Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Price tags distract gallery goers

Some people might consider a £1,200 price tag for an original piece of art a bargain. That would certainly be the case at a trendy gallery in, say, Dorchester or Poole, but try telling that to visitors and students at Bournemouth University.
Habitus, the latest exhibition in the university's Atrium Gallery, comprises of twelve works by Michael Griffiths, a fine art tutor at the neighbouring Arts Institute.
The narrow room displays eleven framed works and one larger unframed piece, primarily in charcoal, so the overall impression of the whitewashed space is drab and colourless.
Passing along the display of framed works, one could be forgiven for thinking the drawings were the scribblings of a disturbed, hyperactive child. The marks on the paper are frantic and pronounced as if made during a fit of rage, yet they have been worked and reworked until, out of The mayhem appears the promise of an image - albeit depressing and grey.
The drawings are based on what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu described as Habitus, a system of dispositions, actions and preferences which define individuals.
Mr Griffiths says of his work: "I use drawings to pose questions, to explore possibilities and to make thinking visible."
The works on display are a selection from the last six months and offer an insight into the development of the artist's rather more appealing printmaking work.The unfortunate habit of putting price tags on works of art must surely be a ploy. It is difficult to imagine at a university exhibition who would buy these pieces, yet beside each frame is a small white ticket bearing the optimistic tag of £580.
The largest piece, on an unfurled sheet of A1 paper attached to the end wall with drawing pins, is clearly worth more - it's at least twice as big - but it's difficult to envisage where it would live, especially at this price.
The monetary value placed on art may well be a red herring, gleefully snapped up by those of us who just don't get it, but if curators don't want visitors to be distracted by over-inflated price tags, why not use a bar code instead?
Habitus is at the Atrium Gallery until Saturday, February 21, 2009.

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