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Basher’s Consumerist Equivocation

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Martin Basher, T.B.C., installed at Starkwhite Martin Basher, T.B.C., installed at Starkwhite Martin Basher, T.B.C., installed at Starkwhite Martin Basher, T.B.C. installed at Starkwhite

When decoded, Basher's paintings are distinctive because of their purple/black/white symbolic colour combination (based on wrapping paper and packaging for luxury items), and vertical stripes (read prison bars) of thwarted yet unrelenting desire. This is blended with shimmering horizontal or diagonal flashes of blinding light that showcase commodification.



Martin Basher


4 February - 2 March 2013

This is one of those shows where you mentally look at yourself looking at the exhibition. It doesn’t so much slap you on the jowls for being there as subvert your possible motivations for being in the building. Theoretically it aspires to taint any rumblings of ‘the will to possess’.

Martin Basher has a history of exhibitions critiquing consumerism and capitalism’s extolling of purchasable commodities, especially when accompanied by various mechanisms of desire such as ‘romance’, ‘tourism’, ‘fashion’ and of course ‘art’. It’s a double flipflopping game because his artworks openly perpetuate the same system (he’s keen to sell his art) except that they include a self-reflexive twist. There is a built in hesitancy about commmercial transaction - and this is substantiated by its cleverly ambiguous title, To Be Confimed.

When decoded, his paintings are distinctive because of their purple/black/white symbolic colour combination (based on wrapping paper and packaging for luxury items), and vertical stripes (read prison bars) of thwarted yet unrelenting desire. This is blended with shimmering horizontal or diagonal flashes of blinding light (the glare is exacerbated in this exhibition) that showcase commodification and prevent thinking about any alternative conceptual or political structure.

Basher’s exhibition consists of six canvases (in two sizes) and in the centre of the space, a high ‘fence’ of fluorescent tubes held up by stands - grouped close together nearest the window, and spreading more and more apart towards the office - a curving barrier with a definite back and a front. You circumnavigate the large space examining and comparing tones of supporting wall, metal brackets and brushed, masked paint (mixed colour and reflective sheen) - peering across, through and around tubular or flat columns and thinking about light more than capitalism. Or the Light of Reason. Or perhaps the rhythmical vertical vectors of the Starkwhite architecture. Columns and staircase especially.

The brackets of the fluorescent tubes, both front and backs, hold interest here with their intricacy, as do the holes for slipping over screw-heads for attaching to the wall, the types of cap on the tube ends, and the varieties of wire used. The variations of very pale gray get compared with contrasting tones, and how they compress or expand the perceived dimensions of the space.

Of the five aluminium stands supporting the lights, the two nearest the window are identical in their spacing while the other three gradually increase the distances between tubes. The result is that from outside the entrance the line looks solid and more like a block. The stands are weighed down by small but heavy black camera bags and these are balanced tonally on the other side of the installation by flat seats.

These black items intrude a little, for the polemics of the show (the illumination not only of product but of gallery visitor) might have been improved without them - they make the floor a bit busy and compositionally indecisive. However the intense power of the bright light, its interaction horizontally with the vertical Walterslike reversing of painted black and white bands, makes the show quite extraordinary in its impact. While it could be argued that this work shouldn’t be in the marketplace at all and that Basher is speaking with both sides of his mouth at once, it organises an intriguing array of bodily and mental sensations that needs to be experienced.

John Hurrell

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This Discussion has 19 comments.


Roger Boyce, 10:06 p.m. 19 February, 2013

Having retinally (italicize retinally here) appreciated some of Basher's previous efforts I'm left puzzling over how an exhibition veteran of Saatchi & Saatchi's West Village world headquarters (among other commercial art exhibition venues) could then be plausibly forwarded as a credible purveyor " - of exhibitions critiquing consumerism and capitalism’s extolling of purchasable commodities," ?

That is, given Saatchi & Saatchi's prominence in the dark media art of commercially extolling capitalism’s purchasable commodities.

While I admit you've said as much in your review, John, I'd also consider that, given the potential caliber of your ordnance, that you've, to some degree, 'hung fire' re that fluorescently illuminated target of paradox?

I am fingering two possible metaphors for work that seems to typify - if your understanding of Basher's intent is accurate - a recognizable brand of contemporary art that claims to have its cake and eat it too.

Applicable metaphor #1. The standard-issue drawing-room coquette's irreconcilable theatrics - acting out the (convention-critiquing) erotics of individualism while simultaneously making a pass at social probity.

Metaphor #2 being the monstrous confluence of commerce and convention that flows ignobly together in the murky anthropological delta of a surgically reconstructed hymen.

The bride stripped bare by her bachelors...Indeed.

"... disappeared in the smoke of the great lamp, whose glass was cracked. And scandalized..., they rushed to their clothes, barefoot across the cracks."

- from Alfred Jarry's Days & Nights

 In reply

John Hurrell, 10:42 p.m. 19 February, 2013

Readers may be interested in the gallery statement for this show.

