Foundation Painting Show

Commissioned text for Foundation Painting Show book. Published by If I ran the circus, Cologne. Buy a copy.

Foundation Painting Show was a project initiated by Simon Buckley and Othmar Farré as part of Glasgow International 2018. It placed paintings in the British Heart Foundation furniture shop on Stockwell Street in Glasgow.

Artists: Olga Cerkasova, Jedrzej Cichosz, Anna Diehl, Adrian Faulkner, Michael Fullerton, Mathis Gasser, Paula Henrike Hermann, Andrew Kerr, Jan Kiefer, Raphael Linsi, Sophie Mackfall, France-Lise McGurn, Victoria Morton, Alys Owen, Max Ruf, Justin Stephens, Mandy Ure. 


Let’s start with the basics. The foundations. ‘Foundation Painting Show’: a show of paintings in a working British Heart Foundation furniture shop. Sounds simple but from here on things get trickier.


The main thing I’ve learned since art school is that being a painter would be easier. The conversation goes like this:    
    “What do you do?”
    “I’m an artist.”
    “So you’re a painter?”
    You see how much easier it would be to say yes? The other conversation goes like this:
    “And what do you do?”
    “I’m an artist.”
    “Do you earn a living from that?”
    Everyone understands what a painting is. Everyone understands what money is.


Dear Simon and Othmar

Have you seen ‘Completely in the Present’, the film about Tony Conrad? You know when you discover an artist and then you can’t believe you ever didn’t know about them? Because they’re so vital. Because they’re everything. They’re funny, clever and contrary, mischievous, optimistic and uncompromising.
    Between 1972 and 1973 Conrad made a series of works titled ‘Yellow Movies’: large sheets of paper coated with cheap, white household emulsion, framed by a thick black line painted with ink that’s used by film editors to blacken frames of film. He declared these works to be 50 year durational films, the emulsion yellowing over time, the paper gradually cracking and creasing.
    In ‘Completely in the Present’ there’s a talking head with a Whitney Museum curator who describes his recommendation to the museum’s acquisitions board to buy ‘Yellow Movies’. The curator advises that this is a seminal work of American minimalism.
    The acquisitions board asks, “How much?”
    The curator says, “$30,000.”
    The acquisitions board replies, “How can it be good if it’s so cheap?!”


Dear Mr Buckley and Mr Farré

I am writing to complain that I couldn’t afford any of the paintings.
    I shop in charity shops because I like the excitement of finding something special at a bargain price. I like that my money goes to charity, that someone else has owned the item before me, that shopping in this way is more sustainable: a modest antidote to rampant consumerism. I like that I don’t need to shop only in this way and can sometimes afford to buy new things too. And I know that a lot of people shop second hand because it’s the only way they can afford that sofa, dining table or lamp. It’s not an alternative or a lifestyle choice, it’s just living. 
    Everything has a price, but not everything has a price tag. Every item in the shop has a price, except these paintings. Does this mean they’re not for sale? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Sometimes things in charity shops don’t have a price label.
    On Mondays it’s Mary’s job to price up the new stock. But this week she was off sick and now these leather shoes have ended up on the shop floor with no price sticker. You try them on. They’re perfect. You take them to the counter and ask the price. Your face feels hot. You want the shoes.
    Patricia turns them over in her hands in every direction. Will she say a figure higher or lower than the price you’ve set in your mind? (£15. They’re Italian leather and hardly worn.) Patricia, seeing there’s no price tag and continuing to examine them mutters, “Mary.”
    “One pound,” she says.

    You pause, so as not to look overly keen, to seem like you need to think about it, to not make Patricia aware of her error.
    “I’ll take them,” you say.
    You feel like you've won. You feel guilty. Does Patricia realise she’s made a mistake? Patricia is an unpaid volunteer. She must have her reasons: to meet people, to use her time charitably, to get out of the house since her husband died, to enhance her CV? Patricia is retired so she’s long stopped caring about her CV. Perhaps neither of you has won at anything. You’re both being exploited in different ways: Patricia’s goodwill, your desire for shoes. You both know that most of the money taken in charity shops goes towards the charity’s administration costs. The heart disease victims, the refugees, the disabled children and the abused animals are a long way down the budgetary pecking order.
    Paintings in art galleries often have no price label. Sometimes they’re for sale, sometimes they’re not. You only ask how much the painting is if you already have a sense that you can afford it. How are you supposed to know this? Because of the rules. How are you supposed to know if a painting is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? That’s harder. There are rules for this too, although they’re not written down anywhere. Subjectivities, fads, fashion, the zeitgeist, reading certain magazines and talking to the right people might help you to know. But one way to know it’s good is because it’s worth a ton of money.


Dear Sirs

I am writing to complain about how you’ve made me feel.
    Recently I tried to take a proper lunch break. Instead of eating over my laptop I left my desk and went outside. I bought a sandwich from a chain that almost certainly avoids paying enough taxes. The server – foreign, providing good service of the scripted variety – asked if I needed a bag.
         “No thanks,” I said.
         She put the sandwich into a bag and before I could finish repeating that I didn’t need one she had wished me “a great afternoon!” and was already serving the next person in the queue.
         On my way out I avoided eye contact with a woman begging beside the door. In the small church yard – the nearest greenish spot to my workplace – a handful of other office workers sat on a bench built around a tree trunk. I joined them, completing this outward-facing circle of solitary people, each of us self-contained with our smart phones and cellophane-wrapped sandwiches and plastic tubs of thousands-of-air-mile salads.
         A few metres away a group of homeless people sat on the patchy yellow grass, drinking from cans. One rummaged through a Tesco bag, one made a phone call. Another sat cross-legged, hunched and still, a coat draped over their head, covering them to the waist. I bit into my baguette, its hard crust scraping the roof of my mouth and creating that rough texture that my tongue would explore over the next couple of days with interest and irritation. I watched the person under the coat and imagined a tourniquet, limp veins, infected track marks and a shared needle piercing blotched skin.
         I finished my lunch at my desk and scrolled through unread emails. One for an exhibition opening that night. The gallery was a short detour from my route home. I’d met one of the artists involved before, it would be good to show my face and there would probably be a few people I knew there. I liked this artist’s previous work but I wouldn’t really see the work tonight: it would just serve as a backdrop to the industry’s social choreography. I would tell the artist that his new works were fantastic regardless of whether they were or not; these events leave little room for sincerity. I felt tired. Perhaps I’d see the show another time. I glanced at the email invite again to check the closing date and clicked delete.
         Next, an email about a publicly funded ‘engagement’ project. Well meaning but lazy: an organisation going into a community and imposing its idea of art and culture on to people rather than meaningfully working with or for them. In the exquisitely patronising terminology of galleries and funding bodies, these people are their ‘hard-to-reach’ audience. I imagined those words stencilled on to a wrecking ball as it swings, with unstoppable momentum, into the facade of an institution. Dear institution, it’s you that’s hard-to-reach, with your hieroglyphic codes of behaviour, dress, expression and language, which determine who is allowed in, who has permission, who is considered capable of understanding, appreciating or being moved. Delete.
            And here was an email about a show in a charity shop in Glasgow. It seemed fun and irreverent. Paintings sitting on sofas, waiting to be looked at. It seemed like it could be viewed as cruel and deliberately divisive, too. It looked a lot like the world we live in now.