Karla Black at the Venice Biennale:

‘Don’t call my art feminine’

Karla Black's solo exhibition in the Palazzo Pisani, Venice

In the Palazzo Pisani, Glasgow-based Turner prize contender sculpts cosmetics into peach and pistachio ‘cave paintings’

(Headline and image from the Guardian 1st June 2011)

Karla Black

For me Karla Black is perhaps the most interesting of this years nominees, and on first approach to it I find this to be not so much for what her work is but for what she says  it isn’t. And Black herself has quite an extensive list of things that it very importantly isn’t! It isn’t feminine,  it isn’t metaphorical and it certainly isn’t installation. So of course the question that all of this begs is, if it isn’t all of these things, what is it? Well Black would emphatically state that it is sculpture; a statement which I think on the whole I would agree with her in. As an artist who himself often plays in the dangerous no-mans-land between the genres, I am very attracted by this certainty. In the past I have heard her speak about working with colour in space, at eye level, in the way that a painting does but with sculptural materials and in sculptural space. I often will produce “objects” with painterly materials and heritage but which operates in sculptural space. You see I chose to call my pieces objects now; in the past I would have spoken with that same certaincy of them being “paintings”, and that is part of what attracts me to this idea. the other thing is the notion of the physicality of these objects making them sculptures; they are not “metaphorical”, representational, they are what they are, they are sculptures,  and nothing above or beyond that, they do not need to be,  and I certainly applaud her for that. I think that in her insistence upon this categorisation of the work as sculpture she invests it with certain very definite and important qualities and places it in a very precise moment in art history; I do however ask myself if this is something that she may be destined to regret.

So that is where my positive interest in Blacks nomination come from, now here is the negative. Perhaps the fact that Black has been much touted as the favorite to win this years prize is the main reason that I find her the most interesting nominees; I find her inclusion “manufactured”, more so than the others. Her work, her past exhibitions, her statements and even her sponsorship by the cosmetics company Lush all give me the feeling of a “designed” winning formula. And if the mixture does win no doubt Lush will try to bottle and sell it! Everything she has done and said seems destined to take her towards this one goal, to win the Turner Prize. For this it makes it a question of motivation; does an artist make the work because it has to be made? or because it has to be made to win the Turner Prize? I know where I stand on this. For me this is one of the key motivations in being an artist, but maybe not for Black or others. Any thoughts on this? Please comment.


So that is for me is Karla Black, perhaps the least appropriate nominee to win the Turner Prize 2011, therefore probably the one destined to do it. Tomorrow, Turner Prize 1991.