Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost

These works, when coupled to other celebrated works such as Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost (1990), or when linked to noted corpora of work by Fiona Rae or Gary Hume, provided the foundation for a different but no less controversial set of questions. What is the relationship between innovative and conservative tendencies in contemporary British art, and how is this relationship grounded in the signs of “skill” and “craft” which are articulated in different ways in traditional (figure painting and sculpture – Jenny Saville, James Rielly or Ron Mueck) versus non-traditional media (video, photography – Gillian Wearing or Richard Billingham)? How, in addition, is the reading of this relationship often confused by the presence (Saville and Mueck), absence (Chapman brothers), or partial absence (Harvey in the case of Myra) of the artist’s hand? Questions pertaining to artistic innovation can, of course, be further complicated when placed in the broader perspective of national (or local) vs. international (or global) models of the art world and the perennial tensions associated with their attendant lineages and influences. (3) But questions pertaining to lineage or innovation could also spill over into the arena of post-colonial representations (Chris Ofili or Yinka Shonibare) should one choose to widen one’s art historical frame of reference. Clearly, therefore, the Royal Academy exhibition provided an important opportunity to raise significant questions about the British art world and its political and economic development in the late twentieth century, and all the more so since it was framed by a title that openly played on the individual and collective nuances and provocations that a word like “sensation” could trigger. “Sensation” achieved two objectives: It crafted the visual impacts of individual works on a public in emotional terms; and it automatically created a particular emotional atmosphere that could condition the critical and art historical reception of an exhibition.

However, if one of the most immediate consequences of the conjunction of title, the collector’s vision, and his diversified collection was that each artist’s contribution could be consciously or unconsciously measured against the title, then, on the other hand, it could follow that the most “sensational” works would set the standard of measure for the controversial power, insight, and ultimate critical/art historical success of the vision in question. The immediate result of this type of overdetermination was that one work – which in the words of The Independent “has proved too sensational for its own good” – served as the lightning rod for immediate public reaction. As The Independent’s wry play on the exhibition’s title suggests it was this work that galvanized the public and it was this work that triggered the fusion of “Sensation” ‘s ambiguous semantic field. The work was not by Damien Hirst or the Chapman brothers, as one might expect, nor was it by Sarah Lucas or Tracey Emin, it was by Marcus Harvey, one of the more conservative painters in the show. Myra, Harvey’s portrait of the murderess Myra Hindley, was vandalized with red and blue ink and an egg on the opening day of the exhibition.

Original Source: Art Blog