Does our increasing consumption of ‘art as entertainment’ affect our relationship with art in the home?

I have never ever quite got over the fact that I missed Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Weather Project‘ – famously installed in The Tate Modern back in October 2003 through to March 2004. Luckily I had a good excuse – I was living in Australia at the time and in the middle of learning how have a baby in our midst. But not seeing this iconic and I suspect, monumentally transcendental work has always left me with a huge heavy sinking feeling of FOMO (or should it be FIADMO: Fear I Actually Did Miss Out).

The Weather Project. Photograph: Dan Chung/The Guardian

I am, after all, an art consultant for god’s sake – how can I not have seen one of the most talked about experiential art moments in our recent history? I mean people camped there, one clever group made a political statement by writing the words with their bodies ‘Bush Go Home’, some did yoga, some I hear, even made love under said sun (that gives a new meaning to ‘post coital glow’).

My art FOMO would not go away – even 15 years after the original event – so you can imagine my extreme excitement when I read that Olafur Eliasson was having a solo show back at The Tate. Surely this work would be back on show with that. I could pretend, like any self respecting art expert, that I’d seen it the first time! Perfect.

Skipping down to the Tate last week, I was bowled over by two thoughts on entry. Number one: where was that mirrored sun that I have been hankering after all these years? And number two: what were all these people actually doing? The place was rammed. There were long queues for all the ‘fun things that moved’ (The fog tunnel “Your Blind Passenger“, the rainy one “Beauty” and the exploding one ‘Big Bang Fountain“) giving it a feeling more like a trip to Legoland on the last days of the school holidays than a trip to an art gallery. The ‘boring’ stuff that just sat there (the moss for example) looking a bit friendless and lonely. I poked my finger in it not that that would have made it feel any better, but I can at least, promise you it’s real.

Big Bang Fountain, 2014 by Olafur Eliasson. Photograph: Thilo Frank / Studio Olafur Eliasson

By room three, I had stopped observing and thinking about the artwork and just started observing the people there. Barely anyone was reading the little brochures (probably because they actually conveyed little about the work itself and were more like the maps you get at Disneyland Paris – I half expected a sign pointing me in the direction of the Character Breakfast) and I am not sure anyone had time to think about the (actually strong) messages that the works try to convey before being spat out of one art fairground ride and onto the next.

And then I started thinking about the fact that I have been to (and enjoyed mostly) an increasing number of these ‘art as entertainment’ shows (The Hayward Gallery usually my go-to-take-the-kids-on-an-art-trip followed closely by anything featuring Anish Kapoor or a slide. Or both.) and I wondered what it was doing to me (and by association my client’s) powers of observation, my ability to concentrate on challenging work and my ability to deconstruct work with layers of meaning.

Are we at risk of consuming art in our homes with the same superficial, ‘please just let it entertain me’ eye? Is THIS why Harland Miller‘s works have rocketed and rocketed in price with seemingly no end in sight? Fun, bright, one line gags they come in a size to fit all – small (for those of us that can’t afford a medium one), medium (for those of us that might be able to afford a big one, but what we can’t afford is the house with a high enough ceiling to actually fit a big one in – believe me I have tried and no matter how many times I measure my ceiling is on 2m 20) and large (for the smug) – with seemingly no end to the puns. Or are they actually deeply perceptive observations about sometimes deeply flawed society that we seem to increasingly find ourselves in, that I perhaps miss because I have lost my powers of deconstructing meaning because I have been to too many theme park art shows. Hmmmm.

Harland Miller. Overcoming Optimism. Credit Blain Southern

Well I don’t know. And I don’t know about overcoming my optimism (thank you Harland Miller) but I do know I haven’t overcome my disappointment of missing that seminal art as entertainment moment back in 2003; I haven’t forgiven The Tate for not including it in this, their latest Olafur offering and I know that I was meant to emerge from that show with the message that there is a ‘Climate Emergency’; but I can’t help but think something has gone wrong when all I left with was the visual memory of hundreds of people waiting in queues to take selfies (“arties” I believe they are now called) of…. yes, their shadows.

If you, like me, like going to these shows but want some art for your home that might make you think for longer than the average 27 seconds you will spend in front of a old master in a museum, on a slide, or taking photos of your shadow, then call me. I’ll dig deep through the last 15 years of my art world experience and try and recommend some artists that I think might make you smile (although not necessarily by telling you the same joke over and over again) for longer than that. 27 seconds….. now there’s a target.

Louisa Warfield is an art consultant with over 15 years experience. Except for that bit of experience that would have involved her going to the Tate sometime between October 2003 and March 2004. She was breastfeeding at the time. Well that’s her excuse anyway.


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