Owen Pratt, 9:47 a.m. 20 February, 2013

Not as sycophantic as Billy Apple's 'invoice' prints, nor as economically
successful. These works are perhaps missing the shift in the zeitgeist by addressing the non-consuming audience with a smug smirk and assuming the plutocratic consumer in wanting self mortification for their wealth.

John Hurrell, 11:25 p.m. 20 February, 2013

'Invoice' prints? 'Paid' you mean - with the invoice paid off?

Owen Pratt, 9:07 a.m. 21 February, 2013

Yes John that's them. Interesting how they have dated, even with the sans serif font. Still creepy but.

John Hurrell, 9:33 a.m. 21 February, 2013

The artist has to live like everybody else? What's creepy about that? We all have bills to pay.

Roger Boyce, 7:44 p.m. 21 February, 2013

I'm afflicted with Howard-Hughes-scrupulousness about what I do and don't mean.

So, given that this thread is wholly comprised of replies to my initial post, I'd like to take this opportunity to publish my view that Owen Pratt's transparently resentful call-and-response chorus to my disputation misses the point. Entirely.

As does Basher's work pass its declared intent (unrecognized and/or unacknowledged) in the night.

For the record. I'm a big one for the scientifically elegant equation wherein artists sell what they make...and in 'making the monthly nut' through sales is granted the blessing of more production time in the studio. As opposed to day-job wage-slavery.

Day one in my beginning painting class includes unembarrassed celebration of the previously mentioned equation.

Bye now.

Owen Pratt, 8:19 p.m. 21 February, 2013

Its not all about you Rodger.

John, making money from art seems to be a by product of a number of factors, luck and timing, skill, talent etc. Setting out to court the market and patrons is creepy, if not traditional ie Medici.

I reckon art that courts the advertising world is on the thinnest of ice, the market can swallow this stuff whole. I can easily see a downtown shop selling a hand bag with a Basheresque backdrop.

Like a snake eating itself Rodger (and out).

Roger Boyce, 12:23 p.m. 22 February, 2013

Against my better judgment, I'll extend my grizzly superannuated neck in a final riposte.

"Its not all about you Rodger."

Gosh, Owen, given my antique, pre-Copernican, perceptual apparatus I had become convinced it (art/artworld/this thread) Was all about me. That I was The indispensable critical-spindle, 'round which the entire art-world spun. And I have you alone to thank, Mr. Pratt, for disabusing me of that Medieval notion.

Now on to your self-entitled, arbitraging, edict that - "Setting out to court the market and patrons is creepy,"


Reciprocal courting (depending on relative hierarchical status) has always been and will, most likely, be at the heart of arts social economy, until global warming does us all. If one is a wealthy patron one is required to court blue-chip artists and their dealers ... so as to get on the artists waiting list.

If one is a young on-the-make artist one has to make nice to patrons - patrons who are often convinced that their masterly command of wealth accrual extends equally to other areas of human endeavor - and learn to say pass the pasta instead of spaghetti.

As to your verity that - "art that courts the advertising world is on the thinnest of ice," I would assume that given more art-historical gate-keeping privilege your thin-ice doctrine would disallow Warhol pantheon status?

I'll take my leave now - I need to fire up my 'way-back machine' and from its conveyance spread the word to historically major artists ... from early Netherladish, to renaissance to baroque and beyond ... that all of their toadying accommodation of, shameless courting of, and questionable dilly-dallying with the wealthy mercantile class is not OK with Thou... the newly designated Pope of the ecclesiastical church of art.

Thus ends my Bizarro World cri de coeur

Owen Pratt, 8:15 p.m. 22 February, 2013

That is really obtuse Rodger.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 10:20 a.m. 24 February, 2013

Hell bent, monomaniacal, paranoid (stoned-over?)—yet again Mr Boyce demands that with art production as in all else everything’s eternally the same, same, same, and all propelled down the one vast entropy slope of a universal thermodynamic history by mercantile wealth and our toadying to it.

Yet even from the panoptic perspective of a worldwide capitalist axiomatic none of this makes a jot of functional sense without (at least) the addition of state(s), that is to say, without the addition of taxation and central bank issued money, public works, the force of Law, border control, the Archive, a division of labour, the buying power and commissioning agency of museums and galleries, & perhaps most importantly in Mr Boyce's case, wage slaving professorships at university art schools.

 In reply

Roger Boyce, 12:10 a.m. 25 February, 2013

Like Mocha Dick, the albino Pacific sperm whale, thought to have inspired Melville, Mr.Paine's surfacings are noteworthy for their eccentricity. His sporadic breaches accompanied by anomalous but readily identifiable spoutings.

Engaging here only Paine's dismissive ad hominen characterizations, as his other theoretical arguments
("- perspective of a worldwide capitalist axiomatic -" huh?) are too inky & 'deep' for 'sounding' with my lightweight equipment.

"Hell bent," Yes, would probably qualify for Sheol ... if I subscribed to composite afterlife notions forwarded by Hebrew tribal testaments.

