Monday, November 23, 2009
Tao Wells: Space Jam 1996
A drawing and painting sale selected by Nick Austin
14 November - 28 November 2009
November is an interesting part of the art year calendar, with many of the main tertiary art institutions around the country briefly presenting public displays of their students’ work. Most of what is shown is invariably inconsequential, work made cloning their teachers or pages of international art mags, or a hybrid. Those few with any substance will become apparent in 3 - 4 years after their paper chase, when they develop strategies of survival, shake the teachers out of their hair, and find their own voices.
In Gambia Castle Tao Well’s show suggests the opposite process, as if his best work is the very early stuff, even before he went to university. Such a premise might be accurate - might even be obviously so if his practice in general is conspicuously unremarkable to start with.
So how can we be persuaded either way? No meritable quality, in my view, is apparent from just looking at the exhibition and unfortunately Nick Austin, the selector of the exhibited work, has no essay advocating its merits. Although he is not listed as curator (only ‘selector’), he is known as an eloquent verbaliser of ideas, one who is exceptionally articulate. A wasted opportunity.
Instead we have Dick Whyte (of Wayfarer Gallery) writing a little introductory text to the show. It is nicely written and in three sections.
The first starts with: Tao Wells is a terrible artist. But he is a good person. This writer is impressively candid it seems, although perhaps too generous about the artist’s personality. Whyte then distinguishes between moral behaviour (externally imposed codes, as with legal or religious injunctions) and ethical (internal and from reflection).
In the second paragraph he puts forward a second definition of ethics in which “we must become adept at talking with ourselves. We are always two, rather than one.” He wants to lead the discussion to the possibility in the third section that Tao Wells is both a terrible artist and a terrific artist. However I can't get that far. For a start I have problems with his use of the word must.
Amongst his many attacks on the notion of prescriptive moral rightness and attempts to systematically provide criteria for it, the British philosopher Bernard Williams claimed that ethical conviction about what one ought to do is not actually a kind of decision (not from a group or from the individual concerned): Ethical conviction, like any other form of being convinced, must have some aspect of passivity to it, must in a sense come to you. (Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, p.169). However this conviction ends up being mixed in with reflection, discussion and theorising to form the individual’s ethical norms.
In other words, one might as well stick with the ‘one mind’ idea that Tao Wells is simply just a terrible artist, especially as there is no articulated evidence here by his Gambia colleagues (or Wellington dealer, Whyte) to counter that, let alone claim he is a ‘terrific artist’ as well or instead. If they are convinced there are arguments for the latter, it might be a good idea for them to elucidate them.