the coming years some of them will pass from fiction into reality.