"monomaniacal," Ah, if only my delirium was confined to a single Idée fixe. But, as biblically unclean spirits are wont to mythically boast...."My name is Legion," ... for I have many rationally unsupportable ideas.

"paranoid -" My middle-brow thinking process rarely trends to that dead-end diffuser of energies. Whatever's in play is, more often than not, 'hiding in plain sight'.

"(stoned over?)" not up to the minute - in terms of youth-culture euphemism - I had to turn to the urban dictionary for that ('fly') turn of phrase. Sorry to disappoint, Ralph, but I'm strictly 'straight edge'. I've no real vices left (save troll-feeding). No recreational intoxicants - including cannabis & ethanol, .

as to Ralph's putative description of my - "wage slaving professorships at university art schools."

The absence of sufficient monetary motivation makes academic promotion ladders patently unattractive, so I'm still a mere lecturer, I've no, and aspire to no, Phd. I admittedly took to teaching out of career-rough-patch expedience ... but came to like the social change after decades of studio isolation.

Just for the record - and because there is nothing more scandalous than talking about such things - last year I was compensated equally for my art production and my university instruction.

Because the old axiom has it that - if you're explaining you're losing and because this thread has become off-point, to the review which spawned it .... that's all there'll be from my end.


Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 3:26 p.m. 25 February, 2013

On point?

So Mr Hurrell reads Starkwhite’s press release dutifully trots along to the Basher opening and returning to keyboard briefly wonders why he goes to these events only to then spiel back in reconfigured form the ideas from said press release with two-three observations of an in-situ (it's the body stupid) nature & some wow factor thrown in whence Mr Boyce as if in a mirror flourishes back the commercial critique conceptual-ism content of Mr Hurrell’s comments with paradox-questioning add ins while meantime a clipped yet pertinent Mr Pratt gets all creeped-out by the art-business/business-art vibe of it all only to get himself castigated twice over by an ever watchful and playing it from all angles Mr Boyce while next and on f-ing cue Mr Paine delivers up his high falutin’ broodings on wherewhyhow Mr Boyce has erred and what a two-faced SOB he is & so on & so forth.

The point?

Out in the Desert of Blog there is no point.......

 In reply

John Hurrell, 3:40 p.m. 25 February, 2013

Out in the midst of the Desert of Blog, an Oasis of terribly polite, Extremely Reasonable Conversation is always a genuine possibility -and not necessarily a mirage.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 11:44 a.m. 27 February, 2013

Spirited discussion?

When the personal power base is too settled ‘n’ secure, a call for polite tolerance is always the ‘order’ of the day, a sign that one has become quite content with the official discourse and one’s position on its circuits.

Despite everything, I admire Mr Boyce’s missives (why else would I engage?) precisely because they come at us straight from some unexpected and often perilous outside.

It seems to me that the blog function on this site is a political space, and thus a space of contradiction, disagreement, struggle, and war—and is not war, as Carl von Clausewitz suggested, merely another kind of writing and language for political thoughts?

 In reply

John Hurrell, 3:04 p.m. 1 March, 2013

Ralph, is this really 'a Desert of Blog' and not a 'Polite Oasis' of a Website? Most blogs use pseudonyms to hide what I regard as totalitarian (fascist) sensibilities.

Here it is important to speak out, make the private public, and to declare your identity to add credence to your argument. As I often say, it is about providing the First Word, anticipating (with great optimism) that such a contribution will not be the Last.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 11:30 a.m. 2 March, 2013

No problem. The real name rule is a given on the site. It's like the old-school union maxim: no secret ballots.

But you can't have oases without deserts, and you can't have a commenting function without disagreement and conflict. In my view the reviews on the site are more oasis-like (terribly polite dinner party conversation), while the comment threads are more path-like, often difficult trails that strike off in the direction of who knows where....

Reply to this thread

Creon Upton, 12:48 p.m. 2 March, 2013

I would say that within the complex and mercurial economies of the worlds that this site addresses, a sense of freedom to sign one's name to honest opinion is a marker of rare privilege (however that might be manifest).

It may feel nice to imagine that that's not the case -- but it reminds me of the neoliberal myth that the world's a level playing field. It's not.

And (to take a present example) the happy rewards that Mr Boyce reports enjoying for his labours (in addition to the fact that he's probably old and wise enough to realise that none of it actually matters very much) cannot but underwrite his refreshing candor. This in itself is a position of power, and it's only a kind of bullying mentality that would allow one to imagine otherwise.

(Nonetheless, note the concession he makes to the rules of the game by acknowledging the "scandal" of his revelation: he softens the blow of his quite shocking outrageousness by announcing his maverick insider/outsider status, reminding us that it is only ok to break the rules once one has already learned to master them. Through the mask of iconoclasm, the icon in fact fixes us with its steely, indefatigable gaze.)

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 11:19 a.m. 3 March, 2013

O Desert!

Natural milieu of the iconoclasts.